Honoring Dreams as Sacred Gifts

Genesis 28; 10-17 Jacob’s ladder ……….” Taking one of the stones at the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And God stood beside him and said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely God is in this place—and I did not know it!’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

It is great to be with you this morning. The first time I came here for the first time when I was 16 years old. I remember it vividly because my big sister Janet Wiscombe, who was a member here, was playing the pregnant Mary in the Christmas pageant the story that is driven by 5 dreams that Joseph and others have in order to save the divine child. She rode a real donkey down the stairs and she really was pregnant. I am turning 56 years old next week so that makes it 40 years ago that I was here for the first time.


Today I come to explore some dreams of famous people as well as some of my own, with the hope that you will be inspired to honor your own dreams as sacred gifts.

We have so many global problems, with wars raging, nuclear threats, and ecologic destruction of our planet, poverty, and injustice. With all this going on, many of us wonder about the survival of the human species.

The most basic understating of what dreams are for is that they are a kind of rehearsal for survival. We need to honor and listen to our dreams now more than ever before. I believe they are providing great wisdom for us as individuals and collectively for our survival.

“To imagine means: to see an image.”Dreams are images and when we honor them we are developing our creative imagination.

In modern times we have become so enamored with our abilities to analyze, interpret, reason and think rationally. We are engulfed in commercialism and individualism of western civilization, but intuitively we feel something is missing; something is desperately wrong with the way we are living.

It is a biblical wisdom? Yes. “Without a vision a people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). To dream, to have vision, and to be creative in imagining something different is what we need when we are in crisis. And right now the human species is in a moral crisis.

Historically, dreams have always been a way to explore religious questions. Things such as: what is the meaning of my life, what happens after I die, is there a God, why do people suffer? There are many different kinds of dreams and all dreams have more than one meaning. Not all dreams are profound religious experiences, but some are. Many give us an opportunity to integrate religious questions with what we have psychologically learned.  All dreams come from our psycho-spiritual healing and wholeness.

All people dream and can only go for a few days without sleep. Even though dreaming is still a great mystery, science now has done brain research while people sleep which showed that we all dream many times a night even if we don’t remember them.

Dreaming gives us a chance to play and interact with different characters, go to faraway places, and have wild adventures. Sharing our dreams with others is fun and free; they are blessed and contain very little instruction.

We get to know our unconscious self - the part of ourselves we don’t know very well. The unconscious part of ourselves sometimes gets us in trouble, but it is also the part of us that is much more grand, smarter, generous, gifted, and talented than our thoughts in our conscious state of mind.

Dream groups give us a much needed sense of community that is needed in our lonely and alienated modern world. In a small sacred dream circle we are instantly invited to share the most intimate parts of our souls and inner world with one another, and to be witness to others as they do the same.

In a few short minutes we have real soul friends and our alienation and feeling disconnected vanishes.

 I am currently leading Skype dream groups with people from as far away as Saudi Arabia. When we meet on Thursday California time, and the Saudi Arabian members she joins us on Friday 6m their time.

I am convinced that sharing dreams with people all over the world has the potential to show us how to be the global village we must become in order to survive.

My colleague, mentor, and teacher is the great UU minister Jeremy Taylor who has taught us that all dreams come from healing and wholeness, especially nightmares. This new dream movement was begun in large measure by Jeremy and others who have took the psychological discipline begun by Freud and Jung a step further. The fathers of psychology brought back a renewed interest in dreams and used it in the treatment of neurotic and mentally ill patients. Today many are promoting dream honoring for everyone as a part of a healthy life with the benefit of providing and the integrating of psychology and religion many of us desperately hunger for.

Dreams have been a part of every culture and every religion for all of human history. By doing dream work we develop our abilities in the language of myth, symbol, and metaphor.

I believe that many of us are particularly interested in dreaming NOW because we are all seeking a more authentic way to live and engage with religious symbols and meanings that we can’t find any more in the traditional religious institutional communities or in the field of psychology.

We yearn to transcend the barrenness of scientific rationality and live again in the world of creativity and imagination. There is no better place to begin than in our dreams. “To imagine means to see an image,” and every night we are given many images to nourish our souls.

Like Einstein I believe, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

We have a lot of dishonoring in dreams and all non-rational things. We have local Nobel laureates right here in San Diego Sir Francis Crick who did brain research at UCSD said dreams were a “recycling of neuralgic garbage.”

Descartes is credited with being the father of science who supposedly “proved” that dreams can no longer be taken seriously, but the odd thing about this notion is that it is said was shown to him supposedly in a dream.

Descartes the father of modern science in the 17th century is given credit for convincing the world of a materialistic view, which of course quantum physics has challenged. All our world view ideas shaped by a material world view have not changes. Supposedly Descartes had a dream about two books. One was a dictionary, which was of little interest or use to him. The other was a book of poetry that was a union of philosophy and wisdom; this from a man who would go down in history as the father of Rationalism. Descartes felt that the dictionary failed to give us what we needed. He believed in the power of the book of poetry to save himself and this world. How strange that the man given credit for turning the world against dreams over the last 300 years had this dream of choosing not the dictionary, but picking the book of poetry in his dream. (Kelsey, Morton ibid p193)

For thousands of years in every continent, in every century it is projected that it was also this way in the days of the cave men tens of thousands of years ago. People have dreamed and have been convinced that these dreams were sacred and they had an instinctual yearning to find meaning and symbols in them.

All the religions have agreed that humans communicate with the divine more often in dreams and that dreams are more reliable than in any other regular state of consciousness.

Through history all people have made profound connections between the meanings of their dreams and nightmares to their waking desires and frustrations.

Dreams are prevalent in our biblical tradition. In Judaism and Christianity dreams were considered to be messages from the Gods in ancient Greece and Rome as well as in the early Mesopotamia and Egyptian cultures. Later of course, Islam was founded because of Mohammad’s dreams. 

Dreams were honored as sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Daoism in India, China, and the east. Dreams were also honored in religions in the continents of Africa, American, Pacific Islands, and the aborigines in Australia.

Recently, I read a great book by Roger Kamenetz, The History of Last Night’s Dream, who talks about Jacobs ladder dream in Genesis and during the same time I also had a dream about a ladder and I was struck by the synchronicity- I titled my dream “Cliff Hanging.”

“I am dreaming that I am hanging off rock cliffs in Yosemite Valley, but I am facing out. There is a man to my left on the ground talking to me and we are considering how I should get down. We discuss the fact that, should I fall I would get hurt for it’s about 10 feet down and I then get a great idea. A LADDER! I ask him to get me a ladder. I hope I don’t fall before he goes to get it and comes back……..”

There was more to the dream, but when I wokeI made a drawing of my this dream and the odd part was drawing myself on the cliff facing out, because usually when someone is hanging on a cliff they have been mountain climbing and are facing the cliff not away from it.  Carl Jung wisely said, “Often our hands know how to solve a riddle with which our intellect has wrestled in vain.” So my dream workshops usually use drawing as well to improve our dreams.

When I looked at the drawing I realized it looked like I was crucified on a cross. I realized that parts of me felt tortured. When we are “hanging on a cliff” it is a metaphor for not being able to go up or down, not being able to make a physical action or right action for some reason.  It also implies a kind of climatic point in a story, right. When you are at the cliff hanging the story is about to unfold.

I also drew a man bringing me the ladder, which was not actually in my dream but I believe our dreams can actually open up new pathways in our brain. These pathways help us find solutions we have not thought of previously. As we work with them we can take a journey down these pathways toward self understanding. In my dream there is a “male dream guide” who stands ready and waiting to support me. I began to consider all the ways that my masculine self, the masculine self I don’t recognize very clearly, is on my left side. My more rational analytic side seems to be a kind of witness as he waits for me to get me off the cliff. He is there to help me to safety, but he is waiting for me to get the clue.

Like Jacob I felt greatly comforted when I realized that this mystery man is there when I need him. Perhaps he is the unconditional loving force of holiness that I need to rely on, “The bringer of the ladder when we are in crisis.”

In Jacobs dream the ladder is a symbol for the dream. In my dream the ladder is my night and day dream that will bring me to safety.

Like Jacob I am sleeping on a holy rock. His is small but mine is huge like half dome in Yosemite.

