Dreams are the language of God, Im told. If thats the case, God has some wild ways of communicating. Theres the time I had the conversation with Andy Griffith on a bus about how great the 50s were. And just the other night, I was playing in the NBA on a team with Charles Barkley. But thats another story altogether.
My dreams seem to become particularly vivid at times of crisis or upheaval. Occasionally I wake up with my heart pounding, having been faced in my sleep with some overwhelmingly difficult task that reflects a feeling of inadequacy in my conscious life (like standing at the free-throw line in the last game of the NBA finals, with one second on the clock, my team down by a point, and Charles Barkley in my face saying, "If you miss this shot, its all over"then having the basket suddenly fade back almost out of view and the ref tell me, "When its this far away, it has to be a hook shot.")
But more and more, my dreams seem to communicate reassurance and a sense of Gods grace. During a time of difficult transition, I had a dream that left an imprint that will last forever:
I am in a house with bright, white walls and shiny wooden floors. The house is flooded with sunshine and warmth. A couple is there, a man and woman with whom I feel a sense of affection.
The man comes toward me with a sack and says, "Would you carry this across the river for us?" I dont know anything about the river, or whats in the sack, but I agree to take it because they are my friends.
I step outside, through glass doors, carrying the sack, and I realize that the house is perched against a sheer rock face. Far below me is a rushing river that flows through a deep gorge. There is only one way I can walk, along a very narrow ledgethe width of one of my feet.
I slowly edge my way along, holding onto the sack (which seems to be filled with grain or seeds), unsure of what is ahead or how Ill ever figure out how to cross the river. I have the sense that I cant turn back. I turn a corner and discover that the ledge leads up to a place where a waterfall plunges down to the river.
Across the top of the waterfall, spaced far apart and surrounded by swirling water, are stepping stones to the other side. I step out precariously. The stones are shaky, and after two steps, I drop the sack. I watch it fall way below me and disappear.
I turn back to the ledge and inch my way back to the house. Im relieved to be back inside the sun-flooded room with my friends. I apologize for dropping the sack. They seem to be undisturbed about it, and we start talking, as if it never happened.
Then the woman comes toward me with a bowl. It is handmade pottery, rich in colors and glazesa work of art. She asks me, "Will you carry this across the river for us?"
I remind her that I dropped the sack and tell her that I cant carry the bowl. But she is very persuasive and convinces me to take it. I walk back out through the glass doors, inch along the ledge again, and get to the top of the waterfall.
I pause and concentrate on the stepping stones. But again, after two steps, I drop what Im carrying. I watch the bowl break apart on the rocks and fall in pieces down to the water and out of sight.
I feel very ashamed for having broken the beautiful bowl. But as I slowly make my way back to the house, I also feel angry. Im thinking to myself, "I told her I couldnt do it," and Im angry at her for convincing me otherwise.
When I enter the house, my friends seem unconcerned about the fact that I dropped the bowl. We talk for a while, and then they both come toward me with something small, wrapped in a blanket.
The man says to me, "Would you carry our baby across the river for us?" I am stunned, and I start to argue that I cant. The woman very gently interrupts me and says, "Joyce, take the baby." The man, smiling, with a look of warmth in his eyes, hands the baby toward me.
I WOKE UP before finding out if I took that baby. And, off and on, I have pondered the dream for more than a year now. Friends have offered their interpretations, giving me more food for thought. The dream has come to mean many things to me.
But at the heart of it is a feeling of unconditional love. No matter how inadequate I may feel at times, or how miserably I have failed to be faithful, God continues to believe in me. God entrusts meas God entrusts all of uswith ever more precious gifts. Most important of all is the gift of life itself.
On days that seem full of darkness or doubt, I bring the dream to mind. And I am grateful once again to be in the care of a loving God. May we always remember that it is so.
JOYce HOllyday, a former Sojourners associate editor and now a contributing editor, writes, leads retreats, and works with survivors of domestic abuse in western North Carolina.