Today, we live in a world of guns and violins. Personally, I don’t condone violins. I’m rather partial to violas.
Seriously, thanks for having me here at the All Souls Waccamaw Unitarian Universalist Church. We tried this once before. And then there was Covid, that great excuse for getting out of a commitment.
I turn your attention to the allegory of Palm Sunday, the day we humans got a glimpse of the kingdom of God on Earth, only to see it smashed to bits less than a week later. I’d like you to picture it, meditate on the image of our Earthly Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, in triumph, only to be beaten and humiliated, the dream utterly destroyed by His crucifixion less than one week later, leaving us only with the hope of his resurrection and a bizarre vision of an afterlife for his faithful. It’s an enigma. More like a bad dream, a nightmare really. The real Kingdom of God is something we can only imagine through faith, with a vague hope for some beautiful way of being in the hereafter. Faith is hope on steroids.
Dreams and the Hereafter
I’ve been thinking about our secret life in dreams and how it might grant us some more direct access to this mysterious Kingdom of God. In fact, I dreamt what I’m about to tell you. We all know, or should know, that no one’s life is ideal, as celebrity horror stories, their suicides and all their slapping each other in public, tells us. Everyone suffers and longs for something they will never have. As I get older, closer to the ticking time bomb of my own inevitable death, it has dawned on me that a great portion of my life is actually lived while dreaming. Further, I’m beginning to think our dreams are potentially what connect us most saliently to the mysterious life, herafter.
What if we are our Dreams?
We spend almost a third of our lives dreaming. Dreams are where we explore every facet of our fantasies, experiment, take impossible risks, and live the full range of emotions and possibilities we can literally only dream of. It is where we dare, fail valiantly, stop at nothing, triumph, break the rules, cross lines we could never cross while awake. I think it’s safe to say we are ONLY truly free while dreaming. I’d like you to consider that perhaps dreams are where we ACTUALLY are our truest selves. You may not remember your dreams, but they remember you. Oh the shear cruelty of it, if that is true. Our unconscious life is completely out of our control, dark and mysterious. It’s frustrating how little access we have to our dreamlife. And yet, it remains the closest we can get to heaven, a state of absolute freedom, in this life.
People talk about “living the dream” and “Following our dreams.” I don’t recommend it. The sad truth is, we simply can’t live our dreams. But we can gain insight from our dreaming. I don’t know how many times I’ve awoken from a dream, so disappointed it was only a dream. All our longings are realized and play out in our dreams. That we are cut off in some way from out dreaming, may seem something of a disappointment to you. But I think it is quite liberating. After all, our waking lives are so boring compared to our actual dreams. In our dreams we live thousands of adventures. We’re naked from the waist down in public (again, more exciting dreams from Rob Maniscalco!), running down endless hallways, careening off freeway bridges, running from the law, challenging justice, saying and doing things we could never say or do in real life. I think recurring dreams happen for a reason. We are grappling with something unresolved, something that doesn’t yet make sense, that can only be resolved by dreaming. I have one recurring dream where I’m being condemned to death for a crime I don’t remember committing. Anyone else have that one (I’m taking names for the FBI)?
Do I paint my dreams often? It happens only when I find a way to harness them. When I take the time to write them down, perhaps ask why they are happening. Dreams can be harnessed to produce an entire screenplay or just a simple image or strange juxtaposition of images. At its root, originality is just combining common objects in ways they haven’t been combined before.
But I believe all that crazy and sometimes cool stuff we dream is all in there (mind), cut off from our conscious self for a reason. I believe our dreamlife is just as important to our waking lives as the waking life itself – perhaps even more important. Think of how many times we go to sleep depressed and anxious, only to wake up refreshed and renewed. WHATEVER happens in our dreams, transforms us. And it does this every time we sleep. I believe dreams are God’s gift to us that allow us to survive this crazy life, filled with unbelievable agonies and ecstasies.
Scientists believe Dreams are where we process our reality. Where we work out and make sense of a senseless world. Again, our dreams are the only place we are free. Or perhaps more to the point, dreams are where we grapple with what freedom really looks like and what it means to us.
