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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Dreams and Their Meaning

This will be the last theological teaching I do for 2014, and I wanted it to be something significant so I decided to deal with something that has been on my mind for a while.  What inspires this is the fact that over the years I have had some significant dreams, and some of them I truly feel were messages I was receiving from God about specific things.  As I began to look into it more, I understood that through the centuries God has spoken to people through dreams - we see it all through the Bible, and as Catholic Christians we are well aware of Church Fathers and saints who have received illumination through their dreams.  However, this has been a subject which many Christians, including many pastors and theologians, have chosen not to touch for a variety of reasons, and perhaps the best one is one I want to address now.

Much of what you hear about dream interpretation comes unfortunately from one of two sources - either it is New Age/occultic or it is Jungian pop-psychology.  Much of what is in those two systems is contrary to the Word of God and to the teachings of the Church, and this fact alone has caused many Christians to eye the practice of dream interpretation warily.  However, what is important to note is this - many occultic practices are corruptions of things God intended man to use for his own benefit, and what originally was a gift of hearing and discerning God's voice has been twisted by occultists to be a form of divination - since dreams are portals to the spirit realm, it makes sense that demons can screw with people's spirits also and cause them to receive false revelation.   That is why it is time to tell Christians that dream interpretation is not in itself evil - every human being on the planet has had dreams at some point (probably many times!) and the Bible itself bears witness to the fact God speaks in dreams to people.  However, it is also imperative for Christians to use wisdom and discernment when exploring this, as it is important to also remember that 90% of your dreams are not messages from God at all; most dreams just reflect things in our subconscience, and there are things to be learned from that as well.  Therefore, I am hoping to give you a balanced and brief lesson here about dream interpretation, and hopefully you can use it responsibly and with proper discernment.

There are at least three different categories of dreams people have, and they are the following:

1.  Plain, regular dreams - These are the dreams we have the most, as they are just manifestations of our subconscious thoughts that sort of mesh together and create their own scenario.  These dreams usually reflect our innermost desires, fears, memories, anxieties, and other such things, and although they cannot be said to be from God obviously, they can reveal a lot about ourselves.  In my own case, I have had many dreams, for instance, about familiar places, but they are places that don't exist - they contain parts of different places I have been that sort of collide together to create their own little world - for instance, I have had dreams of places that look like my native West Virginia, but such a place may also have palm trees like where I now live in Florida, or I may have a dream about some place we used to live being located in another place we used to live at one time.  Never worry about these dreams, as they are just part of who you are.  Nightmares and erotic dreams sometimes fall into this category as well; if you have dreams like that, then I would suggest not eating spicy food before bed or watching too many episodes of Baywatch!

2.  Attacks and deceptions of demonic entities - These type of dreams can take on a number of forms.  Some years ago, for instance, my wife Barbara dreamed she was being choked in her sleep, and it was a demonic attack; she spoke the name of Jesus, and it stopped instantly.  Also, these dreams can be sexually-motivated, prey on some of your fears, or you may actually see demonic beings in your dreams.  If these are a regular occurrence, you may need to seek spiritual counsel from a priest or pastor who can pray over you.

3. Actual messages from the Lord - These are rare, but you will know them if they happen!  Dreams like this have a lot of symbolism in them, and you may notice vivid detail, specific numbers, and even some actual visions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, angels, etc.   A dream like this will also stick with you for a long time, and if you can't get it out of your mind, perhaps it is time to talk to someone because it is highly possible that God is communicating to you.   Joel 2;28 talks about this as being an eschatological phenomenon too, as he prophesies that "old men shall dream dreams," and being I have had several dreams like this over the years, perhaps I am an old man!  One such dream I had a couple of years prior to this writing was actually a sort of vision of hell, and I can still remember it to this day.  In this dream, I saw an underwater lake, and although the water was crystal clear to look at, it also appeared inky black and would spontaneously combust.  I remember warning some people in the dream not to drink the water lest it cause them peril of some sort, and although a bit bizarre, I had no fear myself about it.  I truly believe what that dream represented was a vision of what hell is possibly like, a "lake of fire" in a rather mysterious sense.  And, there was a message there for me too - I was to tell people that something they are partaking of is in reality damnation to their souls, although it looks refreshing initially (could it be a heresy I was to warn about?  Who's to say!).  In another dream I had earlier this year, it was a little different.  In it, I was visiting one of our parish churches in our diocese (which is called Good Shepherd, in Palm Bay, FL).   The altar of the church faced the east and the ocean, and while looking out a window I noticed a large fish that resembled a goliath grouper stranded in shallow water, and in the distance was this huge crocodile stalking it.  After looking into the symbolism of that, I realized that God was giving me a message for Fr. Lock, the rector of the parish over there whom I had recently met at our diocesan synod.  The message was that there was some sort of growth (spiritual possibly) that was taking place at such a rapid pace that the church was outgrowing its current position - that was the grouper in the shallows.  Soon there would be some sort of adversity that would threaten the church (the crocodile) but the church would be delivered from it and move into the place God wanted it (the fish breaking free of the shallows and finding deeper water).   I later contacted Fr. Lock about this dream, and he understood its significance, which leads to another point - if you have a dream like that you believe to be from the Lord, be sure to first talk to your spiritual shepherd (priest or pastor) about it, and then share it with the person or institution dealt with by the dream.  This establishes accountability to discern the true source of such a dream too.

