Monday, November 15, 2010

Nocturnal Revelations

Quite often, I find, the most arresting and valuable insights in non-fiction books are found in the introduction or initial chapter. This might suggest, in some cases, that the book in question could just as easily have taken the form of an essay or article. But there is less prestige and money there. Often in literary criticism, what could have been a 30-page article has been expanded into a bound volume without advancing the progress of scholarship or learning.

But I digress.

The book that prompts this observation about memorable openings is The History of Last Night's Dream by Rodger Kamenetz, who teaches at LSU.

There I read: "A whole world inside us is asleep. We wake to it but rarely." The noctural revelations the author explores as guides to the soul are our dreams, which he believes suffer from interpretations that repress the dreams' power. He is leading us to his key insight, apparent early on, that the image is more powerful than the word, and that our image of God is impoverished by rational interpretation and analysis. He values intuitive religious insight, which puts him in the mystical tradition that interests me.

I paraphrase the next point: We overlook the fact that more than half of who we are is completely unknown to us, except in the fragments of our remembered dreams. So we have little to show for a third of our life that is spent sleeping.

I was intrigued to find him quote Tertullian (died c. 230 AD), the first Christian dream authority, who said that most people get their knowledge of God from dreams.
We think, says Kamenetz, of revelation as something that happened to holy people in the past; we never stop to think it might be found in last night's dream, which might fulfill our deep desire to know God as a 'you' and not just an 'it.'

These alone are wonderful insights; whether the author continues on this level in the later chapters remains to be discovered. I suspect he will.

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

This is quite interesting. I wonder if it applies to me, because I hardly ever recall a dream, and I don’t recall ever having a dream in which I felt I learned about God. I wonder if it’s possible to gain knowledge of God from dreams in which He’s not one of the actual characters in the dream. Interesting.