Sunday, November 16, 2014

Christ Church Burial Ground

There is an arbor grace
Upon this cemetery lawn
That lingers here
The guardian of a grove

It keeps in sacred centuries
And holds the graven hordes
Of soldiers, saints and sinners
Of an unexpected past

It isn’t summoned by a call
To some it doesn’t come at all
But I can tell it watches
Over many that I love

I watch them playing
In the leaves
And with a zephyr
Show their grief

Then come again
To claim the burl
Or branch or cavity
In turn

I think they know the trees
And look upon these friends
And kindred from their
Sturdy boles

While right beneath my feet
Their roots are curled around
The ageless humus
Of my very bones

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Most Important Christian Women

Who are the two most important women in the early Christian church? This was a question asked of me recently in a dream by two gentlemen. 

In the dream, I found myself resting in my home. Suddenly two men that I know and respect appeared at my side. They are not individuals that I think of very often, although I always enjoy my association with them (infrequent as it is). They are both very religious and faithful men, but in different ways.

The first has been an important leader in the Mormon Church and continues to serve in varying capacities whenever he is asked. He is very kind and dedicated in his service and has also experienced personal tragedies in his life that have softened him and made him a very caring man.

The second individual is quiet and is often misunderstood. He can also be driven in unique and impractical ways. Some people see these tendencies as personal failings. He endures these misunderstandings in quiet without complaint. He is a loving father and has the complete faith of a child. This faith informs much of his life.

As I thought upon the question they posed to me, I wondered if the symbolism of the dream implied that their own characteristics supplied the answer. Did the two most important women of the early Christian Church have the same qualities that they had? If so, I see an answer that looks like a combination of Mary and Martha – as recorded in the 10th Chapter of Luke. Both are dedicated and full of faith. One of them (and represented by both men in my dream) is deeply spiritual.

The more I thought it over, however, the more I came to believe that the answer lies not with the men themselves, but with their wives. In fact it is interesting to me that the question would come from individuals that seem to be a rather odd (even random) combination of my own acquaintances. But who, when looked at more closely, demonstrate certain qualities in a very strong way. This is particularly true of their wives. In fact, of all the people I know, these two women may be the strongest examples of certain important traits.

The wife of the first man is a kind woman who is also a very dedicated woman. It is very important to her that she be doing the right thing. She is always trying to help others. She comes from a successful family of faith and is well enough off – though never extravagant. She has shared some very tragic events with her husband but has risen above them to become a soft and caring individual.

The wife of the second man is a very different sort of woman. She grew up in a strictly religious environment that imprinted upon her the need for dutiful service. She tends to feel that she is never doing all that she should and is often very hard on herself. She is a talented lady and has had to shoulder much of the responsibilities of supporting her family. Because of the immense responsibilities of her life, she has made mistakes – some of them have been significant. These mistakes have broken her and left her almost without hope. In her moments of despair, she has turned to God and found His grace. And it has been this grace that she has held onto with everything she has. It has literally saved her life. It has given her the strength to overcome her weakness and become a great source of strength to others. Out of this renewal has come an advanced degree and more service. She has gained a profound understanding of the healing power of Christ’s atonement but has never forgotten how vulnerable she is and how incapable without His help.

If these women are the symbols that provide the answer to the question posed in my dream, then I come again to Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke. The aspect of dutiful faith – as represented by both Martha and Mary – is obvious enough in both of these women’s lives. The aspect of sin and dependency on Christ is less obvious.

What surprises me about these two choices is that they don’t include Mary, the mother of Jesus. In any account of important Christian women (early or late) Mary must be at the top of the list. Why, in my dream, is it not apparent that she is one of the two? My only answer is that she is to be held apart. She is someone to be revered, but not necessarily someone that we should pattern our lives after. Besides her unique blessing from God, Christian tradition informs us of her early determination to dedicate her life to God without marriage. Clearly Mary is unique among women but I don’t think she was ever meant to be emulated, except perhaps in the focus of her faith. Christ’s commandment to follow Him was meant for all of us – men and women alike. Mary is to be appreciated in a different way.  

