Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
You can be in my dream, if I can be in yours’ – so pleaded the young Bob Dylan. Here he is not talking about nocturnal dreams. He is talking about aspirations, hopes, day-dreaming plans. It is vital to a healthy spirituality to have a dream. ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ That is the Lord’s warning. My experience is that individuals who stop dreaming end up existing rather than living an abundant life. To live the Christian life is to live a life that is shaped by future hope and the endless possibilities of God. For the soul’s health it is good to dream.
When a couple fall in love, their hearts and minds are flooded with dreams. The same happens when a person comes to a living faith – the world opens up to them as a new place, full of new possibilities. It is a similar experience when a vocation is realized. The times of greatest consolation are times of hopefulness and vision. In periods like this, it is important to enfold the experience in the memory by thankfulness and careful recollection. There are two reasons for this – the first is that the memory will provide encouragement in drier and more desolate times; the second reason is that it is important to remember the ‘first love’, to recognize the impulse and energy that comes from being subject to God’s grace in ecstatic abandonment. These are times of revelation and the deep insight that comes from being in love with God. Such experiences can be life-changing. This is what is meant by some when they talk about being ‘born again’ – it is quite possible for the experience to reoccur. During these periods, it is possible to make significant decisions that in a cooler and more pragmatic state of mind seem foolhardy. As a general rule (following Ignatius of Loyola’s advice), it is wrong to go back on a decision made in a time of consolation, unless that decision was one that offended normal legal and moral constraints; for example, to leave a husband and children to pursue the religious life is not the kind of decision that should be made!
It is important for individuals to be in touch with the activities that encourage them to be dreamers and visionaries. It can be the case that watching, looking or listening to art in its various forms can do this. It is also likely that being creative in some way provides a process of release from anxiety and material concerns, thus allowing a deeper and receptive attitude to the movement of Spirit. There is no need for this to be ‘fine’ art – cooking a curry or knitting a scarf can be a means to liberty of heart and mind. Physical activity and engagement with creation can also provide the same shift in perspective. All this is a matter that is very individual.
The important thing is to recognize the activity that initiates vision and hope in the heart and practise it. If playing the same piece on the record player triggers a deeper and more generous vulnerability to God, make sure to play it regularly. Being made in God’s image and likeness means that God expects each of us to be creative, to envision the possibilities within creation and to work towards their realization. A praying person is a dreaming person, and a dreaming person likes to make things happen!