Worship: Dreaming a better future
“Welcome, dreamers,” said the Rev. Meg Riley, senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF). “Welcome, sojourners of the spirit.” She was speaking to about 200 people who had gathered in a room at the Phoenix Convention Center. CLF has some 3,500 members spread all around the world, and the usual weekly worship service takes place online. This was CLF’s annual face-to-face worship service, and the theme for the service was dreams and dreaming.
Riley led the congregation in a “dreaming meditation.” She invited the gathered congregation to imagine a cool, clear lake in the middle of a dry desert landscape. “Take your body, your aches and your pains, your exhaustion and your exhilaration,” she said. “Get into that water, and rest, relax, lie back.” Then she asked the congregation to invite everyone they knew and loved into the water, adding, “Now bring in all the people of Arizona, all of the people you know and love and see, the immigrants, the border police . . . everyone in the world.”
“This is the ocean we swim in each night, the ocean of dreams,” Riley said. “Call it the collective unconscious, call it the mystery, call it the soul.” Whatever we call it, she said, “May it tell us how big we really are.”
The Rev. Sean Dennison described a recurring dream he had once had, when he was a woman coming to identify as a transgender person. In the dream, Dennison said, “I tried to see myself in a mirror . . . but I couldn’t see my face.” This dream came back repeatedly, said Dennison, and “I’d invariably wake up crying.” But one night, the dream had a different ending. “I heard a voice say, ‘Move the mirror’,” Dennison said, “So I reached out in the dream and grabbed the mirror, and turned it completely around, and I saw my face, tear-streaked, and undeniably male.”
Dennison said this was a “hard dream” to have. He had to confront a choice: Was he going to stay a female, or was he going to live what felt true and real? “The problem wasn’t me, the problem was the mirror,” he said. “The real me was there all along.”
Deanna Vandiver, a student minister from New Orleans, shared a dream she had had. In the dream, she looked out to the horizon to see a storm approaching, part tornado and part water spout. On a hill nearby, some children were staring at the storm. She ran towards them to help them to safety, when she saw the nearest girl was holding up a smart phone, recording the approach of the storm. She got the girl to safety, a bridge shattered above them, and she awakened.
“What if we’ve betrayed [young people] that deeply?” Vandiver said. “What if the next generation is more interested in documenting the end of the world instead of saving it? But what if you can’t save it, and have to bear witness instead?”
Meg Riley then introduced the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Taylor, past president of the Association for the Study of Dreams, who studies dreams from a Jungian perspective. Riley said that although the arc of the universe bends towards justice, there can be “lots of twists and turns along the way,” and Taylor was an ideal person to talk about these twists and turns that arise during justice work.
Taylor began his sermon by telling a dream-like story. A man is fishing by a river when suddenly he sees a little baby floating down the river. The baby is gradually sinking, so the man throws aside his fishing gear and wades out into the river to save it. Then another baby comes floating down the river, and another. “Then there are all these babies floating down the river,” Taylor said. The man calls to other anglers to help him, and at last they get all the babies out of the river, and begin to care for them. At this point, the man leaves the othrs to care for the babies and walks away. They tell him he can’t just walk away from the babies, but the man says, “I’m going upstream to see who’s throwing all these babies in the river.”
“If we don’t address the causes” of social injustice, Taylor said, trying to correct social problems “becomes endlessly repetitive.” He added, “We have to understand that the root causes of social justice issues are not conscious.” He argued that we all help to create social problems unconsciously, and “there are patterns that appear in social justice work.” This means we all have to address the unconscious roots of social problems.
As an example of what he meant, he talked about environmentalists trying to stop some kind of destructive development plan. “Mustering rational arguments against insane development plans is not enough,” he said, to stop ecological disasters. “The deep compelling urge to rape the planet comes from the unconscious.” He said this is an interior problem that is projected onto nature as a whole, because nature as a whole looks like the unconscious mind. If we’re serious about justice work, he argued, we have to deal with the unconscious.
Taylor said that racism has a similar unconscious source. “Lighter skinned foks have been oppressing darker skinned folks for a long time,” he said. “We come into the world associating light with up, and with goodness, and dark with down.” Problems arise when there is a drive to make this symbolic association become literal. “What is called racism is a mistaken literalism,” Taylor asserted, about our symbolic interpretations of light and dark. This means that in order to address racism, we must first address the unconscious symbolism on which it is based.
Taylor concluded by saying that dreams can tell us what is possible, not only for individual psychological change, but also for large-scale social change. He urged the congregation to “share your dreams with each other.”