It is likely that the greatest women of the early church are meant to be types (as dream symbols often are) for all women. And Mary and Martha clearly meet this criterion.  I realize that I am making an assumption by accepting the traditional view that this Mary (Mary of Bethany) is the same person as Mary the sinner and Mary Magdalen. Susan Haskins has made a compelling argument that they are, in fact, all different individuals.

The traditional view argues from the different acts of Mary anointing Jesus and from the statement by Pope Gregory the Great (at the end of the sixth century) that these women all represent the same person (Haskins, p. 16). In fact both arguments are credible and plausible – as is the possibility that only some conflation has occurred, that maybe two women are involved. Either way, I am arguing that the symbol of the sinful and repentant Mary Magdalen is the correct interpretation of my dream.

I think this is important at a deeper level as well. The traditional Mary Magdalen, the woman from whom Christ is known to have cast out seven devils (Mark 16:9), and the woman who presumably was taken in adultery and then repented, would be the right person to be a witness of Christ. Every one of us must come to the realization of our own sinfulness before God. Unless we do so, we cannot be saved.  

In the (sometimes) unpopular and (often) conveniently forgotten parable of the Pharisee and the publican (in Luke 18), it is the sinful publican that has the faith to be saved and not the self-righteous Pharisee that lives the letter of his faith. It is the sinful publican that can’t even lift his eyes to heaven but pleads with God to “be merciful to me a sinner” that does have this sufficient saving faith.

Where do we see this humble pleading before God today? Where do we see the brutal self-awareness of our own failings? Clearly not from the popular advocates of our day. I do not deny that social change is necessary, nor am I suggesting that we throw away the many positive social gains that we have made in recent generations.

I am arguing that the real feminine examples for us now (for all of us) are timeless – and that they are typified in the early Christian church by the remarkable lives of Mary and Martha. We would do well to seriously consider their examples.  


For a fascinating account of the conflation of the gospel women see Susan Haskins’s book Mary Magdalen, Myth and Metaphor, published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Dream of Books

In the last few months I have been paying more attention to my dreams. I have also been recording them in my journal. The end result of all this is an astonishment at how much my sleeping self knows and has to offer.

Last week I had a dream that seemed to have absolutely no importance whatsoever. Nonetheless, I recorded it just because I had determined to record the dreams I remember. I was in an unremarkable store with a variety of merchandise. I didn’t pay much attention to most of the isles.

In the back of the store, however, I noticed a couple of shelves of books. As I looked more closely at their titles, I discovered to my delight that a few of them were old children’s books of significant value.

And that was it. The dream was very short and easily understood by me at the time as nothing more than the expected playing out of a wish fulfilment. Books, after all, are an important part of my life.

So I dutifully recorded the somnolent snippet and promptly forgot about it. A few days later, I found myself in the Central Valley of California driving through the sleepy town of Coalinga. I drive through Coalinga a few times every month as part of my regular route to the Salinas Valley. It is certainly not a place to go looking for books. The town is much too small for a bookstore – not even a used bookstore selling romance novels. The only place to find books is in the old thrift store a block east of the main drag.

I don’t normally stop here because the selection is not great and most of the inventory consists of popular (and usually damaged) titles that I’m not interested in. This time, however, I had a little bit of time and decided to go over the shelves once again.

I started browsing and within less than a minute noticed an early copy of Carol Ryrie Brink’s Caddie Woodlawn. It was in excellent condition (much better than the copy I had) and I decided to keep it.

Nice hunch, I said to myself – pleased that I had decided to stop. And then I noticed a couple of titles by Susan Cooper. Both of these books were also in good condition. I hoped that they were first editions and so checked the title page. Sadly, they weren’t. But happily they were both signed by the author.

Instinctively I checked my copy of Caddie Woodlawn and saw that it too was signed by the author. Then in a matter of just minutes I found signed books by Sid Fleischman, Isaac Singer, Ray Bradbury and others. By the time I was done, I had an armful of valuable children’s books.

A lady working at the store was kind enough to offer me a box to put them all in. She then told me that I could have them all at half price. In truth, the monetary offer was nice but I was so excited with my finds that I only gave her a half-hearted thanks.

In the end, I only paid three dollars for the lot – probably less than one percent of their overall value. It was the most remarkable find I have ever had in thirty years of looking for interesting books.

In all of the excitement, I had forgotten about my earlier dream. When I remembered it, my excitement turned into awe. Was this a sign from Heaven? Maybe it was just a nice gesture from my subconscious mind.

Whatever it was, I was left with much to think about. Several days later I am still thinking about it, and wondering just how much my spiritual self really knows. Have I been wrong all these years in deferring to my fallible mind? Should I be learning much more from my intuitive side?

I am reminded of Einstein’s statement (probably not quoted exactly) that, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

I am learning just how correct Einstein was. One thing I am learning more and more insistently as of late: I need to pay attention to my dreams.


See (September 18, 2013) for a discussion of the wording of Einstein’s thoughts on the intuitive mind.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dream Induction for Christians

Dreaming is something all of us do. Some of us don’t remember what we dream about, and most of us forget our dreams soon after they occur. But recent studies have established that we do, in fact, have them – and fairly often.

We talk of dreams as if they were mere fancies, maybe impractical or even embarrassing. Very rarely do we respect them or hope that they might enrich our lives or solve our problems. This is unfortunate. People all over the world – both living and dead – have paid close attention to these nighttime visitors and benefitted from them.

In fact people in many cultures go to great lengths to prepare for a dream experience that they hope will resolve a problem they need help with. If they experience a lot of meaningless images in their normal dreams, they might travel great distances to dream in a particularly sacred place or to dream with the guidance of a religious guide. They understood that some dreams are more meaningful than others. 

Christians, in particular, have a rich history of dreaming. And the sacred texts of our Judeo-Christian heritage are filled with important – even divinely inspired – dreams. Our ancestors often referred to these sacred dreams just as they referred to their own dreams and the dreams of friends and relatives. They wanted to know what they meant. They sometimes altered the course of their lives based on these dreams.

Recent decades have changed this for most of us. And the change has been one of loss, not enlightenment. For many Christians, the study of dreams has become the prerogative of psychologists – many of whom have no religious sensitivity and can’t be trusted. Who can blame them? The followers of Freud so often sound like pagans or atheists – or both.

Understandably, some of this science of dreams seems suspect to Christians. But I have come to believe that some of it deserves more of our attention. Maybe we should even acknowledge Freud (and Jung) for some of their contributions even as we reject many of their materialistic claims. One thing we Christians should insist on: not all dreaming can be appreciated by using laboratory electrodes, statistical questionnaires and other similar methods used by modern scientists.

Intuitively we know this. Of course we can objectively understand the dreams we have. But the subjective meaning that dreams sometimes leave on our souls is a different sort of experience. Some dreams can convey profound spiritual meanings and can be a source of much needed spiritual strength if we let them. And this requires a little work and understanding. The religious study of dreams, after all, is a spiritual quest. It is also a very rewarding quest.
Just recently I had my first experience with an induced dream. Students of dreaming would call this an incubation dream. An incubation dream is a dream that we hope to have – a dream that we prepare ourselves for – because we want an answer to a specific question.

My induced dream came about because of a message I received from my boss. He wanted to meet with me but wouldn’t tell me why. Needless to say, I was curious and concerned at the same time. And since this happened when I was learning more about dreams I decided to see if I couldn’t ask my subconscious self (my dreaming self) for a little guidance.

I also asked for a little Divine help in my evening prayer and specifically requested understanding about anything useful concerning my upcoming meeting. Before going to sleep I kept the question on my mind.

The dream I had (the one I remember) took place in a Christian setting. In fact I don’t remember the details other than the fact that it was just that: a Christian setting. I even forgot after waking up that I had even requested a helpful dream. When I did remember, it took me a few minutes to connect the request with the dream.

And then I had to ask myself the question: what did a Christian setting have to do with my upcoming meeting? I couldn’t tell and so dismissed the dream and my own unsuccessful efforts. But then it occurred to me that my boss is an honorable Christian man. I don’t know him very well, but I do know that he tries to live Christian ideals. I then understood that the only thing I needed to concern myself with about the meeting was to be a Christian.

The realization was surprising. It was also very satisfying. And I knew that it was the answer I had sought even if it wasn’t the kind of answer I expected. As it turned out we were able to discuss a few difficult issues in a friendly way and ended up talking about certain passages in the Bible that he was interested in. He didn’t want to end the meeting because we were having such a good conversation. I left the meeting very glad for the insight I gained from my dream.

