Sunday, November 29, 2020

Psalm 126: Those Who Dream...and Give Meaning to Dreams

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream (Psalm 126:1). In Hebrew scripture, dreams are ways in which God speaks to humanity. Joseph's dreams (and the ability to interpret them) are important (Genesis 41). Daniel is Joseph's successor as interpreter of dreams (Daniel 2). Jacob dreams of a ladder, ramp, or stairway to heaven on which God's messengers come and go from one realm to the other (Genesis 28). Solomon asks God for wisdom (a discerning heart) in a dream (I Kings 3).   

By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the perception of dreams has taken a turn. They are still a source of revelation according to Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, revealing emotional truths. For the artists we call Surrealists, dream imagery was a major source of their work. Dreams tapped into truth as it was found in their unconscious minds, opposite of rationality and reason. 

How does that compare to the dreams dreamed by the people of God? Are those dreams dreamed in Psalm 126 rational and reasonable? Should they be? Scripture is filled with stories of God's plan (which seems like it can only be a pipe dream*) brought to fruition against all odds. Did those captives in Babylon fear their dreams of returning home and restoring the Temple were "only" dreams? How were their dreams different when they made it back home?

For both Surrealist and scripture, dreams express meaning. The biggest difference may be the intelligiblity of the meaning ahead of time. Surrealists' "automatic" drawings were based on dream imagery and without a preformed plan or idea. The artists simply started working. They themselves had to wait until the work was complete before they knew what it meant. In scripture, dreams are acknowledged as a sign from God. When dreams were unintelligible on their own, someone was provided to help the dreamer understand the meaning. Surrealists aren't especially interested in helping a viewer understand a (not necessarily "the") meaning of a dream-inspired painting.

That means Surrealist paintings are wide open to interpretation. How important is it that we begin to find meaning in our own or others' dreams? There are many "Dream Dictionaries" that want to associate particular dream elements with particular universal meanings? Is that right?  Does a red rose always mean love? Or does each dreamer find individual meaning in the elements of their own dreams?

Presented with the image below, how would you interpret it in light of the subject of dreams and people who dream? Is your interpretation influenced by what you know about God-given dreams? Is this a picture that depicts a God dream like the people mentioned in the psalm? Or is this just a Freudian-influenced painter's world of dreams? You can read one interpretation of the painting via the museum link under the painting, but maybe that's not the best interpretation. What do you understand this painting to mean? 
Rene Magritte. The False Mirror. 1929. NY: Museum of Modern Art. 

*"Pipe dream" refers to the dreams experienced by smokers of opium pipes. What kind of dreams are those? Rational? Real? Surreal? Scriptural?                                                                                                                                                                         

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