Sunday, May 20, 2007


Today I had an unusual and rather unsettling experience. It is one I have had only a couple of times before.

Due to a headache, I felt the need for an afternoon nap, which I took in my recliner. Some time after falling asleep I began to dream. The dreams were relatively easy to interpret and explain: they related to my annoyance with certain recent school activities! For the most part they were not particularly interesting. However, near the end, I dreamt that I was in the very same lounge-chair I really was in, talking to others who were amused because I was having trouble staying awake. Then (in my dream) I dozed and “re-awoke” to find they had gone. I found myself trying to get up but initially unable to do so. I interpreted this as meaning I was not fully or really awake. After a struggle I “awoke” to my satisfaction and “succeeded” in getting out of the chair. But in all of this I was in fact still asleep.

As I noted before, this is not the first time I have had an experience like this. If my memory serves me correctly (and one can never be sure when it comes to the recall of dreams) on one previous occasion the illusion of awakening was recursive and repetitive and caused some degree of distress. That is to say, I believed I had awakened, realised I had only dreamed this, tried to really wake, again thought I had succeeded, only to realise I had again dreamed it, and so on.

But eventually, of course, one escapes from this cycle and really wakes up. And yet … can one be sure? How does one know that the latest perception of full consciousness is not yet another false dawn, so to speak? Another illusion? Logically, one could point to the much longer persistence of the sensation to “prove” the difference in an objective fashion, but the truth is that you know long before this. How? The best way I can explain it is that waking knows sleeping (and false waking) much better than sleeping knows waking.

If a person was to object that my certitude that I am awake doesn’t really prove anything, because I was just as certain in the dream, I could only reply that this certitude is “more certain” because it feels quite different and “sees” the previous illusions for what they are, that is, transcends them by having everything they had and much more. This might sound unconvincing from a purely rational analysis, but one knows that it is true nevertheless.

Now, all of this set me thinking about faith as well as different modes of knowing and degrees of certainty. (Perhaps some of you were wondering when I was going to get to the point!) It occurred to me that conversion and coming to faith are rather like waking from a dream. You see things from a greater perspective. What you thought you saw before you can now see through. It is not simply a matter of having access to more or newer, better information. It is a matter of experiencing life more fully, a new mode of existence, in fact. And, as above, to some extent this is incommunicable and intuitive, with certitude supported by propositional and “evidentiary” rational reflection but not solely reliant upon it.

After thoughts such as these, I said the Evening Office from the BCP (Canadian 1962) and, lo and behold, these were the last words of the Second Lesson: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” Thank you, Lord.

However, a clever objector might look at the reasons I gave above for saying I knew I was really awake the last time and still reply as follows. “How do you know you are not still asleep and that a further awakening awaits that transcends this one as much as this one apparently transcended (and understood “from above”) those previous?” Ironically, as Christians our response should be, “As it happens, we firmly believe such an awakening does await. It is the final Resurrection and Vision of God.”

“And when I awake, I shall be satisfied with thy likeness.” Ps. 17.15


Anonymous said...

'The cobs are coming!' he said. 'They didn't believe a word I told them! The cobs'll be carrying off the princess from under their stupid noses! But they shan't! that they shan't!'

He jumped up, as he thought, and began to dress, but, to his dismay, found that he was still lying in bed.

'Now then, I will!' he said. 'Here goes! I am up now!'

But yet again he found himself snug in bed. Twenty times he tried, and twenty times he failed; for in fact he was not awake, only dreaming that he was.

-George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

poetreader said...

You're not alone, Father.

In the 'eighties my Pentecostal denomination sent me to pastor a little church in Rochester. I had to make my own living in a shoe factory. For about two weeks it was about like this daily:

I would (in my dream) wake up, dress, sit down for breakfast and ... wake up, dress, sit down for breakfast, go out and start my car, and ... wake up, dress, sit down for breakfast, go out and drive my car almost to work, and ... You get the idea. I would finally really wake up, but spend the day half expecting to wake up yet again and continue the cycle.

Once, some years and four residences later, after my wife had died, it began again. I awoke in that same room, got up for breakfast, woke up again, and, instead of continuing sat up in the right bed, shouting, "NO!". I got up trembling and sweating that time.

The rest of your remarks certainly relate to my experience and feelings.


Warwickensis said...

It's an interesting phenomenon that I've suffered on many occasion. It's called sleep paralysis and apparently is responsible for the myth of the "Old Hag" and the incubus/succubus.

However, as you say Father, it presents us with an interesting take on how we are reacting to the call of Christ.

I recently preached on this subject. Are we sleepwalking through life?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Father, this phenomena could also be a symptom of sleep apnia. I think this piece is spiritually insightful, but please see a physician, in case there is a sleep disorder. Not to alarm you, just learned about this myself, through my daughter.