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Dream Work

“Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.” Annie Dillard


“Every once in awhile, if you’re like me, you have a dream that wakes you up. Sometimes it’s a bad dream–a dream in which the shadows become so menacing  that your heart skips a beat and you come awake to the knowledge that not even the actual darkness of night is as fearsome as the dreamed darkness, not even the shadows without as formidable as the shadows within. Sometimes it’s a sad dream–a dream sad enough to bring real tears to your sleeping eyes, so that it’s your tears you wake up by, wake up to. Or again, if you’re like me, there are dreams that take a turn so absurd that you wake up laughing–as if you need to be awake to savor the full richness of the comedy. Rarest of all is the dream that wakes you with what I can only call its truth.

“The path of your dream winds this way, now that–one scene fades into another, people come and go the way they do in dreams–and then suddenly, deep out of wherever it is dreams come from, something rises up that shakes you to your foundations. The mystery of the dream suddenly lifts like fog, and for an instant it is as if you glimpse a truth truer than any you knew that you knew, if only a truth about yourself. It is too much truth for the dream to hold, anyway, and the dream breaks.”

Frederick Buechner,  “A Room Called Remember” in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, © 2006 Harper Collins, New York, NY

                          “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”   Joseph Campbell

I am sitting on the front porch of our home on Aspen Way in Morgan Hill, California. All of my family is there with me, although we are all younger in this dream than we were when we actually lived there. There is an unexpected, loud noise in the sky above our home. We all walk onto the lawn and look up. Two large, rusted gunships, enormous helicopters, ten, twenty times larger than anything we’ve seen before, flank some sort of fighter. There is the sound of large cannons in the air above us, as well as rapid fire. We watch as our aircraft multiple into a flying armada–an armade that is under fire from other craft approaching over the foothills to the west.

Opening my arms wide, I shepherd my family into the house. The roar of cannon fire overhead is deafening. I see and hear silvery bullets tearing into the bushes and shrubs like violent hail stones as I step inside the house and slam the door behind me. Soon our house is being rattled by percussion bombs. My wife and children are huddled on the floor behind the heavy sofas and I join them there as the noise of the battle continues. At this point, all of our children–including Benjamin–are there.

Time passes, the rain of bullets and the thunder of the warships quiet and we all take our first tenative look outside. None of our neighbors’ homes seem to be damaged, but a good many trees are fallen and splintered, and there are craters in some of the yards. It seems that the green, growing things received the worst of it.

But later, the signs of an impending battle return. The sky literally fills with a tepestry of battleships–layer upon layers of strange airborne gunships are above us, each layer traveling in some other direction than those above and below it, toward a different objective, on a differing mission. Soon, a kind of snow begins to fall through the layers of warships and, at first, it almost seems peaceful. However, the silvery bullets return, mixed with snow–a concoction of white ashes and silvery bullets.

I’m in the living room listening to Marge, Matthew and Leslie talking about the strange happenings outside. I think the other children are in their rooms, so I’m dumbfounded when the glass door opens in the back and Sarah and Ben walk into the house. The neighbors, Ben explains, are organizing. He is carrying a rifle I didn’t know he had and he wants me to see that he is somehow older and bigger than the others. It seems these two have volunteered. The noise and action outside are increasing and we all kneel for what I sense will be our final prayer together as a family. The dream, which is incredibly vivid, ends as I look out the open door at the white-ash snow falling.

“Our task is not to explain images, but expose ourselves to them and have out thinking and feeling affected by them. Images are inherently and necessarily mysterious. They invite us to enjoy a life where mystery deepens the level of our thought and experience. Going against many approaches intended to help us get along in life, we don’t have to treat images as if they were psychological aids to healthy living.  A reverential attitude toward the life we’ve been given is more important than living that life correctly, successfully or healthfully.”

Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, page 174

I am inside an old Victorian home, standing alongside a railing of polished wood, as is the second floor I’m standing on. Looking down, the first floor is crowded with Jewish men of differing epochs and cultures. Some are dead and some are not. One by one they come up the stairs to visit me. They tell me about their persecutions. Quite a few of them speak about the European holocaust, but there are Russian Jews as well, each making a horrible recounting. 

