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Dreams and Spirituality: A Handbook for Ministry, Spiritual Direction and Counselling Edited by Kate Adams Bart J. Koet and Barbara Koning

May 13, 2017

For a very long time, I have brought my dreams to spiritual direction so it was natural hat I would offer to listen to the dreams of others and I was surprised at how few directors do so. It was, therefore, good to read that one doesn’t have to be an expert in dreams to do so; just good at listening.

I was pleased to see a multi-faith element: there are Jewish and Muslim contributions.


In the Homeric poems all dreams are  of described as being sent by God. And although quite a few other Greek authors referred to the divine origin of dreams, the philosopher Aristotle did not accept that dream were from a divine source.

which dreams come from God and which ones do not? In the later books of the Old Testament, in the writ­ings of the New Testament and in the Early Church only the dreams that are accompanied by reference to that other holy revelation, the Scriptures, are considered a credible divine revelation. This can be seen, for example, in the dreams in Matthew 1-2, where there are also references to the Scriptures

In the popular Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Albrecht Oepke writes under the term ‘dream’ that dreams in the New Testament are no longer so important, since Jesus, God, no longer speaks in a mysterious manner, but speaks openly (Oepke 1954, pp. 22 8-3i). Dreams have not ­according to him — been necessary since Jesus.

a Macedonian man. This kind of dream is commonly known m Greek works, as found in Homer, for example. To readers in ancient ames Troy (and the surrounding area) was a symbolic place. According to Homer it was here that the first confrontation between Hellas and the East had taken place. Time and again great leaders had come to this place to relive this confrontation. For one, Alexander the Great made a stop in the region of Troy on his way to punish the Persians. Troy was also of great significance to the Romans. Virgil, when he had almost finished the Aeneid, tried in vain to make a journey to Troy but it became the death of him. And then, more or less in the middle of the Acts, at a decisive moment, on that crucial spot of the Trojan plains, Luke marks the crossing to Europe with a dream story in Hellenistic attire. Crossings between Europe and Asia were frequently accompanied by dream stories. Thus Luke, expertly drawing on his roots in the biblical tradition, enrols his principal character, Paul, into Hellenistic history.

Married people, fathers and mothers, teachers, but also managers and executives can take lessons from the story of Solomon’s dream of haw a listening heart is the main thing for a king, a judge, and a teacher. Only those who try to listen with their heart can suc­cessfully judge other people’s acts. Of course, this is easier said than done, but that is intrinsic to gaining wisdom. The stories about the kings of the Old Testament are narrative pedagogics.

I myself think that Luther, with his emphasis on faith and Scripture alone, was one of the first theologians to be totally against the interpretation of dreams as a form of revelation. A second blow came from the Enlight­enment. Although Swedenborg was a protagonist of the Enlightenment, he claimed that many of his inventions were based on visions. This was offensive to Kant, who always stressed the rational and even wrote a book against dreams

For monophasic peoples, dreams are synonymous with un-real, but for most peoples on the planet, dreaming is at least as real as waking experi­ence, and often considered more real.

After the discovery of REM sleep in 1953, it was assumed that dreaming only occurred in this phase (the dream being viewed as a epiphenomenon of REM sleep). This now appears not to be the case!

While it is good to check the situation out when dreams reveal medical conditions or warnings, it is always best to remember that dreams speak in metaphor, and to look at the dream from the standpoint of our personal associations to gain a balanced understanding.

It is especially risky when the listener behaves like an all-knowing seer who can clarify a mystery that the dreamer knows nothing about.

Dreams are a special source of inspiration for literary, poetic and artistic activity. For the artist, the dream often forms the beginning of a discovery, something new and original. It is therefore unethical to remove the stimulus from the dream by wanting to explain and clarify it completely. A dream can be followed by a creative action.

Most dreams in which ‘literal’ and concrete imagery of death occurs normally signify about something that needs to die in us. Dreams predicting actual physical death do occur, however, but that is conveyed in a much more symbolic language like going to make some kind of journey.

One of the colleagues regrets the fact that the pastor limited himself to the Passion: should he not have pointed towards Easter, the triumph of life over death? Richard’s reaction is vehement: ‘You professionals are always too quick with your answers, that all will be fine again and so on. But let it just be said for once how life really is!’…. Richard asks us emphatic-to stand next to him, to be serious about his sufferings and .  to his guilt. Only those who dare to stand next to him will be able to join him in search for forgiveness, reconciliation, towards Easter.

