I don’t often share dreams, but this is one that has haunted me for almost 30 years. It is a good dream, and a vivid dream, and one that comes to mind almost weekly. I don’t think it is too obscure or metaphoric. It hit me when I dreamed it — as it does today — as being pretty on the nose and clear (something I cannot say about many of my memorable dreams). The dream most often reemerges whenever I hear the phrase “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”
In the dream, I am living in a squalid, stained cube of an apartment. There is a twin bed and a threadbare chair, a one burner stove and a small sink, and mini-fridge that buzzes loudly. A single bulb lamp sits on a milk crate. There is a curtain that separates a shower and toilet from the rest of the room. It is all of ten feet from the front door to the back wall, with as much distance side wall to side wall. Tattered towels hang at a small window as curtains.
I go to my front door and open it, looking out. I live in a cube among cubes comprising a larger cube. All the front doors of all the other apartments open onto a forty by forty-foot patch of dirt and scrub vegetation. A dirt street runs along the front of all apartments, enclosing the dirt patch in a large square. There are dozens of people out walking, and every face is angry. There are Chinese and Japanese and Korean and Vietnamese faces. There are Caribbean and Dominican and African faces. There are Cuban and Mexican and Puerto Rican and Honduran faces. There are a variety of European and Eurasian faces — all angry. Every person is wretched, dirty, dressed in rags, smelling to high heaven. In each set of eyes there is resentment, hostility, distrust and an underlying pain. Everyone makes eye contact — a way of conveying a deep animosity. There are men and women, old and young, but no children. It is clear that everyone is living in the same conditions. There is no feeling of hope — no kindness or compassion. We walk together around the block of seething despair and pent-up rage.
The sky is gray to begin with, then darker clouds roll in. A shadow begins at one end of the block and moves steadily across the entire cube. It is a spaceship, dark, huge and majestic. Though nothing much happens, at the ship’s appearance, the anger and resentment disappears, to be replaced by fear. Everyone who sees the ship is terrified. Some hide their faces, others begin to weep and moan, while others run to their apartments to hide. A thrumming beat begins, and with each vibration people react as if struck physically. All, including myself, slink, scamper, crawl back to their apartments — each person an isolated individual — no one accompanying any other. Through a terror filled darkness, each person survives their fear alone.
Through my small window, I see a light flickering. It grows in intensity as it approaches my front door. It fills my small window, and as I marvel at its intensity, a thump resounds against my door. I am too afraid to go open it right away. After a time, the light recedes. A while longer and the darkness passes, and the sky brightens back to cloudiness. The clouds that felt so oppressive and dulling before now seem brilliant and expansive.
I go cautiously to my door. I open it, and there is a single brown grocery bag, with the top rolled tightly. I toe the bag with my foot, and when it doesn’t move, I bend down to retrieve it. I unroll the top and am overwhelmed with the scent of freshly baked bread. There is a loaf of bread in the bag. I am immediately starving — ravenous and shaking with weakness from hunger. I reach into the bag, and as I do, I notice that all the other doors are opening, and frightened, strained faces look out. Not one other door has a bag in front of it. One by one, everyone looks at me, and as they do, the look of fear dissolves back into a hostile, resentful, disdain. I step out on the dirt street, take the loaf from the bag, and say (quite profoundly) “Look! I have bread!”
I walk across the empty lot to a woman, and as I do, I tear the loaf in half, extending a large broken piece to her. She looks at me as if I might be crazy or planning to hurt her. I gesture with the bread that I want her to take it. She does, and immediately she crams as much of it in her mouth as she can. I turn to an older woman next door. Again, I tear what I have in half, and split it with her. She watches me incredulously, the anger slipping away to mystification. I begin to visit door to door, spreading the bread, noting that no matter how much I give away, I still have plenty to share. I look back over my shoulder and note that most of the people who have already received are now sharing their bounty as well. Before long, everyone is eating bread together. And the faces are changed. There is satisfaction and contentment. There is pleasure and relaxation. There is a peace and tranquility, known once, but long-lost. The people smile at one another. Some feed each other. Everyone signals that the bread is good, so good, wonderful, in fact.
Through the sharing of bread, we are made a people, a community, a tribe. We, who all believed ourselves outsiders are momentarily transformed. We who were no people, are now a people together. The sharing of bread brought unity. As we finished the bread, the clouds overhead gathered and darkened. Huge drops of rain started falling, slowly at first, gaining momentum, until sheets of driving rain soaked us all. In the torrential downpour, all were cleansed. Dirt was washed away — from skin, from clothes, from doors and apartments, from the common square. The heavens opened up, dumped a cleansing flood, then the clouds disappeared as quickly as they came. The sky turned blue, the sun shone, and we basked in the drying sun. Flowers, trees and shrubs blossomed, bloomed and flourished in moments. Children played in the newly birthed garden. A booming voice shook the ground saying, “Today you are my beloved children. With you I am well pleased.”
To this day, this dream shapes my sacramental theology as well as my Christology. We are the body of Christ, made so through our baptism and the Eucharist, transformed from individuals into unity and community. This dream is one contributing factor to why I don’t give up hope for our church — God is so much greater than our anger, resentment, hostility, lack of compassion, pig-headedness and willingness to be unhappy. It illustrates for me what it looks like to be one with (and in) Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world. There are so many cubes “out there,” so many people who for want of a sharing of bread lead lonely lives of quiet desperation. We have been washed. We have been fed. And we are called to be more than our failings and weaknesses. We are called to be the body of Christ for the world, and when we take it seriously, God is well pleased.
Trying to type “thank you” through my tears!
Thanks for sharing your dream -such a powerful image -that in sharing bread we are transformed from separate individuals into community -across all the differences and barriers we might have hidden behind.
This is a powerful dream/metaphor for sure! As I read, I was grateful to visualize the bread being shared with all. Sometimes we drop off casseroles but the bread doesn’t get shared. I have always thought sharing bread required relationship. Thank you for this timely post!
Dan, over the past week I have been reflecting on a Thomas Merton’s prayer and I thought of it again as I read about your dream, your ongoing sense of hope for the church, and your confidence that God is well-pleased when we take seriously our call to be the Body of Christ. For those who don’t know it, here’s the prayer: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
I love this Merton prayer, “the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”