WE know that when Jacob had this famous ladder dream he was in a deep crisis. He has made a lot of big mistakes in his life. The first-born son in Judaism is the rightful heir to his father’s fortune but Jacob was the second born and he let his mother convince him to betray his father and brother Esau his twin brother, who was the first-born.  Jacob means heal in Hebrew and he is a “healer” in his family; on his fathers’ death bed he takes the blessings and fortune of his father away from his brother Esau. Then he leaves home and that’s when he has this dream, in the wilderness as he sleeps on a rock.

In dream groups we always talk about someone else’s dream as if it is our own, so I will do that now. I will enter Jacobs dream as if it were my own.

“In my dream, I see a ladder to heaven. And angels are climbing up and down the ladder. I look up and I see God at the top of the ladder. I cannot see him clearly, but I know it is God. I hear a voice and his voice says, “I am with you, always for I will never leave you.”

 Then I woke up and I thought to myself, surely God was in my dream. I did not know God could speak to me in my dreams. When I woke up I felt terrified and was   awestruck at the power of this dream. And I did not know before this dream, that I could commune with the divine in this dream way. This dream was none other than the house of God, and the message I was given clearly taught me that dreams are indeed the gate of heaven.

Jacobs ladder dreams can transport us from one world of consciousness to another-- higher spiritual realm. All dreams are like ladders in the way that they offer to take us to a higher, holier realm where healing and wholeness takes place.

The ladder in this dream is not a literal ladder, right? Are you with me? It is a symbol of a metaphor for Jacob’s direct relationship to, this mystery we call, God in his dreams.

All things that are high and go up in one basicsymbolic sense can be thought of as a mystical dream symbols, expressing our human capacity to envision a transcendental freedom from anything oppressive or gravitation that would make us fall to our death. (Kelley Bulkey, Dreaming in the World Religions p. 274) Also dreams of exquisite beauty are often considered to be places of spirituality.

This summer, in August, I will have a camping dream retreat in Yosemite. I have made a pilgrimage for many years to the valley of the Gods and found that my dreams are affected by being in beautiful settings. I believe that if we did the kind of honoring that dream people did in the ancient world our dreams would become more robust and bring us many more sacred gifts of insight and guidance -- not just for our own healing but for our holy human family.

In ancient Greece and Rome, for example they built hundreds of dream temples in beautiful places and had special dream priest who watch you say prayers for your dream incubation. There were nonpoisonous snakes that crawled around the temple floors and in this religious place of beauty with dream incubation rituals. Then, in the morning they would awaken and the priest would help them understand the messages from the gods in their dreams.

Last summer in the Yosemite Valley I had a dream that I had two holes in my head. When I woke up I realized the word play. My head and my dreams were holy, H O L Y the word for the sacred. Many of us have had dreams about things coming out or going into our brains or heads that may represent how we are changing our thinking, perceptions, and/or attitudes. I experience, in my dream, like Jacob a revelation, a new perspective of a divine presence that like a ladder is enabling me to have God outside of me come into me and the God in me come out. In my imagination my dreams come to give me both just psychological and religious guidance.

Many of us feel that our educational system has given us too many dictionaries that define things for us. We have enough information.  We need both books for the right and left side of the brain obviously, but we are out of balance as a species. We seem to be driven by one book and not given the play, mythic story and religious symbols our dreams can provide in the other book of poetry.

So let me close by asking you to close your eyes again. Let us follow Alice down the rabbit hole this Easter into the world of our imaginations and dreams.

Imagine there are two books on the altar of this church. One is a huge book that says DICTIONARY and the other one is a book, but actually it is the new kind of books on a computer. Walk over to the kindle (computer book). Look at the screen and you see a ladder. Suddenly, the computer screen becomes a holographic screen and a voice invites you to come into the computer screen. You magically enter the holograph of this screen. You begin to descend on a ladder which becomes a stair case. You go down and are passing several floors as you descend. It is dark and at the bottom of the staircase you find yourself in a deep dark forest. There is a path that leads you to an alter that is shining with illumination. On the alter is a golden bowl of rocks.

