I don’t know about you, but I’ve been aware that I have been dreaming a lot lately.
Over the years, some have been deeply disturbing. One of the most disturbing was 30 years ago in Chicago. I suddenly awoke at 2:00 am, shivering in a dream-induced cold sweat.
At first I tried to force myself to go back to sleep. But eventually I realized I’d be more likely to go back to sleep if I wrote down what I could remember of the dream. It was scary. But later I learned a lot about myself as I pondered what I had written that night.
Since then, as weird as they are sometimes, dreams have become reminders for me to “Pay attention!”
One thing I learned is that, by the grace of God, when I face my fears, I can live into hope.
Lately I’ve been paying attention especially to a dream I had almost 40 years ago. Much of the core of who I am now, and the path I’ve tried to follow most of my life, was shaped largely from age 13 to 23.
The dreams (and nightmares) I experienced through that time don’t haunt me, but they keep me exploring and trying to discern who I am and what I’m being called to do.
Through the almost 7 years that I had to fight cancer, relapse, and various difficult side effects from harsh treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I learned that I was not just my isolated experience of a passive “battleground” just hanging on for survival. Along the way, I began to discover that I was a soulful part of creation.
I awakened to the realization that I was connected, even in my solitude, to a much larger, gracious, and loving Creation. Though I knew the experience personally and profoundly, it has taken me years and years to learn how to put words to such powerful transformations, and join in that journey with others.
My dream from 1980 came 4 years after my last hospitalization at St Jude. With the awareness of deep vulnerabilities and the very real possibility of dying still fresh to me, I dreamed God was showing me a vision for deep healing that could unleash the power of compassion and bring unity to different peoples around the world.
In my dream, I felt that too much of the suffering and vulnerability around the world over the centuries has been through violence and war. The related shame, resentment, unwillingness to listen, and violent counterattacks fed an unending cycle of abuse and suffering.
Through illness, however, with God’s help and modern medicine, those who experienced depths of vulnerability and nearness of death could survive with gratitude and new insights to what matters most in life. The more people could connect in compassion and share their stories of healing (and grieving), there could be a Great Awakening to a transforming power of compassion that could be heard and resonate with others around the world.
As we humbly and prayerfully hold our fears and our dreams, God can speak hope to the very heart of our stories and the visions that emerge.
For those traveling on the road to Emmaus, though they initially did not recognize Jesus, their telling of their grief to Jesus is the very thing that awakened the “ears of their hearts” and kindled a new burning passion and hope. For those on the road to Emmaus, it wasn’t until the blessing and breaking of the bread that they realized Jesus was truly with them.
I wonder if they could have recognized Jesus earlier if they had been able to listen to themselves and Jesus more deeply? Jesus meets us where we are. But might it help if we try to improve our eyes to see and ears to hear — and to know whose we are in each moment?
We are a story-telling and story-hearing people. It’s at the very heart of what helps heal us and gives us new life. How many new ways in this challenging time, can we learn to listen, and listen more deeply to the sacred stories within and all around us?
In recent decades, we have learned much about how easy it is to be distracted by our technologies, and not truly listen or be present to ourselves and others. But in this time of overwhelming vulnerability, we are discovering that we can use much of that same technology to connect deeply with others from a great distance, and at the same time be intimately close to offer support and care for the soul.
Can such deep listening open us to inward, spiritual grace in the moment? If we become more intentional about paying attention, might we awaken more often to know in the depths of our soul that “Everything is Holy” and Holy all the time?
With the help of contemplative practices and mindful presence, we can learn to listen in ways that help us recognize that Jesus and the power of compassion are with us all along this difficult and scary journey. Listen and look for such hope all along the way. And safely connect with others, wherever you may be.
I hope you will join us each week for the spiritual practice of “Centering Prayer.” Feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to learn more and even join us in the community that meets on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7:00-8:30 am in one of our FUMCFW “Zoom Rooms.”
Grace and peace,
Dr. Len Delony
Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation