There’s a sermon that I often heard during the summers of 2002 and 2003.
At the time I was a backpacking guide for a ministry for high school students called Wilderness Ranch. It was my seminary internship for one summer, and an excuse to be in Colorado again for another one. I needed to get out of New Jersey for a few months. For seven days two guides would take a group of high school students from all over – Texas, Georgia, weirdly, New Jersey – through the Rocky Mountains. At the end of the week back at base camp the director, Skeet Tingle, would always do the same talk using the scripture from the Transfiguration.
I remember this as I sit at a table looking out at the lovely Blue Ridge surrounding Montreat, a Presbyterian conference center that hosts college students every year for a few days. How it’s easier to see at a height. How some things begin to make a little more sense up here. How you feel braver and truer when you are surrounded by trees and your Creator. How the air is clearer and you can breathe better.
The topography of a space has to include peaks and valleys, bright sunlight and a large sky, and a nibble of winter for me to come back to myself. Good preaching and the sound of 1100 college students singing Come Thou Fount and the Canticle of Turning helps, too. The epiphanies come like breaking waves and rolling clouds, and like Peter, I am eager to pitch numerous tents to hold onto those revelations. Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.Click To Tweet
And so that’s going to be the word for 2016. Dream.
I had toyed with “breathe” or “simplify” or wistfully, “sleep,” but a tribe of clergy and preacherwomen who are surrounding me with prayer sparked this one. It’s of course no coincidence that we are in Epiphany, and in the Matthew 2 passage where seasons and journey, and dreams shimmer on the surface of the pages. But it isn’t the star or the roads, or even the angels in Matthew 2 that compel me – it’s the dreams of the Magi and Joseph that lead them to move and live and be. So, dream. Dream because my Korean ancestors don’t take dreams lightly – they believe that dreams can tell you everything from the biological sex of the baby in your belly to when someone is nearing their death. Dream because dreams though they are strange and peripheral to our lives, they are often the instrument of revolution. Dream because our desires and hopes for our lives are usually barely articulated but cannot be bottled up and will find their way to the surface of our consciousness. Dream because they lead us to risk and change, and to grasp the possbility of a different reality. Dream because they are for the fools and desperados and the hopemongers.Dream because I need to keep paying attention in fresh ways.Click To Tweet
I go back to CS Lewis’ Aslan during these times:
“First, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you awake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances.
Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” (From The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair)
Skeet would often say something similar. Something about not staying on the mountain top because we aren’t made to live at the elevation. That even though we are able to see more clearly and feel more deeply, we are meant to have those moments in glimpses and glimmerings. We are made to live in the valleys. Jesus led his disciples back down, too. But, I’m reminded over and over – it’s the long run down and back with college students, it’s the now traditional catch-up over coffee with a friend, it’s being squeezed into a pew with 10 others during worship – we don’t go it alone, we have the people around us, we have our tribes and communities, and we always, always have those signs, we carry those dreams, to lead us.