Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Own Private Tornado Alley

Violent dreams—we’ve all had them, I hope—are particularly confusing when you consider yourself good, rational, kind, compassionate, civilized, and Christian, as I do. This week, I have been living in a Tornado Alley of the imagination. Color me bewildered.

Killing, being killed, having tortures inflicted on me, being buried alive: these have been staples of my night world for several days now. I’ll spare you the details. You have to sleep tonight.

I know that these are not omens of the Rapture. That already happened. I have not been exposed to violent imagery this week—outside the NHL Eastern Conference finals, where the Boston Bruins won Game 7 last night, 1-0, one of the most exciting hockey games I’ve ever watched. Yessssss! But there were conspicuously no fights last night, and no minor penalties, the first time that’s happened in a playoff game since 1993.

Maybe it’s the book I’m reading, G-Dog and the Homeboys, Celeste Fremon’s powerful study of youth gangs in East L.A. and Fr. Gregory Boyle’s mission among them, the subject of his own memoir, Tattoos on the Heart. It’s a hard life in the projects of Los Angeles, and the writing is gripping, but nowhere did I read of anyone having nails drilled into their brains or . . . Sorry, I promised no details.

I cannot find anywhere on line a definitive Catholic teaching on dreams, which is surprising, considering that Freud founded an entire industry on dreams, and it seems to me that he was one of the most malevolent influences of the twentieth century. (Don’t get me stahted, as my fellow Bruins fans would say.)

How would the Church explain dreams? Angels? I wouldn’t blame angels for my dream world. Natural causes? No, I’ve been sleeping very comfortably in the suddenly soft, crisp, late-spring air of eastern New England, with the window open behind my head. If anyone can point me toward a catechesis on dreams, please comment below; and if, as some have told me, you have technical trouble commenting on this blog, friend me, Webster Bull, on Facebook. I am interested to learn more.

Meanwhile I am left with my experience, and my own working hypothesis. From where I sit this morning, dreams, especially bad ones, are messages—from God, from angels, from a misplaced pillow, I’m not sure it matters—that undermine our certain, complacent sense of self. We may go to Mass every day, say a daily Rosary, attend Adoration, perform the moral inventories involved in daily examinations of conscience and regular Confession. Still we are broken, wounded, unfinished. Still we are mysteries to ourselves. I think I know—and I know I do not know, the moment I wake up from a dream that seems to bear the thumbprint of Hannibal Lecter.

And since this experience of waking up to my own mystery is ultimately a positive one, no matter how negative the dream, then I will go ahead and credit God for my bad ones, as well as my good. At least, He’s my working hypothesis. What’s yours?


  1. St. Ignatius of Loyola is your go-to guy for this sort of question. I think he has some principles about the movements of the soul that lead to consolation or to desolation, and the "good spirit" and "bad spirit" that act upon us, stirring our feelings.

    If I understand his idea, then dreams about violence would be the malign spirit's effort to give you false worries.

    For a personal opinion, I think it's mostly psychological, at the natural level. Violent stories can give you stress and leave feelings for your mind/brain to sort out, and it does that in its own way. Since everything in nature can be credited to God indirectly, you can include this too.

  2. Webster: I don't agree with you about Freud, though perhaps I don't know your objections (and Freud) well enough to "debate" this point. At any rate, I too have wondered about the Church's teaching on dreams. Once, I scoured the Cathechism. Nothing. Nothing on the unconscious or subconscious. Perhaps this is a good thing, but I found it puzzling. I do believe dreams help us to resolve struggles we have during the day and I also believe I sometimes meet the spirits of departed souls in my dreams. They have something to teach me. Is that in line with Cathoic teaching? I do not know.


If you have trouble posting comments, please log in as Anonymous and sign your comment manually.