Appearing in a dream … 4

Elijah taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire by Pieter Symonsz Potter 17th century

A central focus for John Stanford’s discussion of dreamwork is what he calls one of the oldest spiritual problems: how to deal with the opposites in ourselves in order to find wholeness. This is the problem in both psychology and religion, and one of the basic issues with which the bible deals.

Some people in trying to be religious identify only with what seems good and moral. Carl Jung saw that without contact with our shadow we would become self-righteous, devoid of life, lacking in human understanding, sexually cold, unable to have living relationships with people, cut off from the earth, just plain dull, and subject to unconscious cruelties of a frightful proportion. And the history of the world abounds with people who identified with the good and the right, and, perpetrated human horrors. Sanford discusses the dream of one of the people he worked with:

Bill’s early dream:

A man about my own age appeared. He was hostile to me, and our encounter led to a violent struggle. After we had wrestled for some time, a fiery vehicle descended near us; inside was a man who called to the one with whom I struggled …[he] broke a way from me and departed with the other man …I watched them leave. Another unknown companion stood near me and also watched.

John Stanford interprets the dream as Bill struggling with his shadow – trying hard to be a good Christian, he had identified himself with goodness, kindness, altruism, reasonableness, and calmness. But here was the shadow Bill – sensual, self-seeking, not reasonable but irrational, not calm but passionate, not spiritual but material. The inner struggle was intense as Bill couldn’t let his shadow overwhelm him. The fiery vehicle reminded Bill of the chariot that swept Elijah into heaven and the fiery furnace that descended onto Abraham – here fire is emotion and energy. It also represents a transformation of substance – and can be either a destructive fire (the devil) or a creative fire (the Holy Spirit), but fire is one of the basic biblical symbols for God. The man in the fiery vehicle hints at the total person: ‘It is from this total person that the shadow comes, to engage the dreamer in struggle. Shadow and self are always closely linked, as Jacob discovered in his famous wrestling match.’  The silent unknown man perhaps represents an unknown part of Bill – not the ego but beyond the ego – Stanford sees this as encouraging. And indeed, a later dream from Bill involves him working with bits of metal, where a metal cube became alive like a magnet attracting things to it; this dream revealed that there is within him (as indeed within each person), a reconciling, uniting centre of personality, that offers the possibility for wholeness. ‘It is the psychological reality corresponding to the theological figure of Christ the God-man’.

God is present in the depths of our being – that’s why the psyche is so creative and continuously in the service of higher consciousness and development. After all, God is the creator, and because of the creativity deep within us there is still hope despite the conflict of opposites within each person and in the world. Sadly, many Christians reject the very psyche through which God speaks and often through dreams – because of fear, or the casting aside of what appears irrational.