Dreaming. Book review

“Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broke-winged bird

That cannot fly”

By Langston Hughes


As I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of dreams and visions, I was recently recommended this little book (104 pages) titled Dreaming (Barbara A. Holmes [Fortress Press, 2012]).  I just read it all in one sitting.  Holmes comes from an African-American Pentecostal background.  Still remembered from the time of slavery, her family history is steeped with centuries old stories , practices, and perceptions into the true enchanted nature of reality— that grants her salient insights into the role of dreaming within the biblical witness, and should have within Christian life.  Yet even more, in a good transdisciplinary manner, Holmes effectively complements the relevant biblical themes with insights retrieved from the past few decades of dream research, particularly attending to implications emerging from studies on the body-mind interface.

I want to highlight two themes I find especially helpful.  Working from the biblical narratives, firs is Holmes’ portrayal of God as one “who dreams,” we dream as creatures “made in God’s image” (p. 43).  In some mysterious way, dreams function as some kind of sacred time and space, where God speaks within our sleep (p. 50).

Second to note, and building on the first theme, is the prophetic-ethical role Holmes perceives into the divine purpose of dreams.  Somehow, the experience of dreaming communally connects us with universal aspirations and hopes towards flourishing, especially connecting us with those of whom these aspirations have suffered under experiences of social deprivation, marginalisation, and oppression (pp. 79-92; “’I have a dream’; prophetic reveries and the hope of a reconciled future”).

Some relevant quotes:

“Dreaming is important in social and political contexts because it offers communities the opportunity to think outside of the box, to engage possibilities for creative resolutions that seem impossible to the waking mind.  Examples about of ordinary people thrust into leadership who ‘dreamed’ impossible dreams of moral flourishing an societal transformation” (p. 80).

“Dreams link us to the worlds beyond our sight. Indigenous cultures knew this and formed cultural realities that included seen and unseen realities.  To turn to ancestral knowledge about dreaming is not cultural tourism.  It is a lost thread of a history that allowed us to sit around open fires on one continent or another, contemplate the stars, and share our dreams” (p. 90).

“When it seems that the state has enforced its imperial power upon the weak, the dreamer stands before the powers that be and declares a new order. . . . Dreamers can voice the hopes of the community, the desire for justice, and the deepest desires for an unseen vision of the future” (p. 91).