A boy hides his face, wrapping his thoughts and feelings in a thin jacket.
He peeks out of the folded collar just enough to know where he is headed.
The next day, a dove coos outside a church.
Sadness parts, a path inside opens up.
So say the signs.
Philosophically, I find this idea of “signs” awkward.
Could it really be true that God placed this suffering boy and this singing dove right on my path?
Surely they are more than messengers. Surely each is where he is for a web of reasons anchored in his own life.
But…perhaps God’s formidable intelligence has created a layered web of lives and events. Perhaps our intersections are not random.
If that is so…perhaps we live in a completely mechanical universe, tracing predetermined paths along our webs.
Or perhaps God is a kind of master puppeteer, constantly adjusting each creature in response to every other creature’s whims.
Or perhaps I am the only creature who really matters, and God adjusts all communications to my whims.
This line of thinking is unethical, unscientific, unrealistic, unattractive and lonely. The world does not exist solely in order to answer questions that arise in my consciousness.
But it may be that my dream world does exist for that reason. And if I can, once in a while, allow a creative crossover between dream consciousness and waking consciousness, then I can grasp this idea of “signs.”
On one extraordinary day, I glimpsed heaven and hell in Vancouver.* This day remains in my consciousness like a dream. In a dream, a vague chain of events leads from one bold scene to another. This day was like a dream. Only two bold scenes glow with distinct detail: the boy and the dove.
If I had dreamed the boy, I would have asked myself what I was hiding beneath my tricolored jacket, and what I was looking for as I peeked out. If I had dreamed the dove, I would have asked why it led me to this vibrant church.
If I had dreamed them, I would have read them as signs, in a way I don’t find philosophically awkward.
I think of the dream world as my own personal reality, a reality that lives under the topsoil of my practical daily responsibilities to others. As I sleep, daytime commitments fade, and I enter the dream world alone. My own mind weaves images, ideas, and feelings into adventures and epics. When I wake, I am free to read the dream as a question or an answer, without compromising anyone else’s experience or autonomy.
Some say dreams are the voice of God whispering through our subconscious.
Perhaps they mean: dreams are layered messengers from our deepest levels of consciousness.
Perhaps they mean: God may not adjust the world to place signs within our path. But, when we are very relaxed, we might notice that God turns our consciousness in a particular direction.
Yes, the definition of “God” seems to shift from sentence to sentence. Theologically, the matter is both deep and familiar:
Those who see signs placed in the world experience God as a transcendent Being separate from us, with thinking powers analogous to ours but greater.
Those who hear signs whispered in dreams experience God as an immanent Being within us, with thinking powers analogous to ours but greater.
If I were arguing philosophically, I would not know which position to choose. But when I examine my experience of signs, I know where I find God.
Knowing this, the boy and the dove hold even more questions and even more answers.
Despite my discomfort, I have followed the signs in good conscience.
The only direction is onward.
*See previous blog post.