Most of them are dressed in fine clothes, even some of the ghosts, which I believe is a sign of peace and redeemed suffering. Some others, however, still wear the stripes or the yellow stars brought with them to the concentration camps. An old man, wearing a white, wooly beard and an old-fashioned three-button suit, speaks to me in frustration and confusion. “What were we to do? If we gave money to charity, they accused us of perfidy; if we saved our money in a bank, they said the same things!” 

A wellspring of mercy opens in my heart for the old man, but each only have a moment to spare for me before it is someone else’s turn and I know as he moves forward he will have to put his case to another, and perhaps another and another. I am aware of old, vintage automobiles pulling up in front of the mansion, bringing entire Jewish families now, wives, sons and daughters. Each has a case to present, a plea to be made. More and more they arrive and enter. Listening to them crowd in, I hear no accusation, no disrespect for the owner of the house; neither do they say such things to me. Still, I am ashamed that they have found it necessary to come. There is a real sense throughout the house that I should have gone to them.

Whoever has been born of sound mind has been naturally intended by heaven for some honest work and some kind of life. Whosoever, therefore, wishes heaven to be nice to him, will go after this work and this kind of life, and doggedly persuit it. For heaven favors things it has itself begun. You were made by nature for this purpose beyond anything else. What you do from your tender years on, what you talk about, mould, fit, dream, imitate, what you try very often, what you can do easily, what you are most of all good at, what you love beyond all else, what you would be unwilling to leave–that is clearly what heaven and the rector of heaven bore for you.

To this extent, therefore, heaven will favor your beginnings and will smile on your life, as much as you persuit the signs of this creator, especially if this Platonic saying is true (in which all antiquity agreed), that there is a certain daemon guardian of life for everyone who is born, bound by one’s own star itself. In order for him to help someone in his duty of life, the heavenly beings assign him to each person being born.

Whoever, therefore, scrutinizes his mind, through the kind of discussions we have just described, will find his own natural work, and will find likewise his own star and daemon, and following their beings, he will thrive and live happily. Otherwise, he will find fortune to be adverse, and he will feel that heaven hates him.

                                                                               ~~~    from Marsilio Ficino’s “Book of Life”

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?”  John Lennon


There is some kind of pursuit through the corridors of one building and into the maze of another.  I’m running with another man who, awake, I can’t remember, but who was familiar to me in the dream. It is as if some great evil is hunting us, but we escape into a forest thicket–the manner and means forgotten after waking. But a joyful weariness slowly begins to inhabit every limb of my body as my friend and I walk through the autumn forest. My friend suggests that I lie down and rest on a thick blanket of fallen maple leaves. I slowly do so and then drift off into the sleep of death. My spirit, aloft among the limbs and branches, hovers over my body, that is now alone. Years fly by in moments as I watch my body decompose, becoming a shape in the leaves, something one would circle in those drawings for children. Again, the passage of time and, once again, my body takes on flesh. I begin to feel the dampness of the earth and I realize that I am once more within the forest material, cohering into human form. Eventually, I stand again upon the earth, turn and look down at the impression I have left in the forest floor.

 The amazing thing to me later was the realization of scents and fragrances in this dream which, of recent age, are becoming parts of my dream life where they never were before. 


Once again I am dreaming and in the dream I am sitting in my library chair, in some afternoon drowsy, and then I am with my book in a woodland glen, outside of some quaint New England town visible and nearby. I have been reading while walking on a dirt path. Looking up, the maple trees vaunt themselves over and above a split rail fence the runs alongside the path as it gradually ascends a rise. The leaves are on fire with the spirit of thanksgiving, but my eyes are on the crest of the hill. I see Benjamin standing there next to a white horse, holding the reins. I feel in my bones the years of not knowing where he was. And there it is again, something not threatening, but not yet completed and still unfinished, an odd inhabitant in my heart–a Being mixed of sorrow and joy, regret and anticipation, who is often my prelude to holiness. I watch as Benjamin and the white horse turn and disappear over the rise. I am filled with the testimony of hearts and bones. I know I will take these yearning with me to the grave.


“Dreams reveal the poetry embedded in the ordinary things of life.” Thomas Moore