In our life of discernment, the grace-filled gift of dreams can bring powerful messages to help guide our life decisions. Spiritual director Lisa Gonzales-Brown tells us that in the misty realm of dreams “the unconscious plays and works, teases and teaches, invites and demands, frightens and reassures, exposes and conceals.”* Dreams are a mysterious gift from God that entice us to pay attention to what is coming from our hidden depths and to bring that material into conscious awareness. Dreams are special gifts that deserve our attentiveness.
As you know, the Bible is full of examples of people who received in their dreams messages from God instructing them on how to respond in crisis situations. Perhaps the most famous example is Joseph, who is counseled in a dream that there is no need to divorce Mary because her unborn child is the Savoir. He is later instructed to flee to Egypt to protect his family from Herod’s murderous scheme. Later, he is told in a dream that it is safe to return his family to Israel and settle in Nazareth.
Oftentimes the messages of our dreams are not as clear-cut as Joseph’s. We experience a vast variety of action-packed images, scary or comforting, with a wide and sometimes bewildering cast of characters, creatures, and other fantasy figures. How are we to tap into the meaning of our dreams as they shed light on the challenging situations of our lives? Knowing how to process dreams can be a helpful tool in discernment.
I, myself, am a late bloomer to the art of dreamwork. After discovering an easy way to engage my dreams and mine their meaning, I felt encouraged to begin. I share with you, from the book Dreams and Spiritual Growth: A Christian Approach to Dreamwork, the five steps of one simple technique that I found helpful.
What has been your experience of dreamwork? Are you a “beautiful dreamer” who has experienced this mysterious grace in the world of sleeping?
Blessings and Sweet Dreams,
* Lisa Gonzales-Barnes, “Dreamwork: Four Techniques for Spiritual Direction,” in Spiritual Direction, Vol. 18, No. 2, June 2012, 7.
** This dream technique is explained in Dreams and Spiritual Growth: A Christian Approach to Dreamwork by Louis M. Savary, Patricia H. Berne, and Strephon Kaplan Williams.
Alleluia! It’s True!
(Inspired by the Easter Gospel readings)
Could it be?
Dare I trust?
Dare we risk?
We had hoped for so long
Have felt betrayed and
done our share of betraying
it could be true
They say they saw him
And they are glowing
They are different somehow
not cowering like the rest of us
They don’t just believe
I can see it
They know in their bones
He is alive
Angels spoke to them
She saw him at the tomb
and he sent her to us
They actually broke bread with him
Could it be?
It is all coming together
Everything he said that sounded so crazy
now is falling into place
And, wait, who is that coming into our room?
How did he get in here –
the door is closed
He looks so familiar
and yet I cannot place him
Those terrible, awful nail marks
It is him
He is eating, drinking
smiling at us
He is alive as they said
O God of our ancestors
You have raised him
It is true
Now I know
And now that I know
I have to leave this safe room
No, I want to leave this safe, closed room
I want to share this news
The nails didn’t do it
The shameful crucifixion didn’t destroy him
And all that is death dealing
in our world
cannot destroy us
We are on the side of
the one who was raised from the dead
And he has called us to go forth
And has given us a Word of life to preach
to a hurting world
Death does not have the final power
Hope and life remain
I know it now
Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
I look upon you with such love. You are so hard on yourself. You feel guilty for all you do not do, and for some of the things you do. I see it. I know you. You can’t hide anything from me and you don’t need to. You are safe with me. I don’t condemn you. I want to cheer you on. I want you to be all that I made you to be. I see the goodness inside you even when you don’t see it yourself. I do call you to be more, but out of love, out of knowing the goodness that is within you.
Sometimes it is hard to look at the pain in yourself, in those around you, in the world. I know. It is overwhelming at times. When I walked the Earth it pained my heart that I could not cure all. It caused me such sadness that my message about God’s reign was twisted and used against me and my followers. It angered me that the poor suffered so much due to the greed of those in power.
It’s not easy being a human being and trying to follow me is it? Sometimes it means you will have to suffer. There are times you will feel like you are being put on a cross.
Maybe you will be judged falsely by those around you.
Maybe a relationship will be ruptured that will not be repaired in this life.
Maybe you have experienced a loss you weren’t sure you could bear.
I know. Look at me up here. I know all your hurt and all your pain and I embrace it. And transform it. An empty tomb is actually a sign of new life.
Pay attention – there is hope in places you might not expect. Look for the signs of new life, within you and around you. I did not stay up on this cross. Yes, it was a shameful, excruciating death. But it passed over. God raised me and God will raise you. Once you accept and know the cross, you do not need to stay there.
Honor what has been, in my witness and in your own life, kiss it, venerate it, bow before it.
And then get ready, because resurrection is on its way!
Composed by Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
I was leading a group in some prayer exercises and I was really touched by an experience one of the women had. In the first part, she shared that she was really struggling with impatience. It was something really heavy for her and she felt terrible about how impatient she was with those around her, especially her family.
