(2) DREAMS: BLUE EGGS and TWILIGHT BREAD
If it weren’t for Miriam (not her real name), I wouldn’t be telling you this. I would have left this particular blog topic with my previous entry (“120 Orthodox Hours and Counting”) – whooping it up over my own conversion to Orthodoxy
Enough said, says I.
But Miriam, a retired Protestant pastor and published writer with whom I serve on the board of an interfaith dialogue group, says the story of my conversion is my “next book.”
My “first book” is still being written – or more heavily researched, revised and rewritten, to be exact. It’s a piece of historical fiction based on an actual 12-hour event that, it turns out, is far more complex than I ever dreamed. Hence the subsequent years of background digging and reworking.
Miriam loves the craft of writing herself, knows oodles about it, and inspires me to keep on keeping on. Especially when it becomes pure and raw discipline the way it is now, 10 years down the narrative road.
“But,” she said a few months ago, “when you finish the novel, the story of your conversion is your next book.”
From Miriam, those are marching orders.
So blame it on Miriam. But hers also are scary orders, unnerving orders, because once the hoopla about this big change in my life is all hoopla’d out, well, then it gets even more personal, real real fast. And so if the orders had come from just about anyone else I almost certainly would have shrugged them off.
But if Miriam says it’s a story, I’ll give it a shot.
~ ~ ~
As near as I can tell, it all began with two dreams, the earliest dreams I can remember. I’d guess I was between three and five years old when I had them, but I’m not sure and in any event it doesn’t matter.
They were early, as in, basal, foundational. Primal. Primordial.
And they were emotionally potent, as in, archetypal (as I’d put it now).
By that last sentence I mean they came with an emotional aura that penetrated them and hovered all around them like a heavy floral scent. Each was the kind of dream you and I still have nowadays, the kind where a particular emotion or feeling state goes with the dream … one you can’t get out of your mind, one that hangs with you all day lthe next day.
I call those my archetypal dreams. The emotional aura is a “signal,” a kind of “flag,” that says: this dream is drenched with meaning. They come from extremely deep levels of the psyche, perhaps the very deepest, and the “symptom” of their depth is with just how much profound, unshakable emotion they come drenched. The kind you just can’t get out of your mind all day the next day.
Or, in my case, two dreams that I haven’t gotten out of my mind every day since then … and, no doubt, throughout all of the days that still are left to me as well.
They are two whoppers, emotionally and spiritually speaking, and they are these:
BLUE EGGS: the first dream, in chronological order, as best I can recall, involved an “amusement park” where every single “ride” was, in fact, a large blue egg … perhaps three feet wide and seven, eight feel tall.
This “amusement park” – for that clearly is what it was, in the dream – sat atop a very tall hill, almost a mountain, on the south edge of the city where I was born and raised, Tulsa, Oklahoma. On its western side it was a bluff, or cliff, that dropped sharply to a road far below, on the other side of which was the Arkansas River. Immediately across the river was a line of much smaller hills parallel to the river, each ending in a sandstone bluff.
This very tall hill and cliff was mythical. It did not exist in our ordinary four-dimensional space-time. The rest of the “scenery” was, and is, geographic fact – road, river, smaller hills and sandstone bluffs.
In retrospect I now realize it was one of those "mountains" connecting heaven and earth, found everywhere in human mythology. If not a mountain, then a sacred tree or pole or, headed the other way, cave or some such profound vertical passageway.
It was night in the dream, probably midnight, or so the dream “seemed to say” – certainly it was very dark, and nothing anywhere was moving. The “amusement park” was empty, and utterly still, except for me. Each egg was connected to the next egg in its line by an electrical cord hung with bare bulbs shining a pale blue light. At the intersection of each pathway between the lines of blue eggs – the “rides” or “amusements” in this eerie park – was a light pole, likewise shining a pale blue street light.
That was it. That was the dream. But to this day I am almost hypnotized when I see a house decorated in all-blue lights at Christmas … or a roadside field full of blue flowers … or … now and then … rarely, but sometimes … an actual blue egg.
Over time, I learned that I’m supposed to be looking for something in life … and that something … or perhaps I should say that Something … will be have the characteristics of an amusement park, and will be specially “marked” by the presence of blue eggs.