I have learned that there are certain things that can help induce dreams. For starters, it is important to believe that you can receive guidance in your life from dreams. If this is difficult for you, try opening up the Bible and look in the index (or topical guide) under dreams. You may be surprised and what you will find.

It might be helpful to spend a few days reading these Biblical examples before you venture on your own. Reading the stories of Joseph (of Egypt), Daniel, Mary, Joseph (Mary’s husband) and others will remind you of the importance of dreaming in our faith.

Perhaps you have been guilty of placing these Biblical examples in a mental category of “they don’t happen anymore, especially to people like me.” If you have been guilty of this (as I have) let me ask a simple question: if dreams are not important, why do we have them?

Sacred literature clearly rejects the claim of Freud’s followers that all dreams are merely wish fulfillment formulated in so many symbols by our subconscious mind. Religious dreamers during all periods of this planet’s history have insisted that dreams can often be prophetic.

You may have heard the term “precognitive” or “mantic” referring to dreams. These are modern equivalents of what we Christians know as prophetic dreams. They aren’t always profoundly significant or concern the fate of the world. Our subconscious mind is rarely worried about such things.

We believe that God has revealed these kinds of dreams to prophets. But for each of us, prophetic dreams will likely be more individual. I don’t mean that our individual dreams will be unimportant. In fact they can, and will, be profoundly meaningful to us. But they may not be meant for anybody else.

“Yes,” you say. “But my dreams are far too mundane or irrelevant to be truly helpful in this way.” If you are guilty of thinking like this, you’ll have to change the way you think. Meaningful dreams happen when we believe in them, not because they are inevitably written in the stars.

The big problem is that we have stopped concerning ourselves with dreams. We get most of our answers from a culture steeped in the proclamations of professionals. And these professionals get their answers – even their credentials – in materialistic ways. There is no room in their calculations for the unmeasurable spiritual realities that speak to our subconscious minds.

So you will have to practice with your dreams. Avoid the temptation of expecting unambiguous visions. Our spirits aren’t fluent in the precise language of modern pragmatism. Remind yourself instead of the importance of symbols in sacred literature. Consider the hundreds of stories written in the Old Testament that refer in interesting ways to the New Testament. Consider the almost exclusive way that Jesus taught His disciples. He used stories – parables – that are very symbolic.

Analogies of many kinds – especially parables – are at the very heart of sacred teachings. The reason may have escaped you if you have tried to understand these texts from a modern reductionist standpoint. But they weren’t written for the curious mind. They were written for the soul, and the soul speaks the language of symbols.

Consider also the reason we have rituals. As a young man, I didn’t really appreciate the reason for such seemingly primitive practices associated with religion. In fact some of the authors I read implied that Christian rituals were no more sacred than the war dances of headhunters. I developed a condescending attitude about them for a time.

Eventually I gained a bit more spiritual maturity as I admitted the spiritual essence surrounding these practices. It took me years to realize that rituals too are meant to speak to our souls and not just our rational minds. They too are crafted in the language of symbols. The sacrament is a very obvious and very profound example.

And so are our dreams. They present images to us that are meant to be interpreted symbolically. In ancient cultures there usually existed an official interpreter of dreams. This person was usually associated with the established religion. But occasionally someone unexpected developed the ability and was appropriately recognized. Joseph of Egypt and Daniel are examples.

I would discourage a Christian from looking for this kind of help today. There are several dream resources available. Books on dreams have been written by the hundreds. Some of these might be helpful but many of them draw from pagan motifs. The safest approach for a Christian dreamer is to follow your own faithful instincts. Maybe you know someone trustworthy with whom you talk about your dreams. Certainly you can ponder and pray about their meaning.

Another concern you might have is that some of your dreams appear to be inappropriate. Maybe the dream stage of your mind becomes filled with things that embarrass you. Perhaps you seem to be having an affair or interested in something or someone you shouldn’t be. A devoted Christian might well become bewildered by such images. How could these things come to someone who would never contemplate such a thing when awake? Modern dream advisors aren’t much help here. They follow Freud in stating that this is all natural and only your subconscious mind forcing you to deal with your true sensual wishes.