That being said, let me briefly touch on symbols in dreams, as imagery plays a pivotal role especially in spiritual dreams which God may be communicating with us.  Symbols are those things which, to use a liturgical/sacramental understanding, which point beyond themselves to a deeper meaning.  These symbols take on a number of attributes in dreams, and here are some of them:

1.  Numbers
2.  Colors
3.  Objects
4.  People
5.  Places

As a sixth thing, I would also mention sensory perception, as yes, you can smell, taste, touch, and hear things in dreams too!  These elements are present to a degree in most dreams we have, but they become more significant and enhanced as we dream things that may have a message - for instance, the other night I had this really interesting dream about a place called Three-Finger Canyon, and upon doing some research, I found out it is actually a real place in Utah I didn't know about, but the dream had nothing to do with Utah.  Upon looking into it further, there are three parts of the name that have significance - the number three, the symbolism of fingers, and the symbol of a canyon.  I went to several sources, both psychological articles and Christian sites, and putting it all together it came to this - a canyon always is part of a river, which represents life's journey.  In the dream, the place of the name was a trickling branch-off of a larger river, and when a river slows to a trickle, it means a melancholy or disappointment in life.  The number three is always associated with tradition (a good thing in this case) or completeness, and a finger means discernment and instruction.  A green directional sign pointed the way to this Three-Finger Canyon in the dream, and we were heading east but turning to the left and north - East is the direction of blessing, while a left turn symbolizes a spiritual change.  North, on the other hand, symbolizes judgement.  So, as I look at this, what I was able to put together was this - I am going the direction of blessing, but need to spiritually examine myself in the light of the three-fold instruction of Church, Tradition, and Scripture (makes me think of von Balthasar's "Threefold Cord of Catholicity!") and proceed in that direction in order to prepare for the blessing - the road will seem disappointing at first, but later in the dream I came to a railroad track which I ended up living in - it was a LONG train, and at the front of it was a house.  Railroads are another thing that stresses the right path of tradition.  The house was old at first (established tradition) but was later remodeled (spiritual renewal) with an elevator (symbolizing God bringing to a new place). The track headed back to the eastbound road, and at the other end of those long cars was a sitting-room with blue carpeting.  As I started to really comprehend how all this fit together, it was a retrospective dream, as over the past 17 years that has been exactly what has happened - it was as if God was telling me he had to re-route me as a form of loving judgment to purge me of some things while instructing me in the right ways (which had its agonizing and disappointment too), and upon doing that I was then to proceed upon the road he intended for me.  The hope and inspiration in that dream was something I had been needing, and it ministered to my spirit.   This is the sort of thing God will speak to you in a dream, and it will always be a message that conforms to historic teaching and the clear teaching of Scripture too.

The final thing I wanted to stress in this discourse about dreams is this - be sure to keep a record of all your dreams!  It is a suggested practice to write them down immediately upon waking, as the details are still vivid and fresh, and the best way to do that is a regular journal.  Journaling in recent years has become a sort of new thing that many church leaders and others advocate, and it is not a bad practice to get into.  Not only with writing down dreams, but the recording of all aspects of your life that are relevent will be a sound historical record that will be a valuable resource one day for those of your family (or you even) for doing a family history or an autobiographical narrative.  I have journaled personally for almost 20 years, and it is now a regular habit - you don't have to do it everyday, but it is a good practice to get into regardless.  And, especially with dreams - even if they are not something clearly conveying a message of the Lord, a dream can be something that reveals your own inner thoughts and can later help you to make sense out of some things.  I also recommend resources such as Perry Stone's excellent book, How to Interpret Dreams and Visions (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2011), as well as The Secret of Dreams: The Only Serious Catholic Guide to Understanding and Interpreting Dreams by Sj, Pedro Meseguer, which is a good sound book on the subject from a Catholic perspective.  There are also scores of websites, but be careful - make sure to research who they are, because some of them may come acrosss as Christian but may actually be occultic.  Again, dream interpretation is a tricky thing to research, and it requires sound and mature discernment.  

I know this was a bit of an odd discourse, but I felt led to discuss it with you, and hope it will help some of those reading this who may be struggling with why they are having unusual dreams about things and if there is a reason behind it.  God bless until the next teaching.