I always feel you’ve reached near the bottom of the blogging barrel when you start blogging your dreams (of course, I’ve said that about blogging about the weather as well, and I do that too), but permit me one if I keep it brief?
Last night I had an odd dream, and I think a significant one since it was Friday night and I assume my subconscious knew I would be waking up and going to church in the morning. In my dream, I kept hearing people talking about “the Ashram.” Curious, I followed someone who was supposedly going to the Ashram. He entered a room, and I slipped in behind him to find a room full of interesting people. Most of them were characters from TV shows I like. Some were strangers, and some were people I know slightly, but not well, in real life.
What was going on inside the room — the “Ashram” — was simply an ordinary, old-fashioned, Bible-study group. This varied array of people were reading and discussing a passage of Scripture. Though I didn’t know the people in the room, I knew that as soon as I came in I would be welcomed and accepted, and encouraged to participate. They smiled at me warmly and invited me to join in, and I felt an incredible, overwhelming rush of joy and relief. “At last!” I thought. “I’ve found them! I’ve found the place! It’s here!”
Then I woke up.
I can trace all sorts of random stuff in my brain that got thrown into this dream, including the fact that there really is a group here in Newfoundland that runs what they call a “Christian Ashram” and I saw a flyer for it this week. Not to mention that it reflects what I’ve been watching on TV. But mainly, the dream (like most, I guess) is a reminder from my subconscious: reminding me how deeply and desperately I long for a spiritual community where I can feel truly at home, say what I think without feeling threatened or threatening others, raise the real questions that trouble and inspire me, and find community with people who share the same concerns and passions I do.
It’s not that I don’t love my church. I’ve blogged about that before: I love my local congregation dearly. And even if I didn’t, it’s not like I live in a place where I can pick and choose amongst a dozen SDA churches to find one that suits me. In the dream, it was quite clear that this was not a church, not a replacement for my regular Sabbath-morning house of worship: this was a small group, a prayer or study or discussion group. I have belonged to several of those over my long life as a Christian — started many of them, in fact. Some grew and flourished for a time; some never really got off the ground. I have never stopped longing for one, never stopped wishing I had people with whom I could pray and read the Bible and talk with absolute honesty.
I love my church, but the people in it who meet to do this kind of thing are the very people I would feel least safe and comfortable with; the questions they’re answering are miles apart from the ones I’m asking, and they are very interested in answers, specifically in right answers that fit their view of how things should be. Sometimes in an adult Sabbath School class discussion I raise a question or a comment that expresses some tiny corner of what I really feel and think about an issue. What I say is rarely judged or rejected, but I’m always cautious, afraid that it might be — or that my doubts or perspectives might trouble someone else who is comfortable in their faith.
There are individuals in church that I know I can ask to pray for me, that I can talk to and share burdens and hopes with, but that’s as individuals — not as a group. I’m blessed to have a wide circle of people I consider spiritual brothers and sisters with whom I can talk about all kinds of things — some of them in my church, some in my local community outside of church, and many accessible only by the internet, either friends who live far away or “cyber-friends” I’ve never met. I am grateful for all these people — but what I want so keenly, once in my life, is to walk into a room and feel challenged and safe and accepted and stimulated, the way I felt in that one second in my dream, before I woke up.
If it’s ever going to happen, I don’t know how. I gave up some years ago trying to coax that kind of group into existence by my own efforts: it wasn’t happening. If God has it in store to realize that dream, I will just have to wait for Him to move, and be open.
If it ever does, it probably won’t look like what I think it will — that tends to be the way when God makes dreams come true. Reflecting on last night’s dream I think it’s not coincidental that so many of the people in the room were TV characters, and none were people I know well in real life. In my fantasy, this idealized spiritual community, this perfect cell-group or prayer-group or whatever, is made of people much cooler, much more interesting, much edgier and more exciting, than any of the people I know in real life. Much cooler, in fact, than I am.
In my head there’s apparently this ideal room of brilliant, witty, deeply committed Christians who are passionate about God and justice issues and who love me unconditionally. Perhaps, like TV characters, they can be conveniently switched off after the one-hour meeting is over, so I don’t have to know too much about their annoying habits and messy failures.
In real life, the bits and pieces of real spiritual fellowship I get — at church and elsewhere — happen with people much like myself. Flawed, annoying, boring, crazy, fallible human beings. Because those people are, apparently, the companions I need on this journey, the ones who can force me to grow a little more into what God wants me to be.
I am grateful for that. I am trying very hard to be grateful for that.