There is a man and a woman in white robes that offer you a rock and the woman says, very kindly, “Be sure to put this magic rock under your pillow tonight, sweet dreams.” She smiles and seems to give you a telepathic message that you are loved always no matter what. The man leads you back up the stairs. You go up several sets of stairs until you see a ladder that will take you out of this cave-- you see the sun light. As you move up the ladder the man is guiding you as you ascend. When you get out into the light of the church you see a child looking at a computer screen, but there is a ladder growing out of it. Like a firemen’s ladder it can grow and gets higher and higher, then it protrudes out of the computer screen.

And then it becomes a spider web and begins to, like a spider, weave its almost invisible spider web all around the earth. It is connecting us to all other computers and to people in far off places, in China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and all the way down to the southern pole. We can see our interconnected web of life made and manifested in this dream. We are one, we are all interconnected with our new way of thinking, in our dream we are one with everyone in the human species. Now, slowly take in all that you see. It is time to wake up, refreshed. Slowly open your eyes and come back to this place. So may it be and amen. Now let us all sing together, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.

Guided Meditation Before Sermon

There is a famous dream from China from Daoism around 300 BCE that I have adapted slightly.

Long ago, a certain Mary dreamed she was a butterfly—a butterfly fluttering here and there on a whim, happy and carefree, knowing nothing of Mary. Then all of a sudden she woke up to find that she was, beyond all doubt, Mary. Who knows if it was Mary dreaming a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming Mary? Mary and butterfly: clearly there’s a difference. This is called the transformation of things.” Daoist Zhuang Zi (369-286 BCE)

Please close your eyes and imagine that you are camping and fast asleep under the stars. It is Yosemite, or in the mountains, or some beautiful place that you love: a sacred place where you have come to camp and commune with the sacred in nature.  And you are like a butterfly in its cocoon all warm and snug in your sleeping bag. You remember a dream fragment and try to lie still so you can remember more. You feel so happy to be dreaming in this mountaintop. 

You look up into the heavens and you watch as slowly the stars begin to go out and the morning sun rise begins to slowly come up. The morning light magically appears in every crevice of things around you. You decide to stay in this comfortable sleeping bag for just a few moments while you savor your dreams from last night. You remember a butterfly, a painted lady butterfly, a very common orange and black butterfly. You close your eyes as you see this butterfly flying and fluttering around. This is an awesome place; this dreaming place, like a gate to heaven. You open your eyes and it is getting lighter and lighter and as you get out of your sleeping bag. You can’t believe your eyes for up and in front of you is another butterfly, not in your dream but in the glow of morning.  Is it the same butterfly from your dream? It seems to beacon you to follow, so you do. The butterfly flies forward and you follow it, it seems to be taking you somewhere. You see a ladder up against a giant rock and the butterfly seems to be encouraging you to climb. You begin to climb the ladder until you reach the top of a beautiful huge rock and you stand and look over the valley and you cannot believe your eyes. 

There are 100s no maybe 1000s of butterflies fluttering and dancing throughout the valley. From this high vantage point on top of the rock you can see the morning sun rising, filled with butterflies. It is magnificent. One butterfly lands on your right hand. You bring it close to your face, light on your hand and you are able to speak telepathically to one another and you say, “Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being so beautiful.” She knows she is being loved. She is sending you her love. 

As she flies away you burst into a prayer of thanksgiving. Thank you, you who are this mystery we call God, thank you for the beauty of the earth, this valley, this new day. Thank you for every single breath I take. Thank you for every cell and vein and hair on my body.  Thank you for every life form seen and unseen. Thank you for every star in the night sky and every ray of warmth and light from the sun. Thank you for this mysterious glue that holds your creations together. Thank you for the love in my heart and for every dream of beauty. Thank you for the spring that comes every year. I stand in awe on this rock and give you thanks. Now you are quiet, and breathe, and just watch the sun rise, the butterflies dancing. You feel your oneness with all of creation. You are a part of this magnificent creation. New spiritual transformation life is all around you. This day dream surely is the gate of heaven. Surely God who we call by many names is with us in this holy place. Take one last look so you can remember and come back to this place any time you want. Take a mental picture so you can look at this image any time.  Slowly come back to this place and time. Slowly open your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Shalom, blessed be, and amen.