Maybe there is truth in such thinking for the carnally minded. But for a Christian that truly seeks to do the will of God, doing his or her best to avoid improper thoughts, sinful situations or suggestive media, this is certainly misguided.

The key is to remember that our spirits speak to us in symbols. If you dream of craving an apple pie, you’re spirit is probably not very worried about being hungry. It is probably telling you that it is hungry for something else. If in your dream you find yourself in an inappropriate relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have an affair. More than likely your spirit is telling you that it needs a more meaningful unity with someone with whom you have already committed your love.

Maybe this sounds far-fetched to you. If it does, it is because you haven’t come to appreciate just how important symbols are in the understanding of the soul. If you really want to understand what you are missing, decide to spend a month or two evaluating your dreams.

Decide on something in your life that has concerned you – something about which you could use a little (or a lot of) enlightenment. Pray about your wish to gain understanding. Retire each night without a lot of other things on your mind. Mental clutter has a way of diluting our spirits. Focus on the subject of your quest.

Keep a pad and a pencil near your bed in case your dream comes in the middle of the night and wakes you up. If you don’t write it down quickly you may lose it. More than likely your dream will come in the morning just before you wake up. Again, make sure you write it down immediately.

If you normally don’t remember your dreams, or even falsely believe that you don’t have dreams, try the following experiment. Set your alarm clock for half an hour before you normally wake up. Sometimes it happens when you are woken up at unexpected times that you still have your dream images present in your mind. Some people need to be woken up in the middle of the night for this to happen.

Another technique that sometimes works is to mentally focus on an earlier time to wake up before you go to sleep. This may sound a bit far-fetched but it works for many people. The mental effort of focusing on a particular time is picked up by the sub-conscious – which is fully active while our minds sleep. It prods us to wake up. This activity by itself, if you practice it a few times, will give you added confidence in the reality and accessibility of your spiritual (and subconscious) self.

If you do this for several weeks, you will be surprised at the insights you gain about important things in your life. You may gain answers that will change your life. But you will have to respect the answers. It does no good to disregard what seems to be a trivial dream that answers your questions because it appears to be so simple.

Be humble enough to recognize that your spirit knows more than your mind does. It also knows what you really need in order to find meaning in your life. Your mind gets confused about this all the time.     

Remember that Christians have been paying attention to dreams for a very long time. Ask yourself if being a product of the 20th Century is more important to you than this long Christian history. Are you a citizen of the modern world first, or does your spiritual self trump the vagaries of our time? Do you really have faith that God might communicate with you?

I promise you one thing for sure: your spiritual self – the one that communicates with symbols in dreams – is much more conversant in the true things of God than is your fallible mind. You should give it a chance to teach you what it knows.


Patricia Garfield’s book Creative Dreaming, though not written specifically for Christians, has many insightful suggest ions on preparing for dreams. It was published by Simon and Schuster in 1974.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reinstituting Universal Service

I have lived almost all of my life in the United States and have watched all sorts of unfortunate events take place. Just after I entered the world Kennedy was assassinated. In following years I watched and listened to the misfortunes of the Vietnam War, the Korean War and many other conflicts around the world.

I have been stunned as terror continues to strike so many parts of the world. The events of 9/11 caused me a great deal of alarm as they did most everybody else. Even so, I feel that events right now are more worrisome than anything I have experienced before.

Our sworn enemies are now politically unified – at least to a degree that transcends local fanaticism. They have resources and cross national borders without detection. We like to think that the Islamic State is centered in Syria. Yesterday a prominent politician confidently announced that the “snake’s head” residing in Syria should be cut off. The implication being that the emerging reptilian threat could be contained and controlled in a local and foreign place.

I disagree. Islamic fundamentalism has metastasized to the far reaches of the world. Persons of various (East and West) nationalities are joining their ranks. Some of these recent recruits are just out for adventure. Others are clearly looking for an ideal to fight for. Quite frankly it isn’t hard to see their point – the Western world (and most prominently America) with its immoral materialism is an enemy to be dealt with.

We have an ever-expanding population of disillusioned youth that believes America is some sort of canker, much like Jefferson described the urban sores of his time. These individuals have never experienced or never been taught the many virtues of this nation – nor have they understood the urgent global need for a true American exceptionalism.

