A Meditation on Dreaming
One hundred years from now, I dream that our children’s children will still take their grandchildren to church.
Often these days, I try to make time to dream. I am—I’ll admit—exhausted by the world we live in. Maybe you are too. But dreaming is not a frivolous activity or a way to ignore injustice. Faithful envisioning, prophetic imagining, and holy daydreaming require courage.
In my dreams, they gather to hear the gospel around someone’s dinner table, or perhaps in a clearing in the woods. Maybe they meet at a corner lot in the city, where a community garden now grows from the rubble of my long lost first apartment. They tell the stories of Jesus and Junia. Moses and Miriam. You and me. They’ll share meals. They’ll sing hymns that our children wrote and we never heard sung. They’ll pass on moral lessons as they recall stories of the Great Pandemic, the Third World War, the collapse of American democracy, and the last polar bear. In their small and glorious ways, they’ll stay faithful to each other and to their God of promise, protection, justice, and joy.
No Ordinary Time
Continuing the dream: before church each week, when the daily report from the environmental specialists tells them the water is safe, our great grandchildren might splash about and swim past the tops of church steeples peeking out over the surface of glacial-melt lakes, the scene of environmental catastrophes we refused to imagine. They’ll laugh and play as children always have, and it will be beautiful. Perhaps they will say, “Look, I think my great grandmother was the pastor of a church like that! Back then they still thought queer folks were dangerous. Can you imagine?”
By then, maybe the liturgical calendar will have come to include the new planting seasons—no longer simply “ordinary time” but “the time for tiny miracles.” Global warming will have made food production all the more miraculous, you see. They’ll want to mark it out. The Time for Tiny Miracles will begin when the forsythia blooms, when it is finally safe to sow sugar snap peas in the softening soil. I dream that the people will wait and watch for the signs, and that every Sunday after the prayer of confession and before the offertory, there will be a liturgical moment of communal dreaming.
“Bearers of New Possibility”
Often these days, I try to make time to dream. I am—I’ll admit—exhausted by the world we live in. Maybe you are too. Maybe you’re feeling a bit numb. I don’t blame you. Our life together is frequently terrifying, and even more frequently disappointing. But dreaming is not about escapism for me anymore. As a divinity school student, I dove into the writings of Howard Thurman, who encouraged this kind of imaginative practice. “[A] dream for us,” he says, “becomes the bearer of a new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope.”
Dreaming is not a frivolous activity or a way to ignore injustice. Faithful envisioning, prophetic imagining, and holy daydreaming require courage. It requires us to take creative risks and face our fears of the shadows of uncertainty. Like Nicodemus meeting with Jesus in the night, we too can encounter miraculous and mysterious understandings of the Divine in the darkness. If we are brave enough to let go and dream, we might find new evidence that God still so loves this world.
I am 25 years old. As I look to my own and younger generations, it seems more urgent than ever to nurture capacious ethical imaginations on a steady diet of fearless dreams and vigorous hopes. One hundred years from now, our children’s children will inherit whatever we made of global pandemic trauma, climate crises, exploitative capitalism, geopolitical instability, white supremacist Christian nationalism, and so on. And what we make of all this, I think, depends on what we are capable of dreaming. What we are capable of hoping for.
Dreams of Our Descendants
If Christians are to make valuable public contributions to the life around us in this era and the next, we must broaden our imaginations—our hopefulness—to include dreams of our descendants, dreams in which they flourish. We must work steadily now to make such flourishing possible, even if it means we give up what is comfortable and familiar: traditional church buildings, complacent theological assumptions, and, as our numbers steeply decline, demographic dominance.
This kind of dreaming is not a very comfortable practice. At least, I doubt I am dreaming bravely enough if I always come away comforted. Long-term suffering can normalize a narrow imagination of what is possible, making what is uncomfortably oppressive seem tolerable. So too can the privileges of wealth and social location, which so often confine our imagination with fallacies of certainty, security, and supremacy. So when I dream, I try to do as Thurman says, letting my dreams “be saddled with the hard facts of our world and our experiencing before we ride them off to fulfillment.”
Beloved, you and I lived (and are living) through this pandemic, through the decline of the church in the West, through the unignorable effects of climate collapse, through oligarchies and state-sponsored oppression and the death-dealing ways of human cruelty and greed. I have wondered, as you maybe also have wondered, if in the future we should even bother going to church if church no longer meets in the familiar building we were accustomed to. We might doubt if we could endure the adaptations and improvisations required for maintaining community in difficult times. We might worry about whether we should bring new children into this world that always seems to be ending.
But as Thurman so lovingly reminds us, “There must be always remaining in [everyone’s] life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful … and throws all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness.” Our dreaming and dream-led doing could be such places. Our children’s children will be inheritors of the questions we ask, the dreams we dream, the courage we found to leave old certainties behind—just as the ministry of Jesus made a fool out of certain death and paved the way for the miracle of new life. Maybe those dreams and questions and abandoned certainties can be our breathless and beautiful space for the singing of angels, our Time for Tiny Miracles.
And so I pray we will make time to dream of our children’s children gathering with their own children to share in the Good News. May we be brave enough to dream that they will sing a new hymn together:
“The church closed down but the Gospel remained.
Now our love is our sanctuary. Our dreams are our praise.”
May it be so.
Sophy Driscoll Gamber ’21 M.Div. is a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church and currently works as a goat farmer in rural North Carolina.