Letters from a Hospital Bed is a series of reflections by Jim Houston, now entering his 100th year, in which Jim seeks to capture and reflect new insights of his ever-discoverable God, revealed through his own hospitalization, for the encouragement of all care givers.
February 10, 2022
My dear friends,
In my last letter, I explored some of the personal dimensions of dreams that have had an impact on my own life and still do, to this day. My experience and my boundless curiosity have led me to explore what some others have considered important with respect to dreams.
My reading within the discipline of neuroscience has impressed on me the importance of sleep, that it enriches a diversity of functions, including our ability to learn, to memorize, and to make logical decisions. Then, during our day, we can make wise decisions and have a cool-headed exposure to all social challenges. Yet, much of our population in the western world routinely sleeps less than 6-7 hours which is reported to impact our immune systems, blood sugar balance and other vital systems. It appears that dreaming may be instrumental in preventing some mental illnesses and inhibits a tendency to delay the onset of Alzheimers.
In Tibet, the Buddhist mindset, aware of being Buddhist day and night, would critique our own Western orientation which tends to discount this vital time of unconsciousness. As Christians, we have more than 700 references in the Scriptures to dreams. The prophets could never have done their ministry without this vital guidance. The incarnation was directly facilitated by the dream of Joseph not to put Mary away. For the Buddhist, they are Buddhist by day and by night, their identity persists through wakefulness and sleep, yet as Christians, we too often ignore that vital part of our lives. In the Psalms, we are reminded that as ‘a child on its mother’s breast, so are my thoughts to you oh Lord’, and also we have the assurance that ‘God that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps’. So that whether we are awake or asleep with our dreams, He is communicating with us as He did with the Biblical prophets whose messages from God always came when they were asleep.
My desire is to encourage you to explore this vital area of your life even as I, in my own 100th year, find that I must explore it for my own needs. For Christians, God neither slumbers nor sleeps, so too we Christians should see the amazing benefit offered in the realm of our dreams to enrich our Christian identity. We should be aware of our identity as Christians, night or day. That is why, when we go to sleep, our primary prayer should be “Lord, may I wake up conscious that I am in your presence 24 hours a day. Amen”. I encourage you to pray for dreams, to expect the Lord to speak and to be Lord of your unconsciousness just as He is Lord of your waking. I hope, in my next letter, to share some of the practices that have helped me, and which even today are a vital part of my living before the Lord.
Editor’s Note: Dad has been very insistent that this material on dreams be communicated. We struggle to faithfully represent both his wishes and the reality that his sense of the substance of what he has prepared, while in essence material, lacks the intellectual rigour of his previous scholarship. There is a pattern in these many avenues of inquiry that capture Dad still, almost daily. He notices something, is curious, explores to his own satisfaction, applies a Christian mind, forms a sense of urgency for others to grasp what he has himself just discovered and seeks to express his exhortation in some way. We see this again and again. Once, this could be expressed as what is recognized as ‘scholarship’, yet even without the disciplined research and other practices of the academy, this yearning for the other to learn what he is himself is just now discovering, continues unabated. It is a life force in Dad, and it sustains him in a remarkable way. While he might not still meet the exacting standards of the classroom and the publishing community, his deep desire to explore, discover, and share remains intense, persistent, and unrelenting. For Dad, to be alive, is to daily stretch across the threshold of discovery and to marvel at the boundary-less to the knowing of God. This is the meta-narrative of these letters, an invitation to us all to never cease from exploring the mind of God, even when our ‘faculties’ might impose limits on our capacities.