Appearing in a dream -5

John Sanford, priest, author and analyst 

The relationship between God and our dreams and visions does raise a number of questions. One of these is: if our dreams are the voice of the self, or, as explored in these recent posts, communication from God within us, does this also mean that our dreams represent the God who transcends the capacities of the individual psyche?

John Sanford, Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest reminds us that there is a distinction between God as ultimate reality and the self (Jung used a capital letter here ‘the Self’) as an inner image of God within our psyche. We cannot prove, but do assume that the inner image of God within each one of us corresponds in some ways with the actual reality of God as revealed in the universe, and so then also as transcendent. This transcendent reality – God – would continue even if all humanity perished – an external Existence beyond our concepts.

Our inner image of God in our unconscious makes its way into consciousness through dreams and other psychic experiences and visions, and so we develop the image of God. Sanford writes that

‘The God-image in the psyche is a living, energetic reality … our dreams express these psychic inner energies, they relate us to the center of these energies, and they place us in contact with a kind of unconscious direction which these energies serve. In short, our dreams express the Mind of God within us.’

Through the God in the psyche there is mediated the will and energy of the Creator:

‘When our life expresses a purpose that moves us, it also expresses the purpose of the entire Creation. Through realizing the self in a way that can be grasped psychologically we also relate to the transcendental Christ of history …if you know and have been affected by your dreams you will feel in yourself a thread of meaning and purpose that is part of something much bigger than yourself. …our dreams, which are the Voice of the Living God within, are also connected to the transcendent God who is behind all of the universe’.

A second question is linked to the idea that we want to associate God with all that is good and loving, so what about dreams that are filled with dark energies, nightmares full of murderous rage, destructive fantasies, cruelties and so on? Sanford sees that these too can be seen as part of a service and movement towards wholeness and integration:

‘Demons and angels, Satan and the spiritual forces of God, all the psychic world of the first Christians, all these and much more are recreated in us nightly. … Dreams are so often filled with that which is dark and sinister; how can this all be God’s voice?’

The dream itself is not evil – no matter how negative or violent; rather our psyche seeks to express what is in the unconscious so it can be brought to consciousness, and healing set in motion. In the same way Sanford sees no dream too trivial or inconsequential – there is always meaning that we are invited to find, and that will bring us closer to God and wholeness.