One more dream:
TWILIGHT BREAD: this one is much easier to describe, but much harder to talk about.
It’s hard to talk about because it could come off sounding egotistical, like it is saying something “special” about me. It’s not.
So right off the top, let me make that clear: this next dream, the “Twilight Bread” dream, is about Jesus and His power and wisdom. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me … or, perhaps better said, if it does concern me then it tells about my own weaknesses, faults and flaws, own needs.
I’d guess this dream came maybe a year or so after the Blue Egg dream. In part I am basing that on what little “memory” I still have of something that happened so very long ago. Even more, however, I’m basing it on a couple of details in the dream that make it seem based on the life experience of a slightly older child.
Be that as it may: in this dream, I am standing in a large auditorium of some sort that has a stage across the front. At the moment the stage is empty. The auditorium is only vaguely lit from otherwise unseen sources, a weak-tea kind of light that, if it were outdoors, I’d call twilight.
It’s light enough to see I’m not alone in the auditorium. There are perhaps a dozen other persons, all just silhouettes in the twilight, scattered throughout the room
And then two “persons” walk out on the stage. They, too, are just dark silhouettes; but I know one is God, one is Jesus. (Clearly I was too young to be thinking about the Trinity, let alone Jesus as God etc.) They each are demonstrating their “power” – that’s the word in the dream, either spoken by a dream character or, more likely, understood by the dream itself – by calling out the name of one of the persons in the auditorium, and then, in the twilight where personal features can't be made out, tossing a loaf of bread to that person.
When Jesus calls my name, He tosses two loaves of bread to me.
Whatever else this dream may have been “saying” to me, one thing was clear in the dream itself, and every time I have thought back to it since then: I wasn’t so special that I got two loaves of bread compared to everyone else’s one loaf. No, if anything, I was so pathetic that I needed twice what everyone else needed.
But the the dream wasn’t about me in any event. It was about Jesus, and about His power and might, knowledge and wisdom. And I’ve got to tell you, for a three- to four-year-old dreaming an otherwise simplistic kind of dream like that, this was pretty impressive power and might, knowledge and wisdom. Pretty impressive indeed.
~ ~ ~
Now, guess what.
I’m not going to tell you much more about the dreams. Not this time anyway. Maybe in some future blog, but not now.
They are very personal, and Miriam notwithstanding, I’m not quite ready to go on a dig into personal meanings this deep. I know what they mean – so far, at least – but am not ready to go public.
The lessons they taught me, however, came to fulfillment – they became completed lessons – with I “discovered” Orthodoxy beginning some 10 years ago. And the lessons are three:
ONE: meaning in our lives, or at least in mine so far, seems to come significantly from the “puzzle pieces” life hands us from time to time. The pieces in themselves probably won’t mean all that much. They will not come in any particular "chronological" or "alphabetic" order (i.e. pre-determined, pre-structured in any way). They come at Divine initiative, perhaps connected with my readiness to receive. And they will contribute to meaning when and only whenthere are enough puzzle pieces to start crafting the puzzle picture.
Two major pieces were given to me in dreams during my first three to five years. They were so important they came in the form of archetypal dreams, an emotional “color coding” that has stayed with me all of my life. They were, and are, puzzle pieces impossible to forget, impossible to misplace, to lose.
They, and others that would be given from time to time, one day would reach a kind of “critical visual mass” … at which point, the picture itself would be discernible. Maybe not discernible in its entirety (in fact, definitely not discernible in its entirety – that, I strongly suspect, is left for all eternity) … but enough of it so that one knows when and how to act next.
I’m strongly visual, so for me it is a “critical visual mass” that is haunting me, calling me toward itself. For others, it easily might be a “critical auditory mass” or a “critical olfactory mass” etc. In fact, I am fairly certain the “preferred sense” will be the one used throughout, the sense to which this coming picture will speak. Other senses will be involved, but in subsidiary (if important) ways.
Eggs, stacking eggs, Russian eggs, the blue mandorla or nimbus in certain icons and murals … even the bare bulbs of the “amusement park” … all have appeared in close (and obvious) association with Orthodoxy in general, and/or Holy Trinity Cathedral (Orthodox Church in America, where I now worship) in particular.
