We forget dreams at our peril. The Bible is full of them, and not one is trivial or unimportant. Joseph of the coat of many colors, Nebuchadnezzar, the prophets who received the Word of God in dreams, Joseph the husband of Mary, the Magi, Pilate’s wife, troubled by a dream on that fateful day. Of all the visionaries in the Hebrew Scriptures, only Moses was able to receive the Word of God without dreaming, but as I consider his forty days atop Mt. Sinai, like Jesus in the desert without eating or drinking, I know that Moses had achieved a very different order of life than the one I know. Returning, therefore, to myself, for God will always meet me where I AM, if I am the child of a species that did in fact dream language into being and if the Bible is the Word of God filtered through the experience of human beings, at some level, the Bible is a dream.
Many people read the Bible, if not exactly literally, at least as a kind of instruction manual, filled with fables and parables that illustrate how best to live. This works very well in stories like Abraham, Joseph, David, Moses and Jesus. It works less well, as we have seen, in the stories of Pharaoh’s army drowned in the sea and the Canaanites put to the sword in the Promised Land. It is just too tempting to read those stories like 007, God's license to kill. It is just too tempting to say that the commandment given to Moses on Mt. Sinai “thou shalt not kill,” applies to lesser men than I. It is just too easy to forget that the power of evil seeks always to make an exception of itself, to establish itself as a different order of being. Of all the angels, only Satan was too self-important to serve God. What better way to play god than to flagrantly break God’s commandments and believe I have gotten away with it?
The condition of our earth today bears witness to the fact that we have gotten away with far less than we think.
Ever since the horse gave man to power to make war, we have known the power of violence, of slavery, rape, famine and plague. We, who have turned the horse into fighter jet, bomb and tank don’t need the Book of Joshua to teach us the ways of war. What we do need, however, just as the Israelites needed an opening in the sea to give them a path into the Promised Land, is a path through the horrors that we have allowed to happen. God, after all, does not desire the death of sinners, but a banquet of abundance and life.
Thus says the LORD,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
Isaiah does not give us here a paean to a God who murders Egyptians; he sings a hymn to a God who guides us beyond the power of war. His words are a curious mix of literal history and anthropology and symbol, spirit and hope. In the dream of prophecy, whose rules are different than those of waking life, he cannot kill, but he can transform. Water quenches the fire of passion and it is the passion to control, the passion of plunder and possession that drives the engines of war. War is fire, but water can put the fire out. Water erodes and dissolves all things. Water is that through which the Israelites escaped and in which we are baptized. Water is the slowest of the four elements at doing its work of transformation, but when it is done, it can reduce even Mt. Everest to level ground.
Likewise, we as a species are long at learning that the practice of war is not power; compared to the power of God, to the power of our patient earth, war is an impetuous tantrum, a toddler’s expression of pure impotence. The horse and chariot of technology tempt me to trust in external things, in apparatus, while God lives within. God is the dream maker. God can see before my birth and after my death and through God I can sense that I am a child of a quivering, living cosmos, a child who will live forever.
I can kill an enemy in two ways. I can kill him with the sword, knife, gun, bomb, grenade, cyanide, land mine, small pox infected blanket, agent orange, AIDS, starvation, poisoned air, earth, water, fire, car crash, prison, Zyklon-B, inhuman labor, torture, neglect, or any other of the means we have devised. Or I can make him my friend.
God has been trying to tell me this for thousands of years.
* * *Tomorrow is the last day of Lent before we enter the even more tidal mysteries of Holy Week. Tomorrow I will share with you some practical points of dreamwork, and then we will enter Jerusalem with Jesus.