When it comes to the emotional dynamics revealed through dreams (the dominant perspective in western situations of t aregiving), people don’t expect their pastors to be master-interpreters of underlying unconscious structures. And likewise pastors should not assume that they need a very specific, highly developed expertise for that type of conversation. It is already of great value when a pastor is present to people’s life stories in a supportive way, and to the feelings and experiences the dreamer wants to share: by listening intently, being an interested and empathic witness and helping to explore what’s on the table by means of open questions.

We can claim space for such a pastoral conversation when we take into consideration that there is not one true interpretation of a dream ­several interpretations are possible at the same time, meaning that all can be true (Hebbrecht in this volume). And for such a type of counselling ministers have a well-trained ear to offer and have often undergone a thorough grounding in explaining texts and narratives. According to Bart Koet, in the past the interpretation of Scriptures and of dreams were related; and nowadays the same hermeneutics still count and are being put into practice

the daughter of Jairus, according to the Gospel of Mark raised by Jesus from the dead, is painted by Drewermann as a girl on the verge of adulthood, who needs to be freed from the grip of her parents’ obsessive care. The girl is not really dead — she was only so stifled that she could not continue living. ‘Give her something to eat,’ Jesus says at the end of this story, and Drewermann (1993) translates: let her grow and mature; do not keep her small and dependent any longer ­a message addressed to the parents of the girl and to all overprotective and possessive parents.

The dream has various meanings to convey to us; these mean­ings come from the dream and the dreamer and from the conversation between the pastor, dreamer and dream. This is why a psychosystems approach to dream work does not rely on pre-codified dream interpret­ation resources. The power in the dream is lost if we do not explore it with curiosity and allow its contextually creative voice to first affect us and then to take on new dimensions as we engage with it recipro­cally. Those pastors who work closely and productively with their own dreams will be best positioned to work with the dreams presented by others.

To examine the way the dream mediates contending values within the dreamer and impinging on the dreamer from his milieu, the minister might ask, ‘Does this dream help you set right anything in your life?’, `What value conflicts or moral distress does the dream disclose and what guidance does the dream provide to understand and resolve them?’ and `If you act on the dream, how will your life become more intense and harmonious?’

To examine the power of reciprocal transactions mediated by the dream, the caregiver might ask, ‘How does this dream speak to any stuck places in your life?’, ‘Does the dream offer you a way through the conflicting relationships you face?’ and ‘How does this dream speak to the ups and downs in your relationship with God?’

Rav Hisda said (too): A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.

Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbia Simeon ben Yohai: The truth is, that just as wheat cannot be without straw, so there cannot be a dream without some nonsense.

Rav Berekiah said: While a part of a dream  the whole of it is never fulfilled. (b.Ber 5 5a)

However, implicitly, it is again clear that people themselves can also choose how to explain their dreams. As illustrated in fragment 3, the rab­bis strive for a positive interpretation, meaning that there is no need to fear one’s dreams, for one should always look for a positive explanation.

The rabbis know that a man is only shown in a dream w is suggested by his own thoughts. However, the rabbis do know that Scripture it is said that God speaks with his prophets in dreams and visions (Num. 12.6-7). According to this statement, this possibility is very limited only a very small number of dreams are prophetic.

Montgomery Watt remarked that the ‘modern Westerner’ realizes that what seems to the Prophet to come from ‘outside himself’ can really come from the unconscious and that Muhammad might have simply been a man with a  strong ‘creative imagination’.

Do not be overbearing or too anxious to interpret what you hear. Let people always tell you what they think. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Remember that revealing a dream is an act of intimacy, and cherish the very fact that people share their dreams with you.

add a word of caution about such materials, as well as books that claim be dream dictionaries. One of the basic principles of dream work as I practise it, and as promoted by the IASD, is that only the dreamer knows for certain what the image or s may mean in their dream. Many dream images and symbols can have multiple meanings associations.

the fact that we’ve recalled a dream means that we are ready to work with what it  is trying to tell us.

As St Augustine (354-43o) wrote, ‘Ever constant God, let me know myself that I may know you’. Faith in God, like every relationship, demands a level of self-awareness to be authentic. The insight into the interior life provided by dreams uncovers some deeper truths about ourselves, thereby drawing us closer to God, whose Spirit dwells in the depths of human nature.

The dreamer should be forewarned that unexpected issues or emotions may arise in the course of the dreamwork.

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