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Weary from contention, seeking escape, I try to rest. Even rest feels hard, hard like dry ground. A pillow flattened into stone. Tension in my neck, thoughts spinning. I carry this weight of sadness. Try to lay it down beside you, still the burden presses on your heart.

I’m not the only one. So much journeying from here to there, then to now. Running from what’s behind, what’s to come. Everyone scrambling to make a life, find some plot and stake a claim.

We scheme for blessings and sidestep curses. Split the family, fissures open. Trouble on every side. Find allies, suspect everyone, survive. It’s all distraction.

Look down, then, at one’s hands, at the work. Find blessing in simple labor, something repetitive, something that builds—or tears down. Either works. For a time.     

If only I could dream! Dreams come rarely these days. Where is the God of dreams?

Jacob’s Dream, William Blake, 1805

There is a ladder here, somewhere, right where we are. A path of stars from heaven to earth, earth to heaven. It won’t be found, only revealed.

I come from people who dream. Rarely, in spaces between, where boundaries dissolve, strivings surrender, where the mind blurs from exhaustion. Rarely, then, dreams come.

Angels, stars, stars, angels. Galaxies in the glint of the eye. Tangled roots, probing, seeking. Generations branching into leafy crown, migrating birds, a storm on a mountain. Some terrifying presence pressing promise on a throbbing heart.

The Dream of Jacob, He Qi

We wake, gather shabby trappings, journey on. The dream is a moment, a startling flash. Afterimage lingers in familiar dimness. Stone becomes burden becomes gateway becomes a way to say I’ve come this far.  

Journey on, across this haunted landscape, this wonder between bewilderments. The dream follows, always, just beyond our ken.

And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power? — Job 26:14

(Header image: Jacob’s Dream, Marc Chagall)

Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. My most recent book is Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth (Fortress, 2022). Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for the RJ blog as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.


  • Beautiful and raw. I love the poetry in this piece.

  • Joyce Looman Kiel says:

    I hear wrestling. “Surely God was God was in this place and I didn’t know it.”

  • Tom Boogaart says:

    The Spirit of God was moving in the darkness before the creation of the world, and that moment was represented in the architecture of the tabernacle and the temple: God dwells in darkness on the ark/throne in the Holy of Holies. In the Reformed tradition, we have generally ignored this rich and beautiful affirmation and therefore ignored the significance of dreams in Scripture. Darkness is a time of potential intimacy with God, a time of revelatory dreams.

  • Tom Hoeksema Sr. says:

    “…The outer fringe of his works.. How faint the whisper we hear of him!”
    This evokes my ache and frames it. Thank you, Deb.

  • Cathy Smith says:

    So poetic and universal. Thank you. I always appreciate your writing!

  • Debra Rienstra says:

    Thank you for the kind comments, friends.

  • Henry Baron says:

    This is one to ponder, to let the evocative thoughts and feelings circulate and affect your being, and to hang onto for re-readings. Thank you, Deb!

  • Jack says:

    And how does one learn to live with one loved when your loving self can’t be found?

    Thank you, Debra, for your lyrical understanding.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Very helpful to me, Debra, thank you.

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