So Advent is winding down and Christmas is fast approaching. In the Lectionary, John the Baptist tales has been replaced by pre-birth narratives. This week Mary and Joseph are up. Now Christmas, quite like Easter is both a rich and a difficult time for people of faith. The birth story, the 'cradle' of Christian faith is both sweet and challenging. I mean come on, the virgin birth, it is up there in terms of impossible possibilities, let's be real!
But what has struck me in recent years as I have come back around to these over-familiar stories, is the dependence of it all upon dreams. This week for instance (Matthew 1: 18-25) revolves around this strange encounter between Mary and the Holy Spirit that results in pregnancy? Well alrighty then--(of course Matthew sets up the moment by inviting us into this slightly peculiar genealogy of Jesus that includes four other women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba---two prostitutes, a seductress and an adulteress--so Mary, the unmarried girl fits right in) but the story is about Joseph and his intention to quietly dump the girl. This intention is interrupted by a dream, and the rest of the story unfolds because of this dream essentially. Other dreams will follow until you realize that virtually the entire beginning of the christian faith story is predicated upon dreams and the responses of people to them.
I find that interesting, I'm not sure we place the same importance upon dreams as the ancients did, rationality, for better or worse, seems to hold a much larger sway in our affairs. Dreams seem to offer us up a world that is different from the one we have to live with and manage very day. Dreams in the bible are disruptive, they invade the course of public history and the powers that govern by showing a hidden truth or idea that is designed to create new possibilities. Freud, not a fan of religion, but a believer in the power of dreams, called them the 'royal road to the unconscious' and felt that acted as 'urgent dissenters' from the rational world we have deemd as absolute. In the Gospel story, Joseph's rationale is solid--keep the law, with regard to how to act toward a 'wayward girlfriend,' but he wants to 'do it quietly.' His dream invites him to a different course of action--to elevate compassion above the law-something 'his son' will do with broader ramifications later.
Dreams, it seems, can be an intrusion into our settled worlds that generate a sort of unease with the way things are. Sometimes, like Joseph's dream, instructions seem to come with it, more often than not, we have to let the unease and discomfort drive us to discover new ways of acting, new ways of being.