Recently, I came upon a blog post by Scot McKnight at Christianity Today. The piece is titled: When the Bible Ain’t Pretty. I was excited because the post pretty perfectly illustrates why I think Lay Readers should put meaning aside when they read scripture aloud. Sounds strange. But it’s true. First, it’s always great when […]
You have to love this new article at Psychology Today, Empathy and Dream-Sharing: New Research Shows a Connection. The author is Kelly Bulkeley.
Dreams play an important role in the Bible. Jacob’s ladder may be the most familiar. The interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh by Moses may be the most dramatic. The flight of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus into Egypt, in response to a dream, may be the most important.
Dreams are not simply a literary device. Most of us experience dreams – even if we can’t remember all of them. Some dreams trouble us. Some dreams excite us. Although science recognize their importance to our health and well-being and we all recognize the hold they have over us, dreams are not well understood. Why exactly do we dream? Why do we dream the way we do? Why do we dream about the things we do?
As Shakespeare famously wrote, “…we are such stuff as dreams are made on.” We recognize that although the material of our dreams can be found in our daily lives and our dreams have agency in this world they seem to come from somewhere beyond. Dreams remain powerful, mysterious and ephemeral. Without our dreams — both day and night dreams — our very humanity can be at risk.
Sharing our dreams
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously had a dream. His sharing of that dream in a public space captured the hearts and minds of most Americans.
Most of us are reluctant but can sometimes be eager to share our own dreams. Recounting to others a fantastical dream that woke you up in the middle of the night can be therapeutic. It’s a way of unburdening yourself and helping you to make sense of your dream.
Research in the article linked to above reveals that most people are interested and willing to listen to the dreams of others (within reason.)
I’m interested to know how other people dream. I’ve had remarkable night dreams – including night terrors as a child — and wonder if others experience the same thing. Do others dream in color or black and white? Are the subjects of their dreams fantastical or ordinary? Do they experience emotions that far exceed anything they have ever felt in their daily life? Do we all have this in common? I’d like to know. Listening to another person recount a dream they had can be insightful. I may have never imagined that they were capable of such flights of imagination and fantasy.
Periodically acknowledging that we all dream, that those dreams help define us and play an active role in our lives helps to keep us in touch not only with our own psyches but with each other. (We spend so much of lives asleep and in our dream lives, that it seems a pity to deny, repress or evade our dreams.)
When we read the Bible aloud, we encounter the lives of thousands of people. We are witness to their struggles with daily life and their own encounters with the divine. We are often privy to their dreams. These dreams are revealing. They give us insight into their hopes and fears and often reveal God’s purpose.
When we read scripture aloud, we goal is to read with empathy. We read to get closer to the experience of those lives included in the narratives of the Bible. We want to know, who these people are. What’s happening to these people? What do they experience? Dreams are an important part of their experience and this understanding.
Greater empathy is possible when we learn of and are witness to their dream life.
And so, according to the article, science seems to bear out this relationship between the sharing of dreams and empathy.
“Study 1 found that trait empathy is significantly correlated with the frequency of telling dreams to others, the frequency of listening to others’ dreams, and a positive attitude toward dreaming.”
The author suggests that dreams act as a kind of fiction that audiences can listen to and associate with. I would substitute with word narrative for fiction. Dreams are facts unless you are purposefully inventing a dream. The Bible is comprised of narratives. Real people experience real live events and have very real dreams.
Hearing those dreams recounted aloud can give us greater insight to the experience of those who dream and afford us greater empathy in our spiritual lives.
So, read scripture aloud. Hear the Gospel. Listen to the dreams of others. Grow in empathy. Share in a transformative experience.