Reflections by Jerry Webber

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dreaming of an Expansive Life

The language and symbols of spiritual stories are nuanced. If we interpret all spiritual teaching with a rigid, "one-size-fits-all" schematic, we will miss the deeper truths that might be intended for us. Teachings that open us to the Spirit are pliable, shaping themselves around specific persons and events so that we experience truth at ever-deeper levels of our being. To apply a single interpretive mindset across the board to all spiritual language misses the point.

For instance, in biblical narrative we tend to think of darkness as "bad," representing evil. And we tend to think of light as "good," representing healing or God. Many times that interpretive framework is accurate. There are plenty of times in the Bible when we are encouraged to leave the darkness -- and the "deeds of darkness" -- in order to walk in the light.

Or another interpretive framework says that nighttime and darkness are the times for sleep. And since slumber, dullness, and inattentiveness are major impediments in the spiritual journey, darkness and nighttime become symbols of the time we sleep or are inattentive to the presence and activity of God. We may not be actively engaged in evil-doing, but we are dull and sluggish of spirit. We are sleep-walking through life. So encouragement to step into the daylight in spiritual language is often a call to "wake up!" Light, then, represents spiritual alertness, seeing, awakening, and enlightenment.

Still, there is another interpretive framework for darkness and light that we frequently miss, especially in spiritual stories. Night and darkness also can represent dreaming, the deepest longings of the soul, the time when our controlling mind can no longer govern what lives in our souls. Dreams are very often wild, free, vivid, imaginative, untamed, and portray a world where "all things are possible." When we sleep and dream, we are in a state of consciousness in which our minds can no longer put the brakes on what lives deep inside us. Dreams are the soul's vocabulary, telling us in symbolic language of possibilities that in our waking hours we wouldn't let ourselves imagine.

In the same way, daytime in spiritual story can represent a flat-earth view of life that is constricted and confined, bounded by rules and limitations, hemmed in by "oughts," "shoulds," and "musts." We may prefer to live in the daytime world because we fear being out of control, so we shut out the language of the soul. Especially in our culture, we tend to think that the daytime world of work, home, leisure, and responsibility is the only world there is. We stop dreaming and stop listening to the soul.

So as the nighttime represents expansiveness, creativity, and the vitality of the Spirit, the daytime can represent constriction, control, and a firmly-held, ego-driven life.

The Bible is full of dreamers. Joseph and Jacob in the Old Testament, and Peter in the New Testament were each given dreams and visions that opened them to God and to new realities that they could not have envisioned in their own thinking.

In our cultural setting, if we're not careful, living only in the daylight hours, we grow small and constricted, living only as far as our minds can imagine. We tend to call this the "real world." Actually, we only live in this "real world" --which we can personally control and manipulate -- out of fear of the other world of Spirit where we are not in control. This is flat-earth living!

If, on the other hand, we can live in a more imaginative balance, our lives grow larger, fuller, and more expansive. We begin to fill out the purpose for which we were created. We dare to reach out, to touch stars. We envision new possibilities. We begin to listen to the wisdom of our own souls, where we are most deeply and intimately connected to God.

David Whyte's poem "What to Remember when Waking" speaks to this tension between nighttime and daylight.

In that first
hardly noticed
in which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
and frighteningly
where everything
there is a small
into the day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

[in David Whyte, The House of Belonging, 26 - 28]

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