Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. -Matthew 1:18-25
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Joseph must have known, in his dream of dreams, that Mary carried the Word in her womb. That Joseph trusted his dream, that Joseph accepted the non-rational unknown, forsaking conventional righteousness, ennobles him in humility, courage, and integrity. That Joseph changes direction overnight in a dark conversion, makes him an Advent icon. Joseph is awakened by his dream.
Once the old dream dies, no careful tending of the embers will revive it (Meditation One). As ephemeral as the new dream is, embrace the Eternal inherent in the new dream (Meditation Two). Mary and Joseph turned their lives inside out so that the dreams in the hearts of many should be revealed (Meditation Three). Still dreaming, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) abandoning the old dream
For, after all, you do grow up, you do outgrow your ideals, which turn to dust and ashes, which are shattered into fragments; and if you have no other life, you just have to build one up out of these fragments. And all the time your soul is craving and longing for something else. And in vain does the dreamer rummage about in his old dreams, raking them over as though they were a heap of cinders, looking in these cinders for some spark, however tiny, to fan it into a flame so as to warm his chilled blood by it and revive in it all that he held so dear before, all that touched his heart, that made his blood course through his veins, that drew tears from his eyes, and that so splendidly deceived him! - Fyodor Dostoevsky 1821-1888 White Nights
Miscellany On Dreams
And it will come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit. -Joel 2:28-29
The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to knowledge of the soul - Sigmund Freud
Joseph's Dream, Unknown German Master, c.1250
Dreams express that innate mental activity which thinks, feels and receives impressions, and engages in speculation on the fringes of our everyday activities at all levels, from the most carnal to the most spiritual, without our being aware of it. By revealing the psychic undercurrents and the requirements of a life-program written at the deepest level of being, dreams express the individual's most cherished aspirations and, incidentally, become an infinitely valuable source of all orders of information.
Dreams are symbols of the individual's experience, so deeply lodged in the depths of consciousness that they elude their own creators, and we view them as the most secret and uninhibited expression of our very selves.
In dreams begin responsibility. -Old Play (epigraph) Yeats, Responsibilities (1914)
Dream of Joseph (warning him to flee Bethlehem with Mary and Jesus) Rembrandt, 1650-55
Joseph's Dream, George de la Tour, 1640
Meditation Two (insight) embracing the new dream
The Bright Field I have seen the sun break through To illuminate a small field for a while, And gone my way and forgotten it But that was the pearl of great price, The one field that had the treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, Nor hankering after an imagined past. It is turning aside like Moses To the miracle of a lit bush, To a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, But is the eternity that awaits you. -R.S. Thomas 1913-2000
Meditation Three (integration) Mary and Joseph
Blessed Woman. Excellent Man, Redeem for the dull the Average Way, That common ungifted Natures may Believe that their normal Vision can Walk to perfection.
W. H. Auden 1907-1973 Advent Sourcebook, Liturgy Training Publications
The Last Word
Your vision will only become clear when you look inside your heart... Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakes. -Carl Jung 1875-1961
How do you know when to listen to your dreams? When are your dreams truthful and when are they simply ridiculous? When does the trickster or the devil or your own malformed desires undermine your journey toward the good and lovely? How soon after falling through a trapdoor into a wider consciousness can you scramble to your feet, find your balance and head in the right direction?
How did Joseph know to turn aside from righteousness as he knew it, to follow a dark, non-rational, alternative righteousness? Something in his life must have prepared him to pay attention to that particular dream that night: do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Such a statement can make perfect sense in the context of a dream. But not upon waking. What is more likely, really, that Mary experienced sexual relations (welcome or unwelcome) OR that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit? But the messenger in the dream sweetens the message with a scripture passage familiar to the dreamer: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
Joseph, like his ancestor Joseph the son of Jacob, must have trusted his dreams. But even more than his dreams, in order to embrace Mary's unusual pregnancy Joseph must have trusted the voice of God in the prophets, the thread of narrative tales of reversals of power, and the psalms:
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. Psalm 146:5-9
A poor man working as an artisan (probably building for the Roman oppressors) Joseph drew hope from these texts, this promise, this dream of all dreams. What righteous dreamer upon waking would not lay down his prejudices for such a dream?
Give us your dream, O Holy One. Guide us and give us courage, like Joseph, to live toward Your dream's fulfillment.