The next prayer led people to ask God how God is calling them to new life now. She expected to be told by God that she was called to be less impatient. Instead, she received a clear message: she was called to the joy of patience.
How like our God of life! Instead of focusing on what was wrong, God invited this woman to embrace the opposite grace. God did not condemn her for her faults, but rather welcomed her to new life and joy. Tears were running down her face as she shared this response.
Take a look at whatever negative aspect of yourself you are struggling with. Now try and identify the opposite gift or virtue. Instead of fighting so hard to change something bad, put your energy into embracing something good.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
In order to make life decisions with God’s help, we need to learn to dialogue with God about the things in life that matter most to us. By developing intimacy with God through prayer, our ability to share life with God grows slowly and steadily. Praying with Scripture is foundational to this growth in intimacy with God.
In my own journey of developing an intimacy with God, I benefited greatly from a book by two Jesuit priests, Dennis and Matthew Lynn, called Healing Life’s Hurts. Using St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer of imagination with Scripture, I learned how to identify imaginatively with different figures in Scripture who might be feeling the same negative emotions I was feeling. I then learned how to encounter Jesus in this prayer and experience his response to me.
So in my anger and resentment, as though with stone in hand ready to punish the one who hurt me, I hear Jesus saying, “You who are without sin may cast the first stone” (Jn 8:7). Or to overcome with my fear of failing, as if I am about to go overboard in the storm at sea, I hear Jesus saying, “Get hold of yourself. It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mt 14:27). Or in my guilt and remorse, I find myself as the penitent woman washing Jesus’ feet with my tears and drying them with my hair, and I hear Jesus saying, “Your sins are forgiven …Your faith has been your salvation. Now go in peace” (Lk 7:48-50).
Through such encounters with the living Word, I began to realize that the Bible included me. The biblical story and our story become one story that mediates God’s unconditional love for us! As St. John of the Cross so beautifully states it, “The gospel has eyes – the eyes I so long for. The gospel has eyes; they reach to the heart and change it.”
Does your spirituality include praying with Scripture? Have you experienced God relating to you through the biblical story? What are some of the different ways in which you have grown in your intimacy with God?
There are times when we absolutely have to die to find new life, and this is something we resist. Because discernment involves the difficult task of making life-changing decisions, we are forced to let go of some possibilities in order to open ourselves to new and abundant life. Here is just a small sampling of death-to-new-life choices we are called to make on our journey of discernment.
The death we may need to embrace might be deciding to quit a secure, high-paying job in order to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the work we love and that uses our talents and strengths to the fullest.
It may mean taking the courageous step of finally ending a relationship that has proved to be a dead end so we can be free to pursue more life-giving relationships.
It may require that we die to an addiction that binds our freedom to be truly intimate with others and to experience the fullness of life in all its joys and sorrows.
If we come from a home with some troubling family dynamics, it may mean finally leaving home by doing the inner work necessary to release and integrate the painful feelings of grief, fear, and anger. Only through this kind of death, will we be able to experience the new life that comes from our ability to trust self and others.
All these choices require dying a death, which is frightening. It seems so much easier to hold on to what we know, even when what we know is killing us. The death and resurrection dynamic, however, gives us the hope that strengthens us to do what must be done.*
What death-to-new-life decision might you be wrestling with? Do you have a spiritual director, counselor, or trusted guide who will gently nudge you toward the death you need to die?
*See Thomas Hart, “Toward a Life-Giving Christian Spirituality: Ten Guiding Principles,” Presence, Vol. 23, No.3, September, 2017.
If you are going to make it through the birth canal, baby girl, you need to change your direction. I hate to tell you this, but you are going the wrong way! Your twin sister has already left the womb. She was positioned headfirst and made it out with no problems. Since you are positioned feet first, you have a more complicated assignment. Don’t panic! I made you resilient and adaptable. Help is on the way. A female doctor with small hands is reaching in as we speak. Her gentle touch is encouraging you to make a somersault and head out in the right direction. Ah! There you go! You did it! Welcome to the world!
As you may have guessed, I was a breech birth — born one hour after my twin sister. Back in the 1950s, breech births were a threat to the life of both the baby and the mother. So, first of all, I feel blessed to be alive. The story of my birth, however, speaks an urgent message: new life demands necessary change! Hard fought effort on our part is required. God takes the lead and shows us the way.
Here is where discernment steps in. We need to decide when change is a good thing. Change for change’s sake, chasing every new experience for the excitement and pleasure of novelty, or running away from healthy commitments do not equal healthy, life-giving change in our lives. If God is calling us to make a change for the better, it is usually because we are beginning to experience a failure to thrive in some important area of our lives. Like me in the womb; I had to make a change in order to experience new life.
Are you heeding the call to healthy change in your life? Do you believe you can make the necessary changes with the help of God and others?