There is much more to come on this particular path, marked by archetypal blue eggs … but of the haunted and haunting, blue mystical path itself, there no longer was any doubt whatsoever beginning, for me, 10 years ago.
It was of this path that the Spirit, through the Blue Egg Dream, prophesied (as it were).
Bread for the journey, in my own darkness and in view (a view only Christ Himself can have) of my own brokenness and sinfulness, extra measures of Bread given just how sinful and broken my life has been – this, too, has appeared in close (and obvious) association with Orthodoxy in general, Holy Trinity Cathedral in particular.
And of this extra measure of Bread, I have no doubt there is an unbounded amount to come. I know I shall need it, that’s for sure.
It was of this part of the path, needy and hungry, that the Spirit, through the Twilight Bread dream, prophesied (again, as it were).
TWO: each dream, I slowly began to realize as the years and then decades slid by, spoke to me about a region of an otherwise complete and whole faith. Orthodox faith.
The Blue Egg dream, as I already hinted immediately above, haunted me.
The dream spoke to me, at that earliest of ages, of mystery. Of the mystical. Since that day, since that dream, I have been in search of a mystical tradition. I tried desperately to make my own Reformed/Presbyterian tradition mystical, but it didn’t work, to say the least. Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said, famously (or, I’d prefer to say, infamously): Mysticism begins in “mist” (myst), ends in “schism” (cism), and is centered on “I.”
Clever, but cleverly wrong. And if that was the best my own Reformed tradition could do – and most Protestant traditions (not all, but most) as well – then I would have to go elsewhere.
And elsewhere I tried, for years and years and years. Fifty years, to be exact, ever since my own first clearly “mystical” spiritual experience, the subject of another blog much farther down the blog line. I nearly became a shaman. I really and truly nearly became a Buddhist. I explored a bit of Catholicism (with its own impressive line of mystics, although seemingly all somewhat marginal to core Catholicism). I even thought a bit about Judaism (Kabala).
But Orthodoxy, which is the mystical Christian tradition par excellence, was in a big-league way where the Blue Egg Dream was directing me.
And the Twilight Bread dream: the best I can figure (so far – there is more to come) is that I needed Bread from Jesus Himself … His Bread directed to me in my own twilight … His very Body in the sacraments, called out to me by my own name and not stitched into some “generic one-size-fits-all Christian spiritual sock" (um, as it were).
That Bread, on so many “levels” of perception and Reality (capital “R”) that I can’t yet begin to separate them all out in my own thought, proved to be in Orthodoxy.
That, plus the stress Orthodoxy puts on this real-world journey of ours. An authentic pitfall in mysticism is that it can lead, or try to lead, to pure escapism.
Not so in Orthodoxy. This journey matters. This journey is the “stuff” God reworks into our own deification throughout the boundless, uncountable aeons yet to come.
As Fr. Alexander Elchaninov put it (The Diary of a Russian Priest): “The conditions with which God has surrounded us are the only possible way of salvation for us; these conditions will change as soon as we have made full use of them, having transformed the bitterness of offences, illnesses, labours, into the gold of patience, absence of anger, meekness.”
I need second helpings, and more, of all of the Bread of Life I can get in these twilight conditions with which God has surrounded me. We all do. They count. They count for all eternity. Thank God my Jesus can find me even here in the twilight.
THIRD: by now (10 years ago) I have begun to discern a pattern. My life is starting to look like someone running a vacuum cleaner in reverse: clouds and bulbous billows of bits and particles and pieces of what I thought was just dust and dust bunny threads … but, I am wondering by now (as the two dreams coalesce at Holy Trinity Cathedral, maybe all of it related and waiting … just waiting … for the One in Whom all things, even these chaotic dust plumes, hold together [Colossians 1:17]?
As my journey into Orthodoxy continued, I have come to feel nothing short of stupefied by how seemingly unending, how seemingly exhaustive, is this process first set in motion by dreams of blue eggs and twilight bread – where all things in this bamboozled life of mine start to hold together after all.
NEXT TIME (God willing): “Ben Hur” (!)