Bad dreams of the past
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, however, you thought Freud was possibly a deeply troubled man with a very overactive imagination, a man whose theories did not stand up to the sort of rigorous testing that would be applied to theories in 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. Freud seems to start out with a theory and then to search for facts to fit the theory. Perhaps he is like most preachers, I suppose.
Strangely, bad dreams seem always to derive from experiences in the past, rather than current situations.
It being more than five years since I last conducted a church service, it seems odd to have a recurring bad dream about being in a church at the time when a service is due to start and to have none of the things required for the service. I am standing at the lectern with the congregation looking on expectantly and have no idea what to do.
In days as a preacher, the bad dreams were from times as a student. Perhaps in earlier years, bad dreams were about childhood days. Perhaps the power of bad dreams is their place in times over which you cannot have any control.
Perhaps it’s the deadline stress of having an essay/lecture/sermon ready that’s cogent and apt to both the audience and the general ethos, not just once, but weekly. Even thinking about that while fully awake and I’m getting the shivers.
A bit like doing the leaving cert weekly.
Possibly, although my greatest anxiety these days is generally the Dublin traffic!