Saturday, February 23, 2008
DREAMS AND VISIONS
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
And the Lord answered me: 'Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end -it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.'
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they only hated him the more. He said to them, 'Hear this dream which I have dreamed: behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold, your sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf.'... They said to one another, 'Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.'
But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.'
(Proverbs 29: 18, KJV; Habakkuk 2: 2-3, RSV; Genesis 37: 5-7, 19-20, RSV; Matthew 1: 20-21, RSV)
'Here comes this dreamer.' Joseph is remembered in the biblical story as a dreamer and interpreter of dreams. He sees what others cannot yet see and pictures what others cannot yet imagine. In his dreaming he is the bearer of a divine vision; the vision of God's new future which is about to break into the history of Israel and transform it.
In something like this sense, Christians are called to be dreamers, people captured and captivated by the vision of the new creation which God is working in history. We are bearers of the dream of the kingdom which was incarnate in Jesus and which has been reflected and refracted, forgotten and recovered, in all the generations since. Until now, in our time, we become visionaries of God's justice and mercy, seers of God's love and peace.
But the dream is threatening. The dreamer dangerous. Joseph's brothers react angrily to his dream of the sheaves (and the stars, the sun and the moon!). They want to be rid of him and his troublesome visions. 'Come let us kill him,' they say.
The revelation of God always meets with resistance. For the dream of God's coming future inevitably challenges the finitude and fallibility of our present realities and complacencies. It happened to Jesus, whose coming into the world was announced by the angel to that other Joseph in another dream. Jesus, God's self-revelation, his dream incarnate, precipitated the same violent reaction.
'Come, let us kill him before his dream undoes the world as we know it and control it.' Every disciple thereafter who has sought to become a secondary bearer of the vision of Christ has found the same: to be a dreamer after God's heart means to take up a cross.
'And we shall see what shall become of his dreams.' There is irony in these last words of the brothers. They were determined that Joseph's dream would come to nothing and so leave their world unchallenged and untouched. But their very actions against him became the impetus that set in motion that long journey which took Joseph to Egypt and to power; power which, years later, put him in a position to supply food and shelter to his family now in desperate need. The sheaves did come and bow down. The vision was fulfilled. God's revelation reaches its goal even -- indeed especially -- through the cross.
But how strangely. Never for a moment did the young (and arrogant!)
dreamer suspect the tortuous dance his dream would lead him. The rejection of his family, the faked death, the horrible pit, the slave auction, refugee status in Egypt, poverty, false accusation, sexual harassment, prison, the threat of execution, years of hard labour. All this lay between the dream and its fulfilment. And only in the treading out of that journey did the vision prove its power.
So it was with Jesus. Announced in the initial dream as 'saviour of his people', he had to make that long journey from Nazareth to Calvary before the vision declared itself finally, bursting forth on resurrection morning in unquenchable light and irrepressible life.
Vision, conflict, sacrifice, fulfilment. These are the dynamics of revelation in the world. And they are the dynamics we will discover when we venture to take up the dream, the dream of God's grace and truth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art; Be thou my best thought in the day and the night, Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -- Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'God's Grandeur'
When we are open we find that the depths of ourselves are revealed to us. God presents us with ourselves, and then, as we work with him to understand and grow, he draws us closer to himself. Dreams and the understanding of them seem to be one way in which God pours out his love upon us and helps us become what we are capable of becoming.
Morton Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God
Of course, the great change that has overtaken the theology of sleep is that the ancients believed dreams to be premonitory of the unborn future, whereas we moderns regard them rather as uprisings from the half-buried past. But this difference of interpretation does not at all affect Christianity's main contention that God can be with us even in our dreams. We are too apt to think that our dreams come to us by 'mere chance, that there is no rhyme or reason about them; yet such a notion is quite as much opposed by the modern Freudians as by the ancient soothsayers. Again, we think that we have no control over our dreams, and it is indeed true that we have no direct control over them -- we cannot, as we lie awake, decide what we are going to dream about after we go to sleep. Never theless, we can be certain that the power which controls our dreams is the same power that controls our life as a whole. If we have surrendered our hearts to God in the sunlight, he will be with us no less during the hours of darkness.
John Baillie, Christian Devotion
The characteristic way of a prophet in Israel is that of poetry and lyric. The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost noth ing. The same royal consciousness that makes it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger... It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king [i.e. the powers of the status quo] wants to urge as the only thinkable one.
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination
The notion of revelation describes the condition... by which I mean that something profoundly convulsive and disturbing suddenly becomes visible and audible with in describable definiteness and exactness. One hears -- one does not seek; one takes -- one does not ask who gives: a thought flashes out like lightning, inevitably without hesitation -- I have never had any choice about it.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
Revelation means the moment in our history through which we know ourselves to be known from beginning to end, in which we are apprehended by the knower: it means the self-disclosing of that eternal knower. Revela tion means the moment in which we are surprised by the knowledge of someone there in the darkness and void of human life; it means the self-disclosure of light in our darkness. Revelation is the moment in which we find our judging selves to be judged not by ourselves or our neigh bours, but by one who knows the final secrets of the heart; revelation means the self-disclosure of the judge. Revela tion means that we find ourselves to be valued rather than valuing and that all our values are transvaluated by the activity of a universal valuer.
When a price is put upon our heads, which is not our price, when the unfairness of all the fair prices we have placed on things is shown up; when the great riches of God reduce our wealth to poverty, that is revelation. When we find out that we are no longer thinking him, but that he first thought us, that is revelation.
H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation
A Christianity which does not resist the cross of reality, but rather takes it up, communicates to society the power of the spirit -- the spirit which, in the midst of tempta tions, ruptured relationships, pain and absurdity, gives the miracle of endurance and continuance; the spirit of hope where there was nothing to hope for, the spirit of him who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4: 17f). Faith which stands the test of love, verities the presence of this spirit. There is no other spirit in which the present social reality can be brought into relationship with the absolute, with God. Without this spirit, the 'fury of disappearing' con fronts humanity.
Jurgen Moltmann, Hope and Planning
O Lord, for the power and persistence and glory of your vision, given through the ages to prophets, seers, dreamers and visionaries, we give you thanks. For those moments when something of that same great vision has dawned, bold and vivid, upon our own hearts, we are grateful. We pray now that the power of your revelation, present in our history in Jesus Christ, may revitalise our stale customs, challenge and transform our unjust politics and create anew our tired and self-centred religion.
Forgive us the dullness of mind that blurs the sharp freshness of your dream, and the timidity of heart that would rather play safe with the familiar than risk the adventure of a new path. Forgive the inertia of self-interest that beats against the movement of your spirit because it asks for the taking up of a cross in the journey of faith. Forgive us for the times when we confuse the petty dreams of our own imagination with the great vision of the new creation in Jesus Christ.
Reveal yourself to us again, 0 God. Show us your glory. Revive that vision without which we perish. Let the reality of your kingdom, manifest in the words and deeds and destiny of Jesus, break in upon us and upon our world, judging, healing, reconciling and restoring. Grant us courage not merely to see that vision, nor merely to celebrate it in word and song, but to live it out in the great and small moments of our daily lives. And to your name be all honour and glory and power, now and forever. Amen.
Let us go out from our customs and our habits and learn to hope from the Bible. Let us go out and cross the frontiers so that we may infect life with hope. Let us ignore the barriers, and look only to the one who breaks them down. He is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Blessed be the Lord for ever and ever.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless
Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, (Albatross/Lion) chapter 52.