The pleasure of dreaming with God

Let’s consider how God might move us through a dream. Last night I talked a lot about dreaming in honor of Peter’s great outburst of enthusiasm as he quoted the prophet Joel to explain what the Holy Spirit of God had done in the gathered disciples on Pentecost.

No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.’ Acts 2:16-17 (from Joel 2:28)

Prophecy, visions and dreams are being poured out “upon all flesh” as God calls us back into the spiritual intimacy we were created to enjoy.

Scientists measure dreams

This reality is a bit off the grid for many of us. We have been trained to think our dreams, in particular, are a matter of predictable, physical processes we can measure — and it is true, researchers have been watching our dreams for a long time. The invention of the electroencephalograph allowed scientists to study sleep in ways that were not previously possible.

During the 1950s, a graduate student named Eugene Aserinsky (along with others, but long live graduate students!) used this tool to discover what is known today as REM sleep. Further studies demonstrated how sleep progresses through a series of stages in which different brain wave patterns are displayed. We mainly dream during stage four when we experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep (also known as active  sleep or paradoxical sleep).

During the earliest phases of sleep, we are still relatively awake and alert. The brain produces what are called beta waves, which are small and fast. As the brain begins to relax and slow down, slower waves known as alpha waves are produced. During this time when we are not “fully” asleep, we may experience vivid sensations known as hypnagogic hallucinations. Common examples are feeling like you are falling or hearing someone call your name. Another common event during this period is the myoclonic jerk; your body reacts as if startled.

Fairly recently, experts have named four stages sleep. By stage three, deep, slow brain waves known as delta waves begin to emerge. During this stage, people become less responsive to noises and activity in the environment. It is a transitional period between light sleep and a very deep sleep. Bed-wetting and sleepwalking are most likely to occur at the end of this stage of sleep.

Most dreaming occurs during the fourth stage of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is characterized by eye movement under our lids, increased respiration rate and increased brain activity. REM sleep is also referred to as paradoxical sleep because while the brain and other body systems become more active, muscles become more relaxed. When our voluntary muscles go off line our brains enjoy a time to be active.

Sleep moves through these four stages four or five times a night. On average, we enter the REM stage approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. The first cycle of REM sleep might last only a short amount of time, but each cycle becomes longer. REM sleep can last up to an hour as sleep progresses.

God uses dreams

Understanding how we sleep and sleeping well is a good spiritual discipline. Working with the  different levels of how we dream is what deeply spiritual people do. Recalling and pondering what your brain was doing when your muscles were relatively paralyzed during stage four sleep can be very interesting. It tells us a lot about how the automatic scripts of our unconscious act and may give us a lot of information about what we desire and fear, as well as about what we just can’t see in ourselves in the light of day. Keep a pad and pencil by your bed. Talking about our dreams with trusted friends or our therapists and spiritual directors is a good ways to mentalize and become deeper.

Your Old Men Will Dream Dreams — Michelle Sparks

When Peter was telling the crowd gathered in Jerusalem about the movement of God’s Spirit in the followers of Jesus, the dreams he predicted were not merely the movement in our brains or the desires of our hearts. He was talking about revelations from God coming from the same places we normally consider unknowable. From out of the dark, God speaks. When our normal muscle control systems are out of the way, we can hear in ways we otherwise can’t. We meditate and pray in various ways so we can put ourselves in a condition in which we are more receptive to connecting with the Holy Spirit. Like the disciples were waiting in Jerusalem for the communion with God Jesus had promised, so we wait. The Lord has provided the forgiveness we need and defeated the powers that want to keep us locked up as their slaves. A new reality (to us, at least) is open for exploration.

The dreams of stage four sleep are often mysterious and downright comical. What we name “dreams” from God, since they arise in the same territory of our brains an electroencephalograph might measure, are much more clear. They resemble what others have experienced, often recorded in the Bible. They often reconfirm things our logic and conviction have led us to believe. They usually lead us to some specific action we can accomplish in the cause of redemption. They give us the pleasure of reassurance that God is with us and we are able to know the Lord. We are not lost in the dark, nor is the darkness full of unknown terrors, nor is our darkness only explored with some machine we invent. God is light in our dark and the future is full of the pleasure of God’s company.

6 thoughts on “The pleasure of dreaming with God

  1. God gave me a dream in January 2010. It’s an apacolyptic dream, a story of how “it all ends” – or perhaps begins again. I wrote it in verse since poetry is able to capture imagery and dreams in ways prose can’t. I haven’t shared it much at all, but I figured this is a safe place to share it.
    Here it is:

    No one is safe. But everyone is loved.
    God gave me a vision as I slept.
    In three stages, came YHWH.*

    The first, YHWH snuck about as a thief
    Surveying YHWH’s earth.
    Holy tendrils and spies crept about.
    Nothing was left unseen or unaccounted for.
    YHWH viewed the darkest of hearts
    And searched behind every locked secret.
    Nothing can be hidden from YHWH.

    In the second hour of The Day,
    YHWH summoned the Great Convention.
    YHWH cried to the depths of the sea,
    YHWH called to the heights of the mountains,
    YHWH breathed to the four winds,
    YHWH convened all that belonged to The Name.
    To the Throne Room, all the angels and saints assembled.
    There were beasts so great they shook the foundations.
    There were creatures small and meek.
    Among the crowd of angels was what appeared to be a rhino.
    Made of fire, the form shifted and flickered,
    But the feet and head were steady.
    Also among the angels was a dragon.
    Made of metals that shone every color in the light;
    Its tail, long and sharp, was made for piercing.
    YHWH had many indescribable angels.
    All were in service to YHWH.
    All were YHWH.

    At the beginning of the third hour,
    On The Day of YHWH,
    YHWH spoke to me because I was afraid.
    “Do not be afraid. There is nothing to fear in me.”
    As the battle for hearts ensued,
    I became more anxious and inquired of YHWH.
    “Put your heart at ease, in mine,” spoke YHWH.
    “I am searching and purifying everyone.
    There is no one that will not be affected.
    Saint and Fallen, alike, will be found by me.
    But do not worry. I AM love. And I am the purest and truest form.
    All creatures in this battle: angels, demons, the great and the small
    Will all be brought to me.
    Be sure and know,
    No one is safe. But everyone is loved.”

    * YHWH is the utmost and dangerously sacred, four-letter, hebrew name for God. It means “I am what I am” or simply, “I am.” When Moses asked for God’s name at the burning bush, “YHWH” is the name God spoke.

    1. Interesting, Dave. Thanks for sharing. Looks like it would be interesting to meditate on what is coming out of you to meet God as well as what is coming from God to meet you. Follow the anxiety?

  2. Reading Joel, I think he’s not describing which spiritual experiences are for which given demographic of people, e.g. young men get visions, old men get dreams, men and women slaves prophesy. He’s running the gamut of people in his prophetic poem to say that the fullness of the Spirit and the expressions that come from that in our day are for absolutely everyone! Thanks for sharing God’s dream.

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