What Dreams May Come

Bored in VernalBible, dreams, joseph, LDS lessons, Mormon, mormon, mysticism, scripture, symbols, visions 13 Comments

Avatar-BiVOT SS Lesson #12

Whether dreams come from the unconscious mind or directly from God, they are valuable sources of revelation. Dreams can tell us important things about ourselves and our relationships that may remain veiled deep in the psyche if we are unskilled at interpreting the symbolic language from which they present. The great attainment of Joseph of Egypt and the message this scriptural character brings to readers of the Old Testament is the importance of developing an ability to decode symbolic dream messages and using them to integrate our conscious and subconscious knowledge.

Joseph had a huge, almost megalomaniac faith in his interpretations of dreams.  Early in his life he risked the rebuke and envy of his father and brothers to describe to them the images of the sheaves and the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him.  Later, when interpreting the dreams of the chief butler and baker, he attributed his interpretations to God, even though he had no evidence this was so.  His own dreams seemed refuted — far from bowing to him, his brothers sold him into Egypt and he had been cast into prison.  His confidence reminds me of Joseph Smith’s great intrepidity regarding his own visions:

“For I had seen a vision; I knew it and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it…”

Joseph Smith once said, after reading Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, that he had “seen those martyrs, and they were honest, devoted followers of Christ, according to the light they possessed, and they will be saved”  He also saw in vision marchers in Zion’s Camp who had perished from cholera in Clay County, Missouri. He encouraged the survivors of that endeavor, saying, “Brethren, I have seen those men who died of the cholera in our camp; and the Lord knows, if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more” .  He foresaw the struggles of the Saints in crossing the plains, their establishment in the Rocky Mountains, and the future condition of the Saints.  Of these and many other spiritual manifestations he remarked, “It is my meditation all the day & more than my meat & drink to know how I shall make the saints of God to comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge, before my mind.”

Joseph of Egypt had this same certainty regarding communications from God through the medium of dreams.  When finally brought before Pharoah, he reiterated his assertion that certain dreams are communications from the Divine:

“And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharoah twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.”

This assurance seems incredible when taken into account that his own early dream had also been repeated twice but not yet brought to pass.

Today we have varying degrees of confidence in the interpretation of our own spiritual experiences.  Some are unimpressed by the fleeting images that pass through their minds in a somnolent state.  But others become adept at the language of symbolism.  They confidently assign meanings to everything from dreams to emotional impressions, and use these to order their actions and their lives.  Psychologists have noted that people tend to dream in images that are familiar to them in their culture.  For example, Native Americans may dream about the spirits of animals and the world of nature, Catholics envision the Virgin Mary, Mormons have visitations involving the temple and their dead ancestors.  This can facilitate dream interpretation, but it can also obscure it, because the images are so familiar that we don’t look deeply at the meaning behind the symbol.  In our modern world, we have emphasized the logical mind so much that we have lost the sensitivity to understand primal and pictoral forms and symbols, even those with which we are well-versed.

Often our lesson manuals apply the scriptural stories to the modern audience, as was done in Lesson 11.  Here Joseph’s rejection of Potiphar’s wife is presented as an example for the righteous member to follow in avoiding moral transgression.  I am curious why, in Lesson 12, although Joseph’s dreams play a prominent part in the lesson material, the class member is not encouraged to become more adept in interpreting dreams and visions or even to pay closer attention to unconscious symbolic messages.  Moving away from the esoteric, the manual broadly associates the scriptural passage in Genesis 40-41 with “talents,” and asks:

How can we give proper acknowledgment to the Lord for our talents and gifts? (We can use them to glorify God and bless others, not for our own glory.)

In the early days of the Church Joseph Smith reprimanded some of the members for using messages from their dreams and visions improperly.  Do we fear this will happen if we freely encourage the widespread scrutiny of these types of unconscious messages?  What does this tell us about our confidence in recognizing inspiration from the Divine?

Comments 13

  1. Great movie. Oh, wait . . .

    We certainly live in a time when dreams are not valued and perceived as they used to be – and I think that is both positive and negative. I also have no idea how to understand dreams better, especially when I do believe there are some (rare) dreams that are more than just “dreams” – that actually would be better described as sleep-time visions.

    Great questions; not very good answers from me.

  2. I once dreamed that the Savior had returned — specifically, to my elementary school auditorium during a book fair. He seemed less impressive than I expected. I told him, repentantly, “I’ll do better next time.” He looked at me sternly and said “The important thing is to do it right the first time.” And walked away.

    I am so doomed.

  3. I am a big believer in the power of dreams. Our minds are active and working on problems as we sleep, and dreams can reveal a lot of information to us about our inner states. I think the problem with dreams is that people don’t know how to understand them or don’t “get” the metaphorical language of dreams. Our subconscious minds have a real sense of humor sometimes! Unfortunately, some people think they should take them literally instead of metaphorically or symbolically. Hmmm, kind of like scriptures.

