Friday, April 17, 2009

Why the Church Needs Jung: The Church Dream Group Movement

As a school chaplain, I spend a lot of time planning and writing curricula. In this work, I have been much inspired by Parker Palmer. Palmer envisions education as a circle of learners gathered around a Great Thing, a truth. In this model, the teacher directs the conversation, but does not necessarily initiate it. The initiator is the truth that sits at the center of the circle. In this way, teacher and student enjoy a peer relationship that does not happen in much traditional education.

At my school, we practice this form of learning with even the youngest children. The truth can be a poem, a play, a mathematical formula or an ear of corn. For me as chaplain, the truth that sits at the center of the circle is God.

That said, God is an elusive truth. Some say we can only know God by what God is not. Others speak of God's thousand masks. For many of us churchgoers, the experience of God is secondhand, mediated through old stories, sermons and classes that teach us about God and the Church without really bringing either one to life. One Sunday at the Church door, a parishioner told me that she only came for the Eucharist, because only in that very direct and unmediated encounter with bread and wine did God come to life for her.

Sacraments may be the outward and visible signs of inward and invisible grace, but God has a few invisible signs as well. God speaks to each one of us every single night in dreams. Whenever we dream, we step outside time and space to receive a teaching that is for us alone, and yet, because it comes from God, is also universal.

The Church is rediscovering this voice. Small groups are meeting and inviting their dreams to be the truth in the center of the room. This is the best possible curriculum. Dreams make no hierarchical distinction between lay and clergy, young and old, skeptic and mystic.

"But I have no experience!" you might argue. Do any of us have extensive experience of the infinite? The key to working dreams is to let their imagery wash over you, to apply active imagination in recreating their scenes, their characters and asking, "Why should this arrive in my soul just now?"

But no dream is just about you. Carl Jung believed that dreams and imagination have consequences for human society as a whole. Dreams are projective and teleological; therefore, when we work a dream in group, we are invited to project our own views. We do not project them unconsciously, however. We learn conscious projection. We embrace the other's dream as our own and in this way, practice compassion and empathy with the other. When I tell another what their dream would mean to me if it were my dream, I am literally including this other's experience into my own.

In this connection, it is wise to remember that no religion got its start as doctrines to which we must comply if we know what is good for us. Religions begin as people sharing a path toward truth. They start as people gathered around a table. In this connection, dreams may be the Eucharist of which each one of us is the unique priest, offering the sacrament of themselves to others, even as Jesus offered the sacrament of himself to us.

Want to know more? I recommend picking up and reading Joyce Rockwood Hudson's wonderful book Natural Spirituality, which is the best kitchen table discussion of Jung it has been my pleasure to peruse, or John A. Sanford's landmark book Dreams: God's Forgotten Language. Sanford wrote his book in the 'sixties while at the Jung Institute. It retains all the freshness that was the hallmark of the best of that decade. Or, if you want something really concise, go to and read The Rose.

I'll write more about getting a dream group going.

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