Perhaps God uses our dreams to safely play out the illogic of our Id, our strangest and most outrageous selves. I haven’t made a scientific study of dreams but I have a hunch that God has put the miracle of dreaming right in our lap, as a gift. And then, what do we go and do with it? We forget the vast majority of our dreams. We might remember a fragment or two. Or so we think. What if, on our deepest level on consciousness, we’ve never forgotten a single dream we’ve ever had? What if they are as much a part of our “thought process,” our psyche, our DNA, our personhood, as much of WHO WE ARE as anything we think and do while awake? Even the dreams I can’t remember. Especially the ones I can’t remember.
Dreams are God’s Sacred Conduit Between the Multiverses
Perhaps a certain part of our brain comes to life when we dream, a part of our brain that operates on a frequency understood by the multiverse, where we connect with people and places on another dimensional plane. Ever dream about someone you lost? But there they are alive and well in our dream. Like Obie Wan Kanobi, our people are more powerful when they are dead, than alive. They are inside us, where they speak to us, as we play out what we need to in order to move on in this plane, evermore empty of those we love. They remain a part of who each of us is, our sorted, glorious crazy selves, whether we are conscious of it or not. Perhaps our inner dream life is central to our waking life. If nothing else, I believe our conscious actions are deeply influenced by and rooted in our dreams, even though we may not know exactly how or why. Talk about faith?
I like to write down mine and Cate’s dreams, whenever I can. Some of cate’s dreams would make fantastic screenplays. And I shall devote the rest of this talk to relaying all Cate’s dreams over the past 10 years! My play, Vincent John Doe, which I produced at Piccolo Spoleto two years in a row, came from a dream about meeting Van Gogh today. Our dreams are there for us to harness.
Why am I talking so much about dreams on this beautiful, crisp, palm Sunday morning? Because people spend a lot of energy trying to “live the dream.” We are always trying to reach into our unconscious selves. We substitute dreams with meditation, lucid dreaming, drug trips, far flung romances, grand travel escapades. Netflix!
Some attempts to penetrate our subconscious minds are more effective than others, but none are as evocative and enthralling as our true dream state. Because these are mostly passive external experiences that don’t begin to uncover the complexities of our unconscious mind.
Hope wishes, dreams dare
Our mission, on the other hand, our purpose for being awake, that thing we choose to do WHILE we are awake. It is that thing that pushes and challenges us; it gets us up in the morning and drives us. It inspires further dreaming. I’m talking about something much more than just a job, although it can be our job. I’m so grateful my job is what most people do when they retire.
Our mission has to bring us meaning and become part of our longing. As humans, we long for meaning. We are meaning making machines. So we give ourselves meaning with a mission that gets us up in the morning. Why else would we ever want to give up our amazing dream life?
Some people, whom we refer to as “incapacitated” or “depressed,” those who can barely get out of bed, (I know, I’ve been there) maybe they know something about dreaming we all have forgotten – those of us who seem driven to accomplish so much in our short lives.
So, our waking mission must be safe, reasonable, achievable, and sustainable. It gives us purpose during between the fireworks of our dreaming, So we feel inspired to leave our dreamworld and face the day, in order to work on things that give us meaning, that maybe make the world a little better. We understand that life is empty and meaningless AND that it’s empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless. What does that mean? It means we are free to create our lives the way we choose. God gave us free will. But he gave us free will so we could CHOOSE His path for us. Another enigma. So we try to move the dial. In dreams there is no dial. In our waking mission we assert control over things we can control.
Our waking life mission is something over which we have at least some limited control, as it crosses paths and sometimes comes into conflict, with other people’s missions and agendas. So, we must choose our mission wisely, with careful prayer and humility. Because we will fail at it far more than we will succeed.
