Dreams and mystical things

Only in dreams

A year or two after my father died, I had a dream that I hold close to my heart. I was in a laundromat (I think?) and my dad was there. He told me that my grandfather would tell me something important; my grandpa would tell me something that my dad himself wanted to say to me. I try to remember all of the dreams I have about my dad. They’re like little visits with someone I can’t see anymore. I consider myself very lucky to have dreams like this. Sometimes, they are weird and make no sense and I can be pretty sure that it is just my brain recycling and filing information. This dream felt different. So I held on to it.

A few days later, I got a letter from my grandfather. In it he told me that my father loved me very much and would be very proud of the woman I had grown into. I lost it, into full on ugly cry.

Now, this letter may sound normal to anyone who doesn’t know my grandfather. Grandparents, in theory, say this kind of stuff all the time. Not Grandpa R. I clearly remember the first time he told me he loved me. I was about 16 and it was his 85th birthday. I called him to wish him a happy birthday and he sounded kind of sad and told me he loved me. I was so shocked by this I handed the phone to my dad saying, “Um, I think grandpa’s drunk. He told me he loves me.” He wasn’t a big drinker, but that was the only reason I could think of that would explain his informal and (in his world) unseemly expression of emotion. So, this letter was not his normal way of expressing himself. It was kind of a big deal.

The letter itself seemed almost Godsend enough, when my dream (that I had the day my grandpa sent the letter) is added, I can find no explanation other than one that involves God, the world beyond this, the Holy Spirit and general mystery. There is too much happening here, too much I can’t make logical sense of. And that’s okay with me. Because I think it is wicked cool that, somehow, my dad visited me in a dream and told me to look out for a message from him through an unlikely source. I’ve had some pretty cool dreams in my life. I’ve had dreams that have helped me to see that I’m going down the wrong path in life, dreams that helped me let go of things I had been holding onto, and a really awesome lucid dream in which I defeated Darth Maul. But this one is still my favorite.

Why share this? What is the point of my story? I share it because it is real, for me anyway. It is very, very real. And my experiences will be readily and easily dismissed by people of faith. People who believe that a man was physically raised from the dead and then, after hanging out with his friends a bit, disappeared. People who believe in an afterlife, in God, in the invisible mover in so many things that are intangible, will  think that my dreams are nonsense and/or just a psychological projection of my grief.

Why are we so afraid of things we can’t explain? Why do we have to understand everything, to parse fact and fiction in the Bible and in our spiritual lives? Why do so many people I know dismiss the idea of the healing power of prayer (or make it psychological)? Why do we stick to the rational and the safe when Christian lives are built on a faith that is wholly irrational and strange?

This handicaps us as individuals and as leaders. As individuals, our insistence on the rational and quantifiable takes the mystery out of life. Where is wonder when everything has to be defined and answerable (and answered)? Where is the Holy Spirit when everything has to be concrete? Why bother praying for healing if it doesn’t actually do anything? I have seen many rational, all-head Christians end up a total wreck when they are facing death or pain because they had spent their whole life thinking about God and not experiencing God. There are mysteries in life, there are things we don’t and can’t understand. This is okay.

As leaders it hampers our ability to communicate with those outside our world of rationalist faith. A few weeks ago, in a workshop with Ian Mobsby, there was a lot of talk about the numinous and people’s renewed interest in spiritual things. He called our times post-secular: more people than in the past are curious about the spirit. Strangely, technology plays an important part in this reawakening. He calls this techgnosis. We spend all of this time with these crazy new inventions that broadcast our thoughts into space and put it somewhere else and it has created a new sense of wonder (even though, logically, we know how all of this works, or at least that it is science). So, we have all of these people in our churches and our communities who are having experiences with dreams and sunsets and gardening and hiking and computers and who knows what else. When (if) they come to us, we look at them like they’re nuts because their reality doesn’t match ours. Then they walk away, and never come back. We haven’t killed their sense of wonder, but we have told them that their observations and questions don’t fit in our box, and therefore, they are not welcome here.

So, yeah, I sometimes have freaky weird dreams that seem to be more than just my brain resorting my life. Sometimes I feel God’s presence so strongly it makes me want to cry because of a song on the radio that met me at exactly the right time and I feel like God is speaking to me through the radio. I’m putting this out there because I think we need to hear more of it. We need to talk about our experiences of God that are beyond explanation, that are a little weird. So many people have this happen to them and are embarrassed or don’t know what to do with it. I know I’m still afraid that if I share some of my experiences of God, people will think I am a) crazy and b) either not Christian or possessed by the devil. We have to get over this if we want to walk into this post-secular time as effective ministers of Jesus Christ, we have to be able to listen to people’s stories of the mysterious and to talk about our own. We also have to do it because we shouldn’t be embarrassed by our encounters with God. Not that we should brag; that’s not what this is about. It is about being open to the presence of the weird and mysterious Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of others in ways that we cannot explain. Because she is there, and she wants your attention.


About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

2 responses to “Dreams and mystical things

  • annamporter

    I have missed reading your blog posts lately because of my crazy schedule. Or maybe because the Spirit knew I was needing–and open to–reading this one right now. It spoke so clearly to me. I have struggled so much with my faith in the last 3 or 4 years, truly questioning God’s existence because I have suddenly started over-thinking him/her. But every now and then, the Spirit pokes through the heavy curtain of doubt with a “magical” moment, something that happens right when I need it, for no logical reason; something that pulls me back into the mystical where all faith truly belongs. You have made such an excellent point: how can we as Christians accept something as “out there” as virgin birth and resurrection when we shun many other “God-incidences”?

    I was surprised to hear Mobsby say that we are living in a post-secular world! When did that happen? I thought we were in the midst of a post-Christian era. If it is true, I am pleased to hear it. I, myself, seem to be reconnecting with the spiritual through the miracles in nature. Perhaps as people are reconnecting with the source of their food and reconnecting with growing it they are also reconnecting with the mystery of it?

    Thank you for your writing. It feeds me.

  • ERW

    I’m glad I help feed you (especially after all of the help you have given me :-)).
    Post-secularism isn’t different from post-Christian (or post-religious). In a way, they sort of feed each other. There’s a lot of research out there that shows that people still believe in the presence of a higher power and are totally open to the mystical. Because Christians aren’t prepared to deal with a lot of the language those encountering God outside of the church use (see the mocking/ rejection of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd by many Christians), they find spirituality elsewhere — in yoga or Oprah or The Secret or The Shack or on hikes or during full-moon ceremonies (some of those I think have merit, some I find less valuable). Post-secularism will remain post-Christian as long as Christians continue to reject/mock others experience with the numinous and run from our own.
    Also, I’m really glad you are able to find God in the small moments and in nature (and I would imagine in the eyes of your adorable grandson and magical children). It can be so hard to see God in the things we have made — s/he is more clear in her own creation.
    I hope you are well!

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