  4. Twenty years ago when I was a bishop I asked specifically in prayer sunday night for the Lord to tell me if there was anyone in need in my ward that I needed to help. That night I dreamed I was at someone’s house sitting at a table when I heard a women’s voice say, “Bishop look at my husband’s feet.” I looked down and her husband’s bare feet were black/blue/discolored and scaly. That next day when I was driving home from work my wife called when I was only a minute from the store next to our house and asked me to get milk. I turned in got the milk and when wait leaving I spotted a sister from the ward just ahead of me. I called out to her and she stopped and we spoke. She told me that the bills for her husband’s treatments were getting worse and worse. I asked if I could come to her home–right then. I went to their home and sat at the table with thousands of outstanding bills owing–her husband had had a bone marrow transplant and was trying to recover. At one point this sister said, “Bishop look at my husband’s feet.” I looked down and it was the very feet I saw in the dream the night before. I told this sister that the Lord wanted me at their house at this time and I was going to see that every single one of these bills are paid right now.
    I have wondered about that experience for years. My wife calling just at the right time. That sister being there. All this coming together. This was not just wonderful working out or insights–it was real and concrete and specific and in real time. I wish that had happened more often in my life. Today I am a skeptic about a lot of things related to my “faith” in church, history, etc. but I have never been skeptical about the love of God and my faith in Christ and that somehow, someway he gets through for the sake of others despite mine and our issues.
    Dreams are most often nonsense, but sometimes they provide a path to communicate that my conscious mind will not allow…

  5. I think one of the interesting things about Christianity was the division into Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. While the split was official around 1000 AD, there were big differences in the centuries prior to the actual split. The Western places a large emphasis on logic, reason, rationality, while the Eastern church promotes more symbolic, mysterious and mystical aspects of the gospel.

    It seems to me that Western thought just can’t handle the largely symbolic, interpretive dreams. Joseph and the Eastern Church would seem to do better, but since Mormons are closer to Western Christianity than Eastern Christianity, I think we too struggle with symbolism.

  6. “but since Mormons are closer to Western Christianity than Eastern Christianity”

    Interesting. I’ve found the opposite to be true in many respects. Our Trinitarianism is closer to that of the (Greek) Nicene Fathers, and the Orthodox probably have the closest soteriological cousin to our doctrine of exaltation.

    We do have an odd mix, though, in our theological framework, of mysticism and (generally poor) religious rationalism.

  7. Thomas, I agree with what you’re saying. On the one hand, there are some amazing similarities between Eastern Orthodoxy’s idea of Theosis/Deification and Mormon Exaltation. What I was referring to was more of the idea that Mormon’s use logic and reason is more similar to Catholic/Protestant use of logic and reason. Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t really use reason and logic as an attempt to explain God. They’re much more into mystery and symbolism to explain God.

    Even as I have attempted to understand Deification, it seems to me that I explain it from a logical basis, and my Orthodox friend kept saying, “No you don’t understand, it’s like this symbol….” Use of symbols to explain things seems to be exactly what Joseph was doing as he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. I mean if I had a dream about skinny cows eating fat cows, or skinny ears of corn eating fat ears, I’d just think it was a really strange dream and wouldn’t attach any meaning to it. Or, I’d probably go to Freud, and think it had something to do with my mother…. 🙂

  8. There is a sister in our ward that does some dream interpreting as a part of her “braingym” counseling services she does from her home. I was wondering if anyone knows of this type of thing in there ward. I get concerned wit the fact that if this is a talent then the fact that she charges is different than if this is a gift of the spirit, shouldn’t it be used to simply strengthen members.

  9. @10 Women can’t practice priestcraft because they have no priesthood, so it’s not an issue… j/k.

    To get back to the original post, I believe there is a major dichotomy within Mormonism on the weight we should give spiritual impressions. On one hand, we’re told that impressions from the Spirit are the highest, surest, most reliable guide we have in life, and the only real teacher to understanding the temple. On the other, all our views on other subjects are required to be “proof-texted” from the scriptures or recent General Conference addresses from the prophets to be taught.

    We believe in the gift of prophecy, revelation, visions, etc., but only on the personal or family level. Ever since the Hiram Page incident, the Church has been very specific about who is entitled to guide it.

    My opinion is that if we humbly seek, we will receive visions and insights, BUT they’re intended for our personal use and not for sharing. Even if the dreams aren’t “visions,” they can still provide meaningful insights to the world around us. Most bookstores will carry a “dream dictionary” explaining the meaning of common dream symbols.

  10. “In the early days of the Church Joseph Smith reprimanded some of the
    members for using messages from their dreams and visions improperly.”

    I never heard of this.

    Does anybody know what he said, or why he said it?

  11. Mike, I believe that’s in response to a member or members of the early church saying he or they received revelation that other members of the church had begun to follow. If I recall correctly, or not, Joseph Smith rebuked that person(s) and established that only The Prophet can receive revelation for the overall church membership. I believe it’s in D&C somewhere.

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