I love to dream. I especially love it when I have vivid dreams, ones that I can remember. I always feel so rested after a night of heavy dreaming. And I don’t know if there is any scientific basis for it, but I tend to dream much more vividly and to remember my dreams when there is a full moon.
Have you ever had a dream that caused you to do something different, make a change, or go in a different direction?
Have you ever had a dream that changed your perspective, gave you a new insight, or resolved something for you?
In the months leading up to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, for which I served as Director of Worship, I had many restless nights. I would lie in my bed tossing and turning and worrying about the details of the services, and thinking about all the things I needed to do. I wondered if I was even capable of leading such an endeavor. I had a lot of doubts. Most of all, I was anxious about finding some kind of focus or center for the worship services. I couldn’t think of anything. Time was running short.
"Sleeping on It" and Memory: The Neuroscience of Dreaming
by Taylor Burton-Edwards
Dreams and dreaming had long been considered primarily to be part of the realm of other-worldly encounters and revelations in most civilizations until pioneering psychologists, including Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, suggested they may be something else. [Read more]
One night, my anxiety was especially great, and so I spent a long time praying about it, begging God to show me the way forward. I finally drifted off and fell into a deep sleep. The next morning when I woke up, I had a full vision of exactly what to do. I know that this vision did not come from inside me. It was a gift of the Holy Spirit.
This was not an isolated incident. There have been other times in my life, especially when I was writing—an article, or a paper, or often, a sermon—where I came to a place that I didn’t know what to do. I would try and try, and the more I tried, the more anxious I would become. So eventually I would have to give up. I would stop for the day, and later on go to bed. And then, as if by some miracle of God, when I awakened the next day, I would have the next move, or the ending, or the resolution to the problem.
I know I am not the only one who has had this experience. When my colleagues and I were studying this Scripture together and talking about the nature and role of dreams in our lives, we all had a story to tell. And so I can say without any reservation whatsoever that I believe with all my heart that God speaks to us in dreams and in visions and in miracles. Maybe it doesn’t happen every day, but I know from my own experience, it does happen. And when it does, we should treat it as a great gift.
What to Do When You Dream?
Learn a Song!
by Jackson Henry
One of the most entertaining dreams I have experienced was when I woke up with a song in my ear. This wasn’t just any song in my ear, however. My dream had been what for me was unprecedented: an opportunity for genuine, subconscious learning.
This story from the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is sometimes referred to as Matthew’s birth narrative. But this is not really a birth story in the way we normally think about birth stories. It isn’t about how Jesus’ birth took place. It isn’t about his lineage. It isn’t really even about establishing that God is his father.
Rather, it is a narrative about Joseph’s awakening to new possibilities. It is about opening his eyes and ours to the fact that there are possibilities beyond those made by the hands of men and women. There are solutions that are God-sent.
The Gospel writer Matthew describes Joseph as a righteous man. This means, in part, that he knew and observed the laws of his Jewish faith. But he also seems to have been a good, upstanding, kind, and honorable man.
When Joseph found out that Mary, to whom he was betrothed, but not yet married, was pregnant, he knew that he was not the father of Mary’s unborn child. So he must have assumed she had been unfaithful.
Marriage in First-Century Palestine
by Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser
In the time that Joseph and Mary lived, when two people became engaged to be married, at the point of their engagement, they entered into a legal contract that, for all practical purposes, was no different from the contract they would hold once they were actually married. There were three steps to marriage. [Read more]
Back in the days of Joseph and Mary, things weren’t like they are today, where when someone in a marriage is unfaithful, the spouse understands he or she has a number of choices. They might work it out in some way, or they might get divorced. In Mary and Joseph’s time, only one consequence was generally considered appropriate for such a situation. Adultery was an act that ended the marriage and could be punishable by death. So legally, when Joseph found Mary to be with child, he could have asked that she be stoned to death, or at the very least, punished in some publicly humiliating way. That was often the way things were done. It was his right as a righteous Jewish man.
But Joseph didn’t do that. Because he was a good man, he was unwilling to expose her to public disgrace. And so, Matthew tells us, he planned to cope with the situation as compassionately as possible. He planned to dismiss her quietly.
But then one night, after he had made up his mind about how to handle the situation, Joseph had this strange, amazing dream. In the dream, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said,
“Joseph, don’t abandon Mary. Stand by her. She is not pregnant by another man. Nothing ordinary has caused her pregnancy. She is pregnant only because the Holy Spirit of God, in a mystical, miraculous manner, has caused her to become pregnant. She will bear a son from this mysterious union of Spirit and flesh. And you are to name the child Jesus, which means ‘God saves,’ because he will save God’s people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-23, author’s paraphrase).
Now this was a most unusual, vivid, and incredible dream, but still, it was only a dream.
We’ve all had dreams that were so vivid they seemed real. But after even a very realistic dream, when we wake up, we know that even as real as the dream might have seemed when we were having it, it was, in fact, just a dream. Maybe we will tell someone about the dream, or try to figure out what it meant. But in the end, we know that there is a difference between our everyday world of reality and the world of dreams.
The most amazing thing about Joseph’s dream is not that Joseph had it and that it was so vivid. What is amazing is that he let it influence the way he had planned to act in his real life. Because of this dream, Joseph changed his mind about his decision. He decided not to go through with his plan to end his relationship with Mary.
Joseph acted as if the dream was not just a dream. He didn’t dismiss it and say, “Wow, that dream seemed so real.” He acted as if the information given to him in the dream was more in touch with reality than what his personal experience and common sense had taught him in life; namely, that anytime a woman gets pregnant, there is always a man involved somewhere in the picture.