Their idealism, backed by well-funded Islamic extremists, is now a threat within our own borders. It is a threat funded by our own petroleum interests. And it is a threat of greater significance than the terrorism of yesterday’s headlines. It is time that we start thinking seriously about defending ourselves against its threats.

Security measures in airports are maybe helpful once in a while. More often they are a waste of time. International posturing against global threats are inevitable but do little to protect us against unknown conspiracies at home. We continue to place far too much faith in the band aid protections of recent legislative opportunism.

It is time that we start preparing ourselves for the many looming threats that continue to accumulate.  One act of preparation that I think we should seriously consider is a reinstitution of universal service – something similar to the program ex-president Theodor Roosevelt tried to promote during the international uncertainties of early 20th Century America.

Roosevelt was quite exacerbated by many pacifist organizations that insisted on disarming America and making our country an example of non-resistance. Of course we dream of peace and Roosevelt acknowledged peace as a primary virtue. But he insisted that peace had to be earned. Peace, he believed, was a product of military preparation. And however uneasy we may feel with an implied belligerence in his arguments, the 20th Century has not proven him wrong.

In his short classic, Fear God and Take Your Own Part, Roosevelt called for military training for all American boys. This training was to happen as part of a young man’s normal high school curriculum during the ages of 16 and 18. It didn’t require active duty. But it was meant to prepare the nation in case a need presented itself. In the end, his pleas were forgotten in the developments leading up to World War I. But we make a mistake by ignoring them today. In modified form, his ideas could save us a great deal of suffering.

In fact a program of universal service would do a lot of things. Imagine a situation where high school students all across the land spent several hours every weekday during summer vacation learning about terrorist threats. Most importantly each student would learn to pay attention to their surroundings. They would listed to hushed conversations in a grocery isle. They would watch an abandoned vehicle. They would notice the contents of suspicious-looking individuals and backpacks at public events.

In short we would have a nation of observers that would know what to do in case they did come across something suspicious. They would know whom to call. They would take mental notes so they could identify suspects. They would pay close attention to license plates and behaviors. They would know how to use their phones to alert officials.

Other benefits would also accrue. In a nation of great diversity, we would regain a unity that has been missing for decades. We would teach minorities of their civic duties. And of many things they (and most of us) take for granted: I mean that America is a blessed place that needs to be defended.

President Obama is about to address the Nation on the existing threat of the Islamic State. Undoubtedly he will tell us what the government is planning to do. He will probably nod at a shared responsibility. But in the end he will most-likely tell us that we are in good hands – his hands and the hands of our trained military. He will assure us that nations around the world will join together in ridding ourselves of this arising threat. But pay attention because all of these assurances will no-doubt depend on the wisdom of others: other governments, other agencies, other citizens.

How nice it would be if, instead, we could all take part in protecting ourselves. Our young people would have something inspiring to do. We would come together as a nation. Our confusion over gun rights and the significance of the Second Amendment in 21st Century America would all but disappear. And we would watch as neighborhood after neighborhood succeeded in watching out for themselves and for their own families.
I think it’s time to dust off an old argument from a former gentleman who loved America. It’s time to train our youth on what it means to defend freedom. It’s time to fear God and take an active part. It’s time to implement a national program of preparation and training instead of sitting back in panic as we watch the enemy scare us according to their own plans. We can do much more.


My copy of Fear God and Take Your Own Part was published by Gryphon Corporation in 2012.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Madrone Gift

Imagine my surprise
To find this Christmas grove
In June
All red and green
With peeling bark
I slept beneath
Its spreading arc
And watched the
Crescent moon
The mist rolled in and I
Could see the gusting of
The breeze
As tiny droplets
Swept the ground
And scattered moon dust
All around
The graceful
Madrone trees
Some of the magic moisture
Must have found me
In a drift
Because that scene
Still comes at night
When I awake
To pale moonlight
And lingers
As a gift

Monday, August 18, 2014

An Oracle

Some prayers are answered
On your knees
In quiet thoughts
And hearts that know

And some are answered
Near old trees
That guard some secrets
Of the world

I watched a mother
Squirrel go foraging
Beneath a
Large red fir

Her body thin and
Full of living milk
She looked at me and
Then called out a song

I then remembered
That I knew
The answer
All along