A Dream


A Dream

19 July 2020

Jacob came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones he put it under his head and lay down. And he dreamed. And he dreamed that there was a reaching to heaven and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring shall be as numerous as the grains of dust…Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Then Jacob awoke and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place…”

Years ago, I served in an army Guard unit. So, over a period of years I spent many couple of weeks in the summer at Ft. Chaffee on our annual field training. It would be about this time of year with the weather much like we are experiencing now – except it seemed much hotter and much more humid. As I was in an Infantry unit, we would spend the second week in the field on training exercises. On one of those long, hot, dusty days it was dark before we got to the place where we could bed down for the night. We did as best we could in the dark. I found a place to lie down under a large tree. A breeze came up about that time. As I lay down, I noticed a light blinking regularly across the valley from where we were. We had had a long day but now all seemed peaceful and quiet as I dozed off to a restful sleep….

It’s funny how you remember things – and what you remember. I remember that night – how peaceful and restful - I could even see the place again in my mind’s eye as I read about Jacob’s dream.

Even our psalm for today seems to recall that evening: “You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways – You press upon me behind and before and – gently - lay your hand upon me – as a gentle and kindly father.

I remember the place and the great feeling of peace I had there.

Years later – and still many years ago – I had a dream one night. Like most people I suppose as soon as I awake most dreams are gone. But this one was special.

In it a person of our own times appeared, a person that I greatly admired. And to my great surprise – of course, this was my dream – he seemed to know me, to know what I was doing in my life, and most memorable of all he encouraged me in what I was doing.

That person is gone now.

Indeed, this year interestingly enough we remember the 100th anniversary of his birth.

In a magazine that I read a good friend of his – and his biographer – recalled him and some of the things he had said and spoken during his long, eventful life.  A life which he lived in service to God. In self-giving to God.

And maybe this morning let’s think about thoughts that sometimes come to us in the quiet times of our life, thoughts maybe even coming to us from God Himself.

So, this morning let’s think about – chew on for a bit – some of his thoughts recalled by his biographer and friend along with some of our readings for this morning.

He talked about “the West.” The “West” is sort of  shorthand for our own culture – Western civilization – the culture of our own country plus that of Western Europe. It’s not exactly the “Christian West” although we see  the remnants of a stronger Christian faith from earlier times – churches, cathedrals, place names, countless cemetery stones inscribed with messages describing the Christian faith of those interred…

He felt that the deepest taproots of what we call “the West” are found in Jerusalem and Athens and their interaction. In describing his friend’s thoughts, he said that “Jerusalem taught the West that history is neither cyclical nor random, but linear and purposeful. History is going somewhere; so is humanity. The foundational image of that purposefulness and direction is Israel’s exodus from Egyptian bondage.”*

In our reading from the Old Testament, from Genesis, we are in the earliest days of the history of the people of Israel – even before their days in Egypt and subsequent exodus back to the “promised land.” But God is there. He is talking with Jacob, assuring him that He is with him and will be with him and will be with his descendants – just as He had assured Abraham.

We hear a lot of talk about our own history. Some would say that it has had no purpose other than greed and the subjugation of certain people. If that is true – and personally I feel that it is not – why have we just celebrated the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence and the words, “All men are created equal?” Our own history – even with all its imperfections and missteps -  is going somewhere – there is a purpose and a direction – and an integral part of that purpose and direction is a recognition of the value and worth of all its people.

The writer paired Jerusalem with Athens.

“Athens for its part, taught the West that there are truths built into the world and us; that we can know these truths with a measure of certainly, through the arts of reason; and that knowing these truths, we come to understand our moral obligations and what makes for human flourishing.”*

 

The second thought is that we are God seeking – we hunger for God.

“The human spirit has an innate yearning for the divine and a hard-wired instinct for worship such that, if true objects of belief and worship are not found, false objects will be.”*

The man of our times certainly knew about that.  He knew firsthand about the false gods of Nazism and then Communism.

We continue to have our own false gods. Maybe we’ve added a few. Maybe we’ve added a lot.

The false god of communism is still with us.

It’s still with us in places like Cuba or North Korea or Venezuela. Maybe particularly it’s alive and well in China with its particularly nasty veneer of “capitalism” as the government persecutes a sizeable Christian minority and other faith groups using all the latest gadgetry and tools of a malign technology.

The third thought is that we value freedom in order to execute choices in life.

‘Choice is not everything. Freedom and responsibility are intimately linked. Freedom consists not in doing what we like but in having the right to do what we ought.”*  And when we do what we ought – when we give of ourselves – we discover – and this is the paradox – that when we become the gift for others – that we most fully become ourselves.

Where is all this going?

When we say history has a purpose and a direction – and I think we can – then as a part and a member of that humanity  when we are led by the Spirit of God, we become the children of God.

One of my favorite people in the Bible is Paul. I think he is one of God’s favorite people as well. Before his conversion he had a heavy dose of self-righteousness about him and was an effective persecutor of Christians. Yet Jesus recognized the person he really was. So, Jesus happened to meet Paul one day on the road as he was going to Damascus.

When I read Paul’s writing, I sense  the real person that is writing this, struggling with what to say, struggling to express the wonderful things he wants to share with us. I suspect that if he were here today, he would speak as honestly and be as plain spoken as he was then – maybe given the times we are in – especially so.

I think sometimes his insights, his thoughts, his vision, his relationship with God, are such that he had a challenging time putting them in words. So much so that the wonderfulness of the vision he sees, his words cannot adequately describe it. We know he is trying to describe something really wonderful in  his letter to the Romans we just heard.

In it he tried to describe where we are going, the purpose of our striving as Christians.

He really tries. Because he wants us to see it as well. Because he wants us to experience it as well.

Maybe a picture would help.

For a moment recall Michelangelo’s” Creation of Adam” – the famous painting in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. God’s hand reaches to man and man responds. It’s almost a cliché. You’ve seen it a thousand times. The hand of God reaches out energetically for man. Man – Adam – moves his hand toward God yet they do not quite meet.

What we see in this painting is what Paul is trying to say.

It is God’s hand reaching out to us as his children and it is our hand – indeed, my hand and your hand – that reaches back to him as our father as we say to him, “Abba Father.”

 

“You press upon me behind and before

You reach your hand to me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me

It is so high that I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go then from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to Heaven, you are there;

If I make Sheol my bed, you are there also.

Even there your hand will lead me

And your right hand hold me fast,

And lead me in the way that is everlasting.”

Amen.

 

 

*Quotes from “St. John Paul II: A Centenary Reflection” George Weigel draws lessons from the teachings of Karol Wojtyla – First Things, August/September 2020 – Page 39.

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