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke makes a wise observation when he says, “The future must enter into you long before it happens.” The use of imagination is one powerful way we can explore the meaning, promise and peril of a future direction we are discerning before that future is actually realized.
Images can come to us in many different ways. They can come through dreams, contemplation, prayer with Scripture, listening to music, or walking in nature. One way we can use imagination in the service of discernment is to contemplate thoroughly one image for the insight it holds around our decision.
Here’s an example from my own life: A few years ago, I began to seriously consider the possibility of leaving my university faculty position of 20 years to enter my name for election to congregational leadership. One morning, I woke up with the image in my head of someone going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. It was a startling image! Would a decision to leave university teaching to go into administration (which is not my strong suit) be as foolhardy, reckless, and without purpose as a decision to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel? The image helped me to get in touch with both my fear of failing (I could lose the election) and my fear of success (I could win the election, but be totally inept at the job). As if on the edge of the falls in a barrel, was I on the edge of a fatal mistake that could ruin my life?
As I continued to mull over the image, I remembered my attraction to Niagara Falls. Having visited the falls many times, it had become a God image for me. Like God, it was glorious, awe-inspiring, and fearful in its grandeur. Yet, it bedazzled me and allured me to come close and experience its beauty and its power. The roar of the falls often wrapped me in prayer. Above the falls, the river would roll along at its unhurried pace and then quite suddenly, without notice, meet the falls and plummet through mid-air as if to its death, only to reemerge at the foot of the falls and live anew as a river once again. It was an image of death and resurrection.
Leaving my university position would certainly be a kind of death, which I felt deep down was necessary for new life to emerge. It felt like God’s call. After much deliberation, I left my position. I was not, however, elected to leadership, but was appointed as vocation director, a ministry more suited to my gifts and talents. The image brought clarity and insight to my decision that has brought me new life in abundance.
Take time in prayer to get in touch with your discernment issue. Let an image arise from your prayer. Interact with your image. Pay attention to what it represents. Ask your image, What wisdom do you want to reveal to me? Listen for its response.
By Sister Patty Harvat, OP
Have you ever had the experience of unexpectedly meeting someone that you hadn’t seen in years? They say, “I think I know you!” and you say, “Really?”
During this season of Lent, God says to us, “I think I know you.” and “Return to me with all your heart.” (Joel 2:12)
Jesus looks at us deeply and with such longing and says, “I’d love to catch up with you. Got some time?”
This is the acceptable time; the acceptable time to deepen our experience of God and of our inmost selves. It is the time to allow God to help us to come to Easter in even deeper relationship than when Lent started. All of us enter into Lent acknowledging and accepting who we are while preparing to become more, because that is what God empowers us to be: MORE.
To become more. Was that what the Father was asking of his son in the Garden of Gethsemane? “My soul is sorrowful unto death.” God, it’s been a lonely year: transition, health problems, friends and family members dying, lack of civility in our society, family issues. What is the MORE God asks of us?
Listen to Jesus say to you each day, “I think I know you.” In his January 10, 2018, general audience, Pope Francis said, “Silence is not confined to the absence of words, but rather to preparing oneself to listen to other voices: the one in our heart and, above all, the voice of the Holy Spirit.”
A variety of prayer experiences will provide us with different ways to respond to Jesus: the silent contemplative prayer, the Stations of the Cross, the various liturgies and expressions of spirituality. Journal and observe how you were with God or how you weren’t. Record what you notice.
This is the acceptable time to return to God with all your heart. And to say to God, “Yes, you do know me and I have come to know you in a new and deeper way.”
By Sister Nancyann Turner, OP
Last Friday afternoon, a distraught mother sort of pushed her 8-year-old daughter into my office so that I could talk with her. The little girl, Alice, had a crumbled paper indicating that she had already served a one day “in-school” suspension and now had just been served a one day “out of school” suspension for outbursts, defiance, and talking back.
I asked Alice to tell me all that had happened. She pretty much agreed that she explodes, has outbursts, and often has great trouble controlling her behavior. We talked briefly about how important it is to think before reacting and screaming angry words. She told me that my previous idea of counting to ten just didn’t work for her; did I have any other ideas?
I mentioned that sometimes I take some deep breaths or I ask God to help me calm down. Alice seemed startled at my answer and asked if I really believed in God. I assured her that I did. She, then, related to me that she wasn’t sure yet if there really was a God; she was still trying to decide that.
We talked a few more minutes and she asked about the devil. “My brother says I have the devil in me…in my heart. Do you think I do?” Naturally, I disagreed.
“No, I don’t think you have the devil in you. In fact, I think you have great love in your heart. But sometimes you forget that you have it—and love has great power. So remember that you have love and remember to use it.”
After a few minutes, she seemed quite satisfied with these thoughts and thanked me for our conversation. Our theology and spiritual life session was finished. And I renewed my belief in God.
How do you experience the great power of Love in your life? What actions result when you put your belief in God into action?
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!