…the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’…9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind…able to discern between good and evil’… 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this…15 Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. 1 Kings 3
The Old Testament is full of dreams. In the busyness of everyday life, God has to wait until his targets are asleep before he can really get the message across.
Why is this? Well, we as individuals have both conscious and unconscious minds. God might be able to have a conversation with Solomon’s conscious mind while he is awake, but to reach his whole being he needs to speak to the unconscious mind, only available when Solomon is asleep. Before you dismiss this as an amateur attempt at post-Freudian analysis of the bible, you might like to consider that the reverse could be true – perhaps Sigmund Freud based his map of the mind on an understanding of the human mind several thousand years old.
I think there are two lessons for us in the 21st century which flow from this, one a digital one, and one more general.
It is old-fashioned already to talk of ‘surfing’ the internet, but the word conveys very well the attitude which many of us still have when we seek to engage with others online – we are willing to go where the waves take us in each session. Although our primary intention may be a quick check of our emails, Facebook and Twitter before getting on with the business of the day, we are cheerfully willing to be distracted – following the links on Twitter to pictures and blogs, which in turn may have links which lead us elsewhere. We do not attempt to limit ourselves in advance but cultivate, like Alice in Wonderland, an insatiable curiosity which leads to a mind-stretching, assumption-questioning, challenging journey into the half-known and unknown. This journey is at its most enjoyable – and possibly most fruitful – when undertaken in a haphazard way, allowing happenstance, serendipity, the Fates – or God himself – to steer it.
The second lesson is for our prayer life. Church liturgy provides a framework for us to use our conscious minds to say the right things to God at the right moment in the service: penitence, asking for absolution, praise, thanks and intercession for others. But for anyone paying more than lip service to God, this is just the tip of the iceberg. To be fair to the Churches, this is why space is often made for silent prayer: it’s only polite to let God have a chance to speak to us in return. But, for purely practical reasons, the balance is heavily weighted in favour of us addressing God on a variety of topics. It is up to us to correct the balance in our own time.
How do we allow God to reach our unconscious as well as our conscious minds? Well, Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary might have recommended mind-altering substances. But, apart from the problem that these are illegal, it is unclear whether they produce any long-term benefit in understanding ourselves or God. Better, perhaps, simply to watch and wait, and what better time to attempt this than Advent?
You do not have to look for anything,
And in the looking
And the listening
And the being,
Be still, by Ann Lewin