journey post 29: Dreams and Resurrection
“A dream is a wish your heart makes….” Or so sang Cinderella.
I remember puzzling over this as a young boy. I knew that there were two kinds of dreams: what goes on in your head at night, and something you’d really like to do—a longing. Most of my night dreams seemed rather dark or negative, and as for those longings in my heart, there was always some roadblock: they were pulled from my loose grip, or I let fear keep me from going after them.
The night dreams seem to have been related to deep fears. I never had the dream about showing up for class in my underwear, though I often had the one about showing up for class and forgetting a test.
There was one dream vividly etched in my cranium at 5 or 6. It would become a periodic nightmare, starting after my parents took me to see a re-release of the 1933 “King Kong,” probably in 1953 or ’54. In my dream, I was wandering through a dark jungle forest with lots of ivy everywhere. (We had a lot of ivy in our back yard.) I grew weary and sat down against an enormous tree. The giant upside-down head of Kong came from above, staring into my eyes, half-smiling, as though anticipating … something.
That’s when I’d wake up crying. My mom came and comforted me, and she put a night light in my room. That light cast frightening shapes and shadows on ceiling and walls. I imagined Kong everywhere; and the seven-story Bekins building in Glendale became for me “the building that King Kong climbed up.”
The former Bekins Moving and Storage Bldg
AKA: the building that King Kong climbed up
For many years, the longings of my heart met one disappointment after another. At one point, I wanted to go to West Point and be an army officer, but when my dad told me that a Congressman would have to write a letter of recommendation, I knew that could never happen, so I never tried. I thought about being a civil engineer until I got a geometry teacher who didn’t care whether we understood or passed his class—and I didn’t.
My love of history and America led me to think about teaching, helping others understand our great heritage. The people who stirred my imagination most were my 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-grade History and English teachers who inspired me to understand the world and not give up my ideals. I wanted to go to Berkeley, one of the finest schools for history, but I figured they’d never take me, so I never applied—I don’t think I even mentioned it to my counselor.
U.C. Berkeley (by Ansel Adams)
By my second year of junior college (1968), the world was falling apart. After Tet, Walter Cronkite came back convinced we could not win. Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Life was making less and less sense. I had wanted to understand Vietnam. Instead, as that nightmare got closer and divided our land, I went. Was there ever any doubt? I would return in a body bag. But God had other ideas….
A bumper sticker explains, “Christians aren’t perfect—just forgiven.” That’s true. Whatever you may think happens when a person becomes a Christian, humans carry a lot of baggage into Christianity, though for awhile it may seem like it was all left behind. We certainly have a new life to look forward to by and by, but the present life can still absolutely suck. When we went to Africa in 1980, my deepest longings had to do with being another Wycliffe or Tyndale, men who braved much to bring the Bible to the English-speaking world. In 1989, we came back with our family falling apart. By the time we reached the States, my dreams had again been snatched away, and my faith had gone through a 7.0 earthquake. God, I thought, had let my dream crumble so I’d understand how little I mattered to him.
Top: John Wycliffe
Bottom: William Tyndale
Years before, in missionary training, one leader asked us, “What do you count on when everything is falling apart?” There was only one answer for me at the time: the resurrection. Jesus had risen from the dead, so he was exactly who he said he was. Returning from Africa a broken family was that “everything falling apart” time for me. I knew it was time to rebuild the foundation of my faith, and get counseling to rebuild my relationship with Michelle and my children. The two went together.
I have quoted or discussed C.S. Lewis a number of times in the course of writing these posts. You may know, as I’ve often said, he was a “certified smart guy,” an Oxford don and professor at Cambridge in a day when a professorship was not a license to push a political or social agenda.
You may not know that he specialized in Medieval and Renaissance literature. He loved Norse and Greek mythology. He not only knew scads about ancient myth, but discovered how myth reflected the dreams of people. Lewis writes that God “sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all though the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men.”* According to Lewis’ friend J.I. Packer, such stories, found worldwide, formed “the thought that did most to bring him back to Christianity.”
There are those who would read the previous paragraph and conclude, “See? It’s all based on myth!” Lewis took a different tack, seeing myth as evidence that God had planted dreams in the heart and, when they became reality in space and time, people would realize, instead, “It was there all the time.”
As we proceed through these posts on the resurrection, keep in mind that those persistent longings for “something better” are not unique to you or me or a few great thinkers. They are rather a gift, an inkling, a dream that has resided in the heart of mankind from the beginning. So, just maybe…. So maybe the void in our hearts was meant to be there, and the dreams are not just a tantalizing lie after all.
*Mere Christianity, p 50.