A letter opens like this: "Prophetic dreams were very important in Biblical times to Jacob, Joseph and the Egyptian pharaohs as dreams had a major impact on people’s daily lives and on decisions made. But in 2009 most people will scoff at dreams that portend to predict future events."
The letter is introducing a book called Hearts of Stone. It's written by Kate Gessner, who is a mother of three grown children, an electrician and jet engine mechanic, and currently a contract worker in Iraq. And she has a burden to share with the world messages from her dreams.
In her 2008 book, Kate tells how she began having dreams at the age of 6 of events or experiences that later came to pass. She has had many, many dreams about deaths, accidents, murders, messages relayed by an angel, the second coming, aliens, seeing God, signs, and messages for governments. Her book is a hodgepodge of the dreams, of Kate's commentary on the state of humanity, of passages of Scripture, and of Kate's personal experience of interacting with these dreams and the people she tells them to.
Regardless of whether or not there have indeed been so many uncanny two-week links (the length of time she typically waits until a dreamed even happens), this literature is frankly hard for me to read on many levels, ranging from writing style to generalizations to "just too weird."
So here's where I want to forget about being a "book reviewer" and address the question the book made me ask: How do we deal with this genre of experience in our lives — not in our dispassionate articles or articulate erudite arguments, but among the everyday people we love and live with?
"Everyday people" is what Kate exemplifies. She's is obviously not a scholar, philosopher, a religious leader, or a writer. ("I am not a writer so this will not be the easiest book to read," she says.) Likewise, people who share with me about seeing an angel or having a life-changing dream also tend to be very "ordinary." Often they are more emotional people, by personality more intuitive and sensitive (by "more," I naturally mean "more than me"). Does that mean they are not qualified to experience or share such experiences? Does it mean that I have the right to shrug and disengage?
"Most people will scoff," the letter says. Kate's blunt about being rejected. "I know there are many who are already saying I am crazy," she writes. "Perhaps I am. I would like to see the world have dreams like mine and stay sane." In my experience, most people who have related such experiences have not felt it necessary to make defensive statements — but then, neither have they suggested (as Kate certainly does) that their dreams were meant for the instruction of anyone but themselves.
It's not clear all the reasons Kate feels compelled to share her dreams, but one is a practical purpose: "I had hoped to tell the world what I saw so they would think before doing some of the things I have witnessed."
But another thing at play here is how we feel about dreams. Our culture, and especially our subculture, seems fairly dismissive of the realm of dreams and visions — at least any experienced these days. "It was only a dream." We don't give it a second thought. "I am not alone," Kate writes. "Many more have this gift. They are also silent for one reason or another. Or is it the world is not listening?"
I also wonder about the tendency to dismiss something if it's too odd. Is that a form of blindness that can keep us from whole pieces of life? Or is it a coping mechanism to help us navigate through the myriad facets of existence, many of which we can not hope to understand?
Most of us have interacted with people who relate dreams or other experiences that they feel are significant in a divine way. Some of us have been touched by such experiences ourselves. Probably most of us don't have family members or friends who claim the kind of extended and world-impacting dreams or messages that Kate claims; but I have certainly been left more than once merely saying, "Hmm," and wrinkling my brow as I tried to decide how to react to someone's account of seeing an angel, hearing a voice, or dreaming a directive.
When we step back and write about it on a website or in an article, it's fairly easy to start lining up "tests" or "proofs" or stating our positions. In real life, it's not so clear. When my prayer partner told about the vision of an angel she saw while praying ardently in the woods during a tumultuous time of life, she related it as one relates how one's life was saved. The power and love and fear that she felt in that experience gave her a sense of being bound so closely to God, so valued in his eyes, and so encouraged to press on. To start spouting off about psychology or proofs or analyzing the nature of spiritual beings would have been beyond insensitive — it would've been ridiculous.
And that is perhaps the greatest discomfort I have as I read Kate's book. Not whether or not I should be convinced about Kate herself, but how one interacts with and responds to such instances, these junctures in the path that show up among us and our friends, family members, and church members. The seeing of visions, the dreaming of dreams — do we just get spooked, and cut off one of the ways God might grow our hearts and spirits?
Lainey S. Cronk writes from Angwin, California, where she enjoys em dashes, playground theology at a public elementary school, and the meteorological moods of the Napa Valley. She is also the Spectrum online book reviews editor.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1570