Our Mission comes from our Dreaming
My mission is quite simple. Yours can be too. I have taken what I do well. What I have trained to do. My gift from God, my TALENT for painting, And dedicated it to a higher purpose. For me that is taking my skills as an artist and focusing it on something meaningful to me. The Quench Project is meaningful to me. And BTW, I believe God planted the idea for it in my head through my dreaming – because I was SEEKING a purpose. So, it is meaningful to me because I chose to give it meaning. Hopefully, it is meaningful to others. Because there is a story that goes with it. And it helps people who need help, on multiple levels. My mission encapsulates a whole life lived, leading to this point. On the surface, The Quench Project is about converting my talent, my art, into charitable dollars, which is something that is in line with my political and spiritual values. But it is also something much deeper.
I like to think of my life’s mission as Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – talk about delusional – in triumph, only to be crucified a week later. That tragic inevitability is part of the process of longing. When He dies that horrible death this coming Friday, our dreams are crushed, left only with the hope of the resurrection. With every exhale, our hope dies and is restored when we inhale. It is a cycle. The cycle of life.
Our lives and missions all die a sad and quiet death. Every breath we take. So we live our lives and pass on our legacy in hopes of keeping the dream alive. And they do live on. They just take different forms when we are gone, or moved on to something else, when we move onto something else, just as images in our weird, wild unconscious dreamlife spring to life, and flicker away, when we sleep. But the mission we have latched onto continues, passed from generation to generation and from person to person over the centuries of human history. Our mission is our waking, living legacy that connects us to the rest of humanity, past, present and future.
So yes, our mission IS that triumphant march into Jerusalem, the Garden of Eden, the dream job, finding our “soulmate,” that feeling we have for home. It is when we embrace the LONGING for something more meaningful, that our purpose comes to life. Everyone knows, the moment we feel enlightenment, is when it disappears, leaving us alone with our terrible ego. It’s like silence, when you say its name, it disappears. We grasp enlightenment only in moments, here and there. For me, it happens most when I paint. For Danny when he plays his violin, Cate with her plants. Where do you manifest these brief moments of ecstasy?
Our Goal is Not to Have a Goal
And then it transforms itself into another insight, leaving a trail of insights we call art. But it is this constant longing itself that brings us closer to our goal, a goal that is ever changing and ultimately unreachable. So what is this goal? What is it that we are chasing? I think it’s simply to feel more deeply. To live more fully. To be more present with our surroundings, our feelings, our relationships, to be more alive. It is that longing for home itself, not the destination called home. It is a thirst that can never be quenched. Issa, the Japanese poet said, “yes life is impermanent . . . but even so.” There’s always that longing.
I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend the better part of my life, my dream life, than with my wife Cate. We both know we could get up and leave any moment but every day we choose to be with each other and live this life we’ve agreed to live. Her criteria for a mate was that he, or she, not be boring. But sometimes, I am. I know, it’s hard to believe. Our living in a constant longing for god’s kingdom on earth, for His will to be done, is not always awesome. Being a creative is a quiet, disciplined and intensely passionate pursuit.
Knowing our crazy dreams are part of this life, part of this constant state of longing, and not some alt life we live only when we sleep, and never talk about, makes me marvel all the more at the gift we have called life. Our waking life is Christ’s triumphant procession into Jerusalem. Our dream life is the promise of the afterlife, where anything is possible.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. The meaning we seek, is always right in front of us. If only we will see it. Like in my painting, “The Skeptic,” which came to me in a dream. The shameful man who cannot see the truth that’s right in front of him.
I also brought some paintings from The Quench Project, which I recently expanded to include work related to Ukraine, as well as Haiti and the Gullah Geeche culture.
I had a dream that by now I would be flooded with prestigious portrait commissions, my work flying off the wall, a big star in the art world. And as it turns out, I was right, if only in my dreams.
I realize now the obstacles and longing in my dreams and in my waking life are the story; its not about the end goal, but the journey.
I’ll conclude by telling you about a little dream I had: (singing) “I dreamed last night I got on a boat to heaven – and as I laughed at those passengers to heaven, a great big wave came and washed me overboard. And as I sank and I hollered someone save me. That’s the moment I woke up. Thank the lord. So I said to myself sit down, sit down your rocking the boat. Said to myself sit down your rocking the boat.
Here’s link to see and hear this talk