I would like to tell you about a dream I had the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It was a vivid scene that appeared before me right before I woke up this morning.
Black cassocks and white surplices
I was in a church of the Western tradition. The service was soon to start and the chancel party was assembling for the opening processional. There was a tension in the air. The Eucharist was soon to start and I was scrambling to find the right vestments. It often happens in my dreams that I am not dressed properly for an occasion. It’s as if I were about the attend a wedding and was worried that I might be bounced at the door for not having on a proper wedding garment. (Matt. 22:11 cf). I hastily checked every closet in the church but couldn’t find a full-length cassock. A lady offered me what were essentially black leggings, saying that it would be covered up by a long, white surplice. But, I couldn’t find a surplice as all there were were short cottas, basically truncated surplices. I finally found a cassock and then a surplice, donned those and stood nervously with the others around a table in the middle of the nave. Up three steps in the chancel there stood shoulder to shoulder the bishop, with priests and deacons and other members of the choir.
And then, all of a sudden, there descended upon us an invisible but palpable pall of penitence. Everyone stopped milling about and fell silent. A wave of holy sorrow came over everyone. Stream of tears fell from the clergy’s eyes as if it were pouring rain. Everyone was overpowered by emotion. Then I woke up.
I don’t normally put much stock in dreams. I’ve been taught that they are the product of the “busyness of the mind”. But, there is this:
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. (Joel 2:28) I’m old, so I qualify for that activity!
I have struggled mightily this last year with thoughts of foreboding for our nation’s future. The dark side of the force seems to have a stranglehold on our American institutions and that makes me furious. I may protest online, but that’s not likely to have much effect except to disturb my own soul. But when that spirit of holy sorrow descended on us before the opening procession, I could see why it was our lot as Christians to pray sincere prayers of repentance before God. “The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:6)
Dr. King on the National Mall
Today is Martin Luther King’s Birthday. King was a man who had a dream and told us about it on the national mall in Washington those many years ago. I still cannot listen to his rousing speech without getting all choked up. What MLK would think of the plight of race relations today is for anyone to wonder. I think he would be heartsick to see the average state of the black family, or to witness the daily racist assaults on white people who, in many cases, bend over backwards to treat people of other colors as neighbors and friends, regardless of the immutable differences in appearance.
Our nation is in real trouble. My own wake-up call to that fact was the tumultuous events of annus horribilis 2020. I’m certainly not alone in that regard. Things have only gotten worse under since then, but I am encouraged that thousands are people are starting to wake up and smell the coffee. We need political change for sure, but the divine gift of penitence is what is most necessary and what will be most effectual in turning the tide.