That is to say, Joseph acted in a new way as a result of his dream, a way that was a departure from the way he had planned to act. In this way, Joseph was awakened to an entirely new way of acting. Joseph was still a good and righteous man, no doubt. But now, instead of making choices out of honor and cultural code, he chose to act out of faith. He acted out of his confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of what an angel of the Lord said to him in a dream.
He acted on his secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.
And because of this, he was changed. He was transformed, not just on the inside, but on the outside. His heart changed. His world changed. His spirit was opened up to accept a truth that hadn’t been for him before. He found himself awakened to new possibilities.
Maybe a part of being awakened is the willingness to act on a dream, believe in a dream, and trust that something that seems like it can’t be real, is actually real after all:
Like the dream that this baby, born in a stable in Bethlehem really is Emmanuel, God with us.
Like the dream of the kind of world that Jesus came to make manifest in this world really can be a reality for all of God’s children.
We all know the famous words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke a Christ-like dream into the world through a speech at the Civil Rights Movement March on Washington, August 28, 1963. (Read the full text of the speech. Keep in mind that you may quote it in worship, but you may not make or provide any print, electronic, or other copies of it without obtaining written permission from the copyright holder.)
Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t just have a dream. He didn’t just speak some beautiful and poetic words. He acted as if his dream were real, and in doing so, he helped others to live into a new reality.
We are not celebrating the birth of a baby next week because his existence was only a distant memory or dream. We are not going to all this trouble because we simply want to put up a Christmas tree and decorate our houses and have parties and buy presents for the people we love and make our children happy.
We are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ into the world because, just like it was for Joseph, this is our awakening story. It awakens us to possibilities beyond our own. It opens our eyes to what is possible with God. It is our chance to act as if this dream of God in the world, Emmanuel, is real—so real that it causes us to change our lives, move in a different direction, and transform the world into a place of peace, hope, faith, and love for all people.
We have a dream of what Christmas is about. Let us not wake up thinking it was only a dream and dismissing it as another holiday season come and gone. Let us not wake up glad that it is finally over, so we can get on with our normal lives.
Instead, let us awaken to the new reality to which it is pointing! And let us be so bold as to act accordingly!
"Sleeping on It" and Memory: The Neuroscience of Dreaming
by Taylor Burton Edwards
Dreams and dreaming had long been considered primarily to be part of the realm of other-worldly encounters and revelations in most civilizations until pioneering psychologists, including Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, suggested they may be something else. Freud tended to see them as manifestations of the unconscious mind, and so as material to work with to make sense of certain fixations, compulsions, blockages or other psychological difficulties in waking life. Carl Jung tended to see dreams as a connection to a collective unconsciousness in which the interaction of “archetypes” common across human dreaming generally might lead us to a deeper understanding of our fullest selves, including our “shadow” side, and thus lead to a more fully integrated life.
More recently, however, the field of neuroscience has come to at least a general consensus that dreams are something at once more mundane and perhaps more revelatory in a different way. (One scholarly article of many that discusses these phenomena: http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/129/1/108.long.) Dreams appear to be a side effect of the process of memory consolidation that takes place primarily during sleep. This process seems to edit the thoughts and impressions we had during the previous day as it consolidates them into a more coherent narrative and stores them in different parts of the brain — visual inputs in the visual cortex, auditory in the auditory, motor in the motor, and so on. As it does so, it also activates these various parts of the brain in a way that, in some stages of sleep and memory consolidation, generates the visual, auditory, and motor “internal movies” we call dreams.
What often happens in this process as well is that ideas or images we had not quite connected with each other during our waking hours, as much as we may have tried, now become connected, sometimes with results we may experience as revelations.
That neuroscience has established such events as a more or less normal part of memory consolidation and provided a generally accepted set of biomechanical explanations for how this process seems to work need not be seen as diminishing their potential revelatory function, nor indicate in any way that the pre-moderns were entirely incorrect in seeing dreams as a medium of communication by the Divine. Rather, it helps elucidate the mechanisms built into our neurochemistry and neurons by which such communication may take place.
What to Do When You Dream? Learn a Song!
By Jackson Henry
One of the most entertaining dreams I have experienced was when I woke up with a song in my ear. This wasn’t just any song in my ear, however. My dream had been what for me was unprecedented: an opportunity for genuine, subconscious learning. You see, I learned a pop song in my sleep. The song was “A Long December” by Counting Crows, and why that song popped up I have no idea. (I never owned any of their albums and really didn’t have a desire to.)
What I remember from my dream was sitting at the piano, taking a writing break, and simply plowing through the song, trying different chords and ultimately playing and singing what words I did know. I woke up, said “No way,” got out of bed, and proceeded immediately to the piano. Long story short, it was exactly as I had learned it from the dream. Talk about eerie.
But how cool is that?
Marriage in First-Century Palestine
Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser
In the time that Joseph and Mary lived, when two people became engaged to be married, at the point of their engagement, they entered into a legal contract that, for all practical purposes, was no different from the contract they would hold once they were actually married. There were three steps to marriage.
- First came the engagement, which was transacted between the fathers of the bride and the groom. This transaction often took place while the couple were still children. It was an arranged marriage.
- The second stage was betrothal. This took place when the couple were older and getting closer to the actual time for marriage. Once they were betrothed, they were legally bound to each other, and the relationship could be ended only by legal divorce. Betrothal lasted for about a year. During this time of betrothal, the couple lived separately, and they did not consummate the relationship.
- The final stage was the marriage itself, when there was a huge festival and the groom took his new wife to come and live with him in his home.
[Douglas E. Wingeier, Keeping Holy Time: Year A. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001, page 33.]