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Listening to Dreams
December 11, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 1:18-21

Last week, I discussed the fact that we live in two worlds—a spiritual realm, and the physical world, the material world, like a tree whose roots are in the earth and whose branches are in the air needs both realms for existence. We live in two realms and when we get too oriented and too comfortable in the physical material realm, sometimes the spiritual world has to break in, has to crack us open and intrude into the physical realm. Sometimes this is done by an imposing intruder like John the Baptist, or a person into your life. Sometimes God uses a crisis in our lives as an entry for the spiritual realm. Sometimes, silence is the means by which we experience the spiritual realm. 

Today, let's look at another means, another vehicle by which the spiritual realm can enter into and relate to us in our lives: dreams. God speaks to us through dreams. Modern psychology has reclaimed this area for us. The importance of dreams has been ignored and even denied. Through the last few centuries, a belief in dreams has declined and fallen into disuse. Throughout the Old Testament period, and for 1500 years of Christianity, people believed that dreams were a means by which the spiritual world contacted us in the physical world, a way in which spiritual reality reached out and touched us. Then, a philosophy based on reason, based on rationalism, the science of the material physical world greatly influenced Protestant theology. Over the last few centuries, God has been limited to a narrow sphere. We began to reject the idea that there even is another realm called the spiritual. We rejected the idea that there could be anything like miracles. We've been so oriented to believe that only things happen for which we have physical evidence that we ceased to believe in miracles. Over the years, we rejected the idea that God could communicate directly with people, that God could speak to people today as God spoke in Bible days. We said that phenomenon belongs to poetry and myth. We limited God to a narrow sphere. 

But now in our day we are opening back up. Modern psychology claims that dreams do play a part in our lives. Dream analysis became a very important part of psychoanalysis. Carl Jung continued this idea of looking at dreams and now today, much attention is given to dreams. You can find books, workshops, seminars to help you understand yourself better by understanding, interpreting and learning from your dreams. Friday evening on a talk show, I heard a person talking about dreams. People called on the telephone to tell the person their dreams. He helped them interpret their dream “This is popular,” he said. The common belief now in psychology seems to be that dreams are a work of the unconscious working and trying to communicate with our conscious minds to work off tension. Complex, recurring dreams are trying to give us a certain message that we can apply to our lives. 

Dreams, therefore, are some kind of an inner language trying to speak to the conscious mind. Many dreams are not even remembered because they have done their work of resolving some kind of conflict, some kind of tension within us. Sometimes the dreams are messages about the way we're living, our values. Sometimes the dreams are messages from our body to our mind. For example, I have a sinus problem. With my condition wax builds up in my ears. At least once a year, I go to the doctor and have my ears washed out. Several months ago, I began having a dream about going deaf. And in my dreams, I kept asking “why”? Finally I got the message that it was time to go get my ears washed out. As soon as I decided that was the message and would go to the doctor to get my ears washed out, the dreams ceased. 

Sometimes dreams are giving us messages, and sometimes dreams are an enjoyable experience. They're better than any soap opera, better than television, really enjoyable. I heard of a young man whose counselor helped him to tell himself when he went to sleep that he was going to remember his dreams. He had a notepad by his bed. He would wake up and write his dreams down. He got so into it that he said, “You know, these dreams are better than any trip I ever had on LSD!” You don't need drugs or booze to go on a trip because our dreams take us into beautiful fantasy worlds that are often very enjoyable. 

In addition to some of our dreams giving us messages, the Bible goes further. The Bible goes further than psychology. And isn’t it interesting that when the church has lost a particular perspective on something, when the church has abdicated its perspective to the cultural mind, the secular world comes along and tries to fill that vacuum. The church has done this on many occasions. When the church abdicates its unique perspective, the secular world has to come along and fill in the gaps. And it's interesting, that in my opinion, the secular endeavors today of psychology, or medicine, or education, or frankly, all enterprises in human experience have something missing when they ignore the spiritual dimension. They are rootless. Therapy is something that has ignored the fact that we not only have bodies and minds but that we have souls, and we have a relationship to the world and the creator of all our being. The secular enterprises when they remove themselves from theology have something missing. They have to produce their systems because the church has often abdicated its particular perspective. And dreams belong in theology. 

Most of the ancient religions, including our own, believed that dreams were a means by which the supernatural powers communicated with people. The dream is one way by which the spiritual world breaks into our existence, like John the Baptist intruded. The Bible seems to say that God speaks to you and to me through dreams. We've lost that idea. And when we lose an idea, then we say either that never happened or people just wrote it down that way. What is important is the message and not the means, not the vehicle. Or we say, “God doesn't talk like that anymore. He only talks like that in the Bible.” What we're really saying is that we are deaf. 

There are many examples in the Bible. Jacob dreamed about the ladder in Genesis, Jacob's ladder, and at the top of the ladder God told him vividly about how to build a nation. Samuel as a boy heard God calling his name. He woke up and went and asked the old prophet Eli, “What do you want?” The Christmas stories in Matthew, not in Luke interestingly, are full of dreams. Joseph had a dream in which he was told to marry Mary. And Joseph had a dream in which he was told to flee, to take the baby and his mother to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill all male babies in order to kill the Messiah. Joseph was then told in a dream to leave Egypt to come back to Nazareth after Herod died. The wise men were told in a dream to sneak out of the country and not report to Herod. It was a direct communication, a direct method. And we still have them if we would stop and think about our dreams. 

Many people get such messages. Have you ever gone to bed with a question and awakened with the answer? I've experienced that many times. I go to bed thinking about some problem or thinking about some relationship with a person—What was I going to say? What was I going to do?—Or a sermon with a jumble of ideas in my head. What am I going to make of that? I wake up in the night or wake up in the morning with a plan, with ideas. Some people say the unconscious mind has been working on that all night long. Other people say it was God speaking through the dream. God in the Bible spoke directly to people in dreams. And secondly, in the Bible, God revealed the symbolism of the dream. Most of our dreams are in symbols. Joseph the youngster dreamed in Genesis that his stalk of grain stood erect, and all of his brothers’ grain bowed to him. So he told his brothers that he was going to rule over them some day. They liked the idea so much they threw him in a pit!

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in Babylon and was so disturbed by the dream that he was going to send his magicians and sorcerers to death unless somebody could tell him what it meant. Daniel, the Jewish exile, told him about his dream of a statue, and all that the symbol meant. Sometimes the symbols come to us out of our lives. And sometimes, they are a symbol of the age that takes interpretation. Sometimes we need a group to share our dream with and to get an interpretation. Sometimes we need another person to help.  It is interesting that when we finally hit upon the right interpretation of the dream, we know it’s right. “That's right. That was the message.” 

Not all dreams are great messages, but there are those rare dreams when one feels the very presence of God. In the Bible the response was fear, awe, reverence. There are dreams that bring us into the presence of God. I think the ancients experienced this kind of dream more than we because they were more open. They believed in them. We don't believe in dreams. We repress, we ignore and we forget. 

Listen to your dreams and learn from them; be open to them, understand them. A whole new dimension of participating in the spiritual realm might be open to you. For God can speak to you through all different types of means, including the dream. The Christmas stories were of ordinary people like you and me. A carpenter, a humble, simple man heard God speak through a dream and God speaks to you.

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris