In Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila, the Reverend John Ames comes into the kitchen in the early morning and talks with Lila, his young wife who is expecting their child.
“And how are you two this morning?”
She said, “I guess this child of yours don’t want me to sleep. Maybe he don’t like my dreams or something.”
He helped her with her chair. “You’re having bad dreams? Here, I’ll get the coffee.” He poured her a cup. “Do you want to tell me about them?”
“They’re just dreams. You must have bad dreams sometimes. Maybe you don’t, being a preacher.”
Is Robinson being mischievous or could there be people who might imagine that a preacher would not have bad dreams? Sometimes having no dreams at all would seem desirable, a deep and dreamless sleep free of disturbing thoughts that linger long after waking.
Perhaps bad dreams vary from person. Had I paid more attention to psychology textbooks, I might have understood the underlying problem, but then, again, I might not. Freud’s work seemed about as verifiable as most theology; if you bought into it, then it explained everything. If you thought he was possibly a troubled man with an overactive imagination, whose theories did not stand up to the sort of rigorous testing that would be applied to physical sciences, then there were grounds to doubt much of what he said. Theories that say one thing proves the case and that another, contradictory thing also proves the case, are as scientific as the suggestion that God’s existence can be proven by him answering prayers or by him not answering the same prayers. He seems to start out with a theory and then to search for facts to fit the theory; like most preachers, I suppose.
Friends’ bad dreams seem similar to my own – turning over exam papers to see questions in a subject they have never studied, or being late for an appointment and not being able to find the way, or being improperly dressed at a public gathering, or being trapped and not able to cry out for help. One evening in 1993, I nearly missed the last Belfast-bound flight out of Heathrow; for years afterwards, I dreamt I was in Croydon and had to get a flight in an hour’s time, which was odd, because I was never in Croydon.
Dreams are strange things, bad dreams are even stranger, and even preachers have them. Waking up is much safer.