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A few weeks ago, I had a dream. In the dream, the world was about to end. All that was Land was going to become Water. Somehow, the world was going to turn upside-down or tilt and we were all going to drown. We had five hours left to live. I called my husband and told him to come home and I gathered my children around me on a couch. I remember how I wished my arms were a blanket, as I tried to hold all three of them completely and at the same time. I told them the truth. Yes, we are going to die. And it will be really scary for a while. But we are all together. We are all going to be together, so it will be okay. I was trying to FaceTime my sister in Minnesota to say goodbye when my husband walked in the door. I wanted him in my blanket-arms, too. The power went out. I felt the world tilt. The beginning of the end.
And then I woke up.
The next morning when I told Tim (my husband) about my dream, he didn’t wonder aloud if I had been watching too much Stranger Things or Don’t Look Up (although he certainly could have!). Instead, he asked me the Dream Questions. In the morning fog of a nightmare, I usually forget to ask myself the Questions. Tim gives them to me like little helpful gifts alongside my oatmeal and coffee.
“How were you feeling in the dream? And where else in your life are you feeling that way?”
These questions don’t interpret my dreams, exactly. They just show me where the intensity of emotion is at in my life. The dream reveals where I might need to pay a little bit more attention to my interior world. The Questions help me to surface the emotion and to wonder how God might meet me there.
Sometimes my dreams show that I’m feeling frustrated or angry or confused. On this particular morning after I stumbled through the story of the worry and the water and of how spindly my arms felt as I tried to hold us together at the end of the world, Tim skipped the first question. He simply said (more than asked), “So, where else in your life are you feeling like your horizon is slipping and your world is coming to an end?”
In Scripture, God often used dreams as warnings. Abimelek learned in a dream that Abraham’s sister, Sarah, was really Abraham’s wife and that he’d better not lay a finger on her. Pharaoh’s imprisoned baker learned in a dream that he would be impaled. And the first dreamer in the New Testament – Joseph – was told to flee to Egypt to avoid the upside-down plot of Herod.
Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream one night (Daniel 2). He was so disturbed by his dream, he didn’t even want to talk about it. “You tell me what I dreamed. And then interpret it,” he said to his magicians and sorcerers. Daniel stepped up and told the king the content and meaning of his dream – a divine and miraculous gift that cut through the morning fog of the king’s nightmare. The king had dreamed of a multi-layered statue – representing his kingdom and kingdoms to come. The end of all the kingdoms came with a rock, cut not by human hands. A rock that smashed the statue and grew into a mountain that filled the whole earth. Although Nebuchadnezzar had been deeply disturbed by his dream, the clarity that Daniel brought filled the king with gratitude.
In fact, many of the dreams in the Old Testament were gratitude-inducing visions of promise, abundance, wisdom and hope. Jacob dreamed of an angel-lit path between this world and the world beyond the veil — a path that echoed with God’s words of promise. Jacob’s son, Joseph, dreamed of the time that he would be a leader of his brothers. Later, when in prison, Joseph told his fellow inmate that his dream meant that he would once again serve as cupbearer to the Pharaoh. You can hear the restored fortune of the cupbearer resound in the seventh psalm of ascent: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:1-2).
One of the rare places that dreams are mentioned in the New Testament is at Pentecost, when Peter quotes the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28).
Several years ago, in the Spirit of Pentecost, I was encouraged to write an “I have a dream” speech – a dream that was less like fog, more like sunlight. A right-side-up dream. A dream, not about the end of the world, but about new beginnings.
I have a dream that the circles will be unbroken. A circle represents wholeness. We were made whole. We were made in whole and harmonious relationships that exist, not just for the sake of themselves, but for the sake of the world.
And those circles have broken.
But, I have a dream that the circles will be unbroken. (I admit that sometimes it’s more of a question than a dream. Like Johnny Cash’s song, it echoes in the little concert hall in my heart. Will the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by?)
But let me dream. Let me say it a little louder this time: I have a dream that the circles will be unbroken.
I have had real dreams – the kind you have when you’re in REM sleep – that the most broken circles of my life were unbroken. I know that in one case, I will have to wait until the new earth for that dream to come true… and in the other case, I might have to wait until the new earth. But those REM dreams are a seed of this bigger dream – that the circles will be unbroken, for the sake of the world.
I have a dream that God will use me to unbreak circles. And I have a dream that God will use the people in my circles to unbreak circles in their circles.
Unbreaking circles takes skill and it takes tools, but unbreaking circles also takes courage, creativity, curiosity, calmness and an undercurrent of celebration.
And so I have a dream that I would be a calm, curious, creative, and courageous celebrant… a celebrant who marks well (with grief and praise) the rhythms of life and death, work and rest, word and sacrament, speaking and listening, gathering and sending. I have a dream that these dispositions of courage, creativity, curiosity, calmness, and celebration, would be contagious and that they would unbreak circles around me, in me, through me, in spite of me.
I have a dream that the circles will be unbroken by and by, Lord, by and by.
“How does this dream make you feel, Heidi?” A little bit sad. A little bit hopeful.
But mostly, re-reading this dream makes me long for the God-cut Rock to somehow, in smashing the sparkling kingdoms of this world, unbreak what is broken. To somehow turn the world right-side up. To somehow become a mountain that fills the whole earth — a place not of drowning, but of climbing, soaring, running and walking. May we go from strength to strength, from dream to dream, until we each appear before God in Zion.