Thursday, March 13, 2014

Meeting Jesus Christ

A friend recently shared with me the following dream about receiving a priesthood blessing from Jesus Christ. (For the benefit of non-Mormon readers, a "priesthood blessing" involves receiving laying on of hands and a blessing from someone ordained to the priesthood. Mormons often seek such blessings at difficult times in their lives or for healing from illness or injury.)
Several years ago... I had a dream that I was being given a priesthood blessing by the Savior. Instead of being dressed as I often imagine him to have been dressed when he was alive, while giving me this priesthood blessing, he was dressed in a white shirt, a dark tie, and white slacks. Almost, he was dressed instead to have been baptizing someone. ...
It is literally almost 3 decades since I had this dream, and it was not until after I read your dream from March 4 that I even remembered this dream. While writing about it to you, it became very clear what my dream meant for me. Still, I am curious as to how YOU might interpret this dream and what it might mean to you.
The individual who shared this dream also shared with me the context of the dream. It came to her at a time in her life when she was dealing with extremely difficult emotions in therapy. She shared her dream with family members and, while some validated it, others (including her parents) dismissed it. They "asked how could someone like me... even dream that she was being given a priesthood blessing by the Savior."


It bears pointing out that even the dismissals of the dream were a form of validation -- a recognition of the power inherent in a dream involving deity.

Before approaching the question of what it means to have an encounter with Jesus in a dream, I'm interested in the significance of Jesus' dress in the dream. He appears wearing modern clothing. A white shirt and dark tie is the expected standard of Church dress for Mormon priesthood holders. The white slacks are, as the dreamer commented herself, the expected dress for performing a baptism (or for performing ordinances in the Mormon temple).

In ancient Christian writing (in the first few centuries A.D.), clothing was often a symbol of incarnation. We see this particularly in ancient noncanonical texts such as the Gospel of Thomas. "Putting on clothes" was a symbol for being born into the earthly realm, and "putting off one's clothes" was a symbol of death (i.e., the spirit puts off its "mortal clothes").

In this dream, Jesus' appearance in modern dress suggests Jesus' active involvement in this person's life today; not as a historical figure clothed according to the customs of the time and place of his ancient mortal existence, but as a real living figure who is actively involved in our world today. And the context of Jesus' involvement in the world today in this particular dream is specifically in the context of the Church. Jesus appears wearing clothing that is typical of priesthood holders in the modern-day Mormon Church.

This should certainly give pause to priesthood holders in the Church. It's a reminder of how sacred that role is. In essence, when we act "in the name of Jesus Christ" -- a typical, every-day act in the Church that occurs in baptisms, confirmations, blessings, ordinations, at the sacrament table, and even over the pulpit in sermons or prayers -- it is as if Jesus himself is performing that act. The dream lends a sense of urgency and power to activities that are easily taken for granted. At the very least it's a reminder of the humility required of anyone called upon to play that role.

For the individual who had this dream, the white slacks -- which she herself immediately identified with the ordinance of baptism -- is suggestive of all the symbolism that comes with baptism, namely death and rebirth. A break with an old, painful past, and entry into a new life; something that she was certainly trying to achieve through therapy and other work to deal with past trauma.

Jesus' presence in the dream is powerful. No serious dream analyst would dismiss the significance of this. There could be no blessing more powerful than from the hands of Jesus himself. And not just a dead, historical Jesus, but a living, resurrected Jesus, alive and at work in our day, in this person's life.

But the dream also presents a challenge of faith. Only faith would allow us to understand the dream as more than a yearning for validation. Faith would grant the individual who had the dream confidence to know that Jesus Christ walks with her in the particular challenges of her life, challenges that ultimately only she and Jesus can know. Faith might help her find courage she didn't know she had, or courage beyond what she, in some ordinary sense, has.

Her account of her family's reactions to her dream reminds us of something else important when it comes to faith. Her account of family members dismissing her dream, or suggesting that she wasn't good enough to have had such an encounter with the living Jesus, is tragic. But it also reminds us that true faith comes from within, not from others.

The lack of family validation is sad, but it makes this person's own faith in God and her own belief in herself that much more meaningful.

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