Recently, I heard film producer, Steven Spielberg, speak about dreams to a class of graduating seniors. He was encouraging them to follow their dreams and gave them some clues about how the dream communicates to us. “Not in a loud screaming voice,” he said, but in “whispers from within.” This is a beautiful thought, I said to myself, but even before I could relish it my mind flashed back to a man I had just met, one of the patrons at the free community meal hosted by the urban church where I serve as pastor. We had spent about half an hour together as I took him to get his prescriptions filled following the meal. Since I became a pastor in an urban area, I’ve heard stories like his many times. Enough to know that just beside the soul’s whisper lives also, the voices of human suffering in our midst.
His story is not uncommon and represents at least 20% of our population, if not more. A 52 year old man whose life had been largely sacrificed to the diseases of poverty and lack of opportunity. Stabbed, shot, abused as a child, and without resources as a teenager. Still, he said, he believed God had a purpose for his life, he got off the streets and now lives in an apartment, barely making it, though he is hoping to move away from his roommate who is still drugging. He told me he did not understand why God would allow human beings to suffer so much and to this, there is no answer. I have always struggled with this lack of connection between the soul’s dreams whispering to us and the vast suffering in our own nation of our brothers and sisters and children going hungry, growing up without opportunity. Why, when the soul whispers its dreams does it not follow up with the tag, “for everyone?”
In Native American culture there is the practice of a vision quest. The reason for seeking a vision is so that you might discover the dream God has planted in you, bring it back to the tribe and work within the tribe for the sharing of this dream for everyone. The dream is not just for you, it belongs to the tribe and it belongs to the Great Spirit who has dreamed in advance for the good of everyone. The belief is that the dream was given to you, a unique individual, so that you might express a facet of the whole in a way that only you can, for the good and care of your people, so that everyone might also dream.
But in our culture, we have turned the dream inside out and learned how to exploit if for profit. We have come to believe that a dream is for us alone, something we must leave our tribe to achieve, go off and make something of ourselves in the world, and if we’re lucky, even find prestige and fame. We seek a dream when perhaps it is a vision we are craving.
The Apostle Paul had a vision for the early church, and his vision was different than that of some missionaries who came along, with the influence of the larger religious establishment. With one of the churches he planted in Galatia, we see the struggle playing out that is not that different from our day. There was the religious establishment that had become stuck with its strict rules, regulations, political structure and constant need of funding that these missionaries seemed to represent, an establishment that seemed to treat human souls more like property than sacred beings. Then there was the undercurrent, the early church who followed the radical teachings of Christ, the Divine revelation, the ability to seek the soul’s freedom in the world, which was always connected to the well being of all, not just loving one another but helping one another. It was based on Paul’s radical, converting vision when he stopped persecuting people and began loving. It was a vision that told the early Christian community that they existed not just for the care of one another, but for the sake of love in the world and for the sake of those who suffered.
In a day and age when fairytales are exploited into blockbuster hits, vision questers are warehoused onto impoverished reservations, and Christianity seems to focus more on the power of the institution than on the radical, converting power of Christ, it is no wonder we turn our dreams into something unholy. We want our dreams to pay us something for living in this world. It is perfectly normal that we would feel this way. After all, we are often a people without a tribe, alone and picked off easily by whatever gleams on the horizon, promising us gold.
But I am still haunted by the connection between the soul whispers and this man’s suffering. Parker Palmer said that your truest vocation is found “where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Maybe the great dream that God whispers to us all is not just to love one another but help one another, and maybe in this, we find our belonging, that our tribe is everyone. There is a Divine purpose for every soul in the world, not just the ones who are lucky enough to follow a dream.
Perhaps our dreaming is not just for us, but for everyone, and down that pathway, we might just find what we were looking for all along.
What is God dreaming in you?
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