A few nights ago, I had one of my infamous recurring dreams. My “recurring dream” repertoire has a few oldies but goodies: the elevator that won’t stop on any floor; not being able to get to a class I’m supposed to teach; driving the car that mysteriously seems to lose its brake pedal. And don’t even get me started about the “my teeth are falling out!!!” dreams!
But, this dream sounds a new, even more tragic note. In this dream, I dream I go to church, but no one’s there. No one has lit the candles. No one has set the altar. Mass is about to start but not a soul is in the empty, echoing space. Oh, and we’re about to turn on the livestream.
In my empty-church dream, I have to overcome a series of obstacles in order to prep the space (in this latest version I needed to climb up exaggeratedly high marble steps while holding a BIC lighter in one hand and my 21.3 pound son in the other).
The symbolism in the dream (if you’re in to that kind of stuff) is pretty clear, I think. I’m in a sacred space in which worship is about to start, but it is empty and unprepared for celebration. I have a responsibility to complete, but literally have my hands full and feel ill-equipped to execute it (I really don’t like BIC lighters for candles!!!). And, the space which I’m canvassing in confusion represents a conglomerate of about four parish communities I’ve served and worshiped in over the course of my life. Emptyness is everywhere.
All this is to say, I, or at least my subconscious, is mightily struggling across this desert-sea of worship-less existence.
If we take a biblical look at dreams, though, dreams aren’t meant to simply to tell us what we’re thinking about when we’re not thinking. Dreams may torment the unrighteous, or simply fade away, dismissed like shadows, upon waking. But dreams are also meant to communicate—to tell us something about reality. To teach us where to go. To allow us to respond to the Holy One.
Does my ghostly church dream tell me anything about what I should do in the midst of our worship desert?
I suppose my dream is showing me that I have more control than I think I do. I’m using the resources I have, be they sub-par (i.e., BIC lighter), to prepare the space for the holy. And, in real life, while we don’t drive to our parish with the kids, we do light a battery-operated candle (much to the delight of my 9-month-old) which we set in front of our icon corner for evening prayers. And, we do “tune in” to Mass each weekend, and my daughter dances with much enthusiasm to the Alleluia.
In my dream, though I might feel encumbered by a small son I’m carting about, maybe I should notice that I’m not negotiating my struggle alone. The little child clinging to my shoulder, watching my every move, is coming with me. Our family is blessed to be together, to keep each other company, and perhaps we’re teaching our kids something by trying to interact with worship even when the odds are against us.
Finally, my dream wants me to respond to the needs of the community—we’re about to livestream Mass and the space isn’t prepared! In my dream, I’m brave and resourceful, and try to do something to help the faithful, even when I can’t see them.
At the end of the day, it’s not my dream that’s important—it’s what I do in response to it. I am troubled, as you may be, with the state of the world and worship. Mass is re-opening in my own archdiocese, and worship is re-opening in places across the nation. Yet so many of us do not yet feel comfortable joining our beloved worship communities for reasons of health and safety. In fact, numbers of coronavirus cases are rising in some places.
So what am I going to do about it? Can I model health and safety measures to my children, my students, and anyone I meet at a distance of 6 feet? Can I donate to my parish, to my archdiocese, or to national organizations which seek to help those ravaged by the virus and the havoc it has wreaked upon our economy? Can I take time to find joy in my children who love the ritual of lighting the evening (electronic) lamp, and dancing without reserve to the Gospel Acclamation?
I will try—I will try to be brave, resourceful, and aware that my actions can do something to impact the community around me. What about you? What will you do?