When the unthinkable occurs we may find our selves operating in a daze, a dreamlike state where no thing feels real and everything seems a mirage. How did this happen? What does it mean? What do I do now? How am I going to cope with this and the fallout from this situation? We can lose touch with the world we live in and become bambozzzled by anxiety, frustration and stress.
Joseph is just a man. Mary is just a woman. Two material beings plunged into the unreal world of an unwanted child in a time when for this to occur was an outrage. How do you handle not only the possibility of a child but the tragic consequences which was the normal response to such an event? In Matthews retelling of the story agency is given, not to Mary but to Joseph to steer his little family through the crisis.
Joseph was a good man. Mary was a good woman. According to Matthew they hadn’t lived together, they had followed the rules yet, somehow, there was a child on the way. So what to do?
In spiritual matters angels, sleep and dreams play a significant role in discernment and direction. Mary was informed by an angel about what was to occur and Joseph has an encounter with an angel while asleep and dreaming.
Angels have a history. They are the messengers of God, sometimes even, they are the Godhead itself. The Old Testament are full of such stories. They bring a message, interpret a situation and provide direction for the confused and bewildered followers attempting to live out their faith in a material world.
It is no surprise that these encounters occur when one is asleep. They rarely occur when one’s fully awake and engaged in the busyness of life. When we are distracted by our ego self we can fail to see the messenger standing right in front of us. When we are dealing with a disturbing situation, when someone is confronting us or we have been so unbalanced by an event, it is all we can do to defend ourselves in an attempt to stay upright, let alone see the angel present in the situation.
Being asleep is when we allow our subconscious the opportunity to process the events we are working through and to provide us guidance and direction. Sleep is that time when our brain takes the time to recalibrate itself and to put into order the chaos of our days. We miss things when we are awake and busy. We are so focussed on any number of things at the one time that what can be a key element simply isn’t connected with and miss the obvious. Asleep our brain cleans up and puts things together.
One of the things we need to do with computers is to defrag our system, this simply means defragmenting that part of our computer which stores data. A defrag simply puts things back in the right place so what was possibly lost in another place is restored to where it should be. Sleep is the time our brain defrags its storage system and returns things to its proper place.
No wonder one of the wisest pieces of advice is to sleep on it. It does work miracles. In the morning things look different and what seemed impossible before is now so obvious you can’t believe you were so anxious about it.
Dreaming is one of the tools our brain uses to review the day. Sometimes it is a realistic dream, sometimes it is symbolic and metaphorical and may take a little time to unpack, but this parallel world is seen by the ancient worlds as vital to discernment and wisdom. Again being a sleep and entering into a dreamlike world we are open to the present of others, known and unknown because we are no longer relying on our ego for direction.
My father spoke often of his spirit friend who would visit him at night and sit on the edge of the bed. They seemed to have discussed many things and the visitation was real and valuable to my father. He relied on this visitor for advice and direction. It was no doubt a dream like event but it was real, not imagined, for him.
Joseph’s dream like experience is a way of describing the process he went through to make sense of the impossible situation he found himself in. What he had decided to do and how he decided to do it reflect the importance of the event. He wasn’t making a decision on his own. A supernatural experience require(d) supernatural guidance. Being still and silent, asleep, he was able to hear what was there and what he needed to do.
Here we return to the idea of waiting in stillness we discussed last Sunday. There is no panicked running around trying to solve it. It happens in the stillness of waiting, in this case while he is asleep. When we enter into liturgy and the spiritual life we enter into a place of waiting in stillness. Of letting go of ego and allowing what is to come to come, what is to be to be and what we need to discover to appear. This is not simply a passive stillness or waiting but a waiting to see, to see what is to be and how I am to respond.
Joseph responds very differently to what he would have been expected to respond. He didn’t call off the betrothment, he didn’t abandon Mary, he didn’t go away in shame. He was able to discern that something very special was present and he was to take the uncomfortable journey with Mary. He did so because he acknowledged the inner wisdom present in his inner being. He recognised the fingerprint of God and was prepared to go where logic and local law said not to go. He, the ordinary man and Mary the ordinary woman became extraordinary, making it possible for the intersection of the divine and the human, of the perfect and the imperfect, of the infallible and the fallible.
He and Mary made it possible for God to walk among us in the shape of Jesus of Nazareth and experience the enigma that is being human so that humans can aspire to be like God in their relations with one another.
The challenge for you and I is to find the space to be still and wait for the visitation of wisdom. It can happen anywhere and does, indeed happen in our dreams, while we are asleep. But it can also happen, far less dramatically as we sit in the spaces within our liturgy, in the moments before church and the moments after communion. It simply requires us to be still, to wait and to be open to the possibility. Lets try it now.