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.
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?
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?
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?
By Sister Corinne Sanders, OP
The Gospels portray Jesus as a great teacher. He teaches and suddenly things happen. Jesus not only carries authority in his teaching but he carries power to heal and bring freedom. His presence, his authority, and power will continue to amaze and astonish as he speaks of the presence of God among us. His teaching will also frighten some and threaten others.
We know the world is longing for hearts and souls whose voices carry authority; strong voices that cause us to sit up, to take notice and to respond. My life has been shaped by these voices as I have heard those who speak of the rights of nature and I find myself taking delight in listening to Earth with a new heart.
I have been shaped and inspired by those who speak with passion and urgency on behalf of immigrants. And I have been freed over the years by women who teach and speak from a feminist perspective releasing my spirit to new ways of knowing and expressing faith in my God.
I am sure you can name those who have taught with authority and have shaped your lives, calling you deeper and deeper into mystery. As disciples, each of us has this responsibility to step out in whatever ways we can and to speak of God’s presence among us. In what ways are you being called to spread God’s truth in our world? How do you teach with your life?
Have you ever thought of yourself as a mother of God? We tend more to speak of ourselves as brothers and sisters of Jesus, and children of God. But Jesus even said, “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35). The famous Dominican Mystic, Meister Eckhart, said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”
This question can give a different perspective on discernment. How am I called to give birth to God in the little acts I do this day? Every interaction we have, the way we treat people we encounter at the store, on the road, in our homes – all of these can help give birth to God in our midst, or not.
The question really fits well when we are discerning the larger life choices: Will this job help me to bring God to birth in our city, our neighborhood? Is the relationship I am in witnessing to God’s love in the world and helping to share that love? Is the path I am on for my life the way I can best give birth to God with my life?
Take a look at your life this day and ask yourself how you are helping God to be born.
By Sister Carleen Maly, OP
As we reflect on God’s call in our lives, there seem to be some common characteristics:
I like to call these the “had it not been for…” moments. These people or events can be the instruments of God’s invitation, messengers, if you will, who are filled with God’s presence and understand what it means to be used as disciples.
As followers of Jesus we have all had our “had it not been for…” moments when we have heard God’s call. These are stories of trust in our ever-faithful God who continues to call us. What are some of your “had it not been for…” stories? What is happening in your life right now that seems to have God written all over it? May you listen and be attentive to the promptings of your hearts.
More than simply making a decision, spiritual discernment is decision-making that is rooted in self-knowledge as well as a deep awareness of God’s loving presence and action in our lives. Because we know God as our creator and redeemer, we lean on that graced friendship with God to help us make a good and life-giving decision.
There are many tried-and-true tools that help us prepare the soil for a fruitful discernment process. First, we need to define prayerfully the issue for discernment. It is helpful to focus our issue carefully enough to be able to state it in the form of a question that can be answered yes or no. So for example, rather than ask a more general question like, “What shall I do with my life?” we can fine-tune the question to ask something more specific like, “Will I apply to become a sister with the Adrian Dominicans?” Once the decision before us is well defined, we need to apply the tool of fact-finding. What kinds of relevant data do we need in order to make an informed decision? Once all of the facts are gathered, we can begin to assess and evaluate the data. In this process, we stay attentive to all of the thoughts and feelings that arise as we consider the different dimensions of our decision. The tool of journal keeping is helpful here.
Another handy tool in the toolbox of discernment is dialogue with others. We need to share the different aspects of our decision with the wisdom figures in our life, those who know us well and care deeply about our well-being. Equally important is the tool of solitude, where we invite God into our decision-making process. We need to confide in God our hopes, dreams, expectations, doubts, and fears. We then listen carefully to how God responds to us. A good spiritual director can help us in this discernment process.
Dominican Sister Cathy Arnold shared a useful tool of imagination that she used in discerning her call to religious life. Her spiritual director advised her to imagine herself in each choice for two weeks. So for two weeks, she lived as if she had made the decision to become a Dominican Sister. She reflected on how she felt when she woke up in the morning. What were her thoughts and feelings throughout the two weeks? Then she reversed the process and lived as if she had made the opposite decision. How did she feel? Was she relieved or devastated by the change? Click on the following link to hear Sister Cathy’s discussion on discernment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwWPM4QtGwY.
Finally, how do we know that our choice represents God’s deepest desires for us? Signs of validation include feelings of inner peace and joy with our decision, as well as the confirmation of the others who have shared in our discernment process.
Are you discerning an important life decision? What are your tools for the discernment process?
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 new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!
Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
Director of Formation
Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP
Director of Vocations, East Coast-Midwest Vocations Promoter
Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
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