Believing in Dreams

Recently, I was poking around some older posts and came across this post by our own J. Stapley, regarding Spiritual Gifts and our possible abandonment of them. I have always been keenly interested in Spiritual Gifts, and in reading that post found myself yearning for the experiences of some of the early Saints. Some of these gifts are easily witnessed by others–speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, for example–while others are virtually invisible to all but the possessor, such as implicit faith in the testimony of others. In particular, and one that is most certainly private, is what I would call the gift of visions or dreams.[1]

I believe in visions and dreams–or at least I think I do. In my life, I have had three dreams which have exerted significant spiritual impact on me. However, before I start declaring myself to be a visionary man like Lehi of old, I recognize that none of these were of the “pick up your family, build a boat, and go to Panama” sort–rather, they were simply deep, spiritual experiences that left me with a profound and lasting closeness with God. The feelings I experienced in each of those three dreams return whenever I meditate on what I saw in them, despite the fact that many years have passed since.

A few weeks ago, while reading the personal journal of my GGG Grandfather, Apostle Charles C. Rich,[2] I came across the following account of a dream he had after falling seriously ill during a stay with his uncle in during the fall of 1832:

I dropped asleep and dreamed I saw myslef at the outer edge of an immense assemblage of people, that seemed to extend as far as the eye could reach- all looking toward a center, where there was a large double two story house, with porches between the two buildings. A man near me said to me “The Saviour had corne and was in that building.” I thought to myself that was what I was looking for. I started for the house and notwithstanding the pelple seemdd crammed close together I did not have to request anyone to stand aside to let me pass; but as I came to them they moved themselves and let me pass on.

When I came to the house I walked up the steps leading from the ground to the second porch – as I faced to the fight there was a door leading into the room, and a man appeared to be doorkeeper, standing partly in the door with his left shoulder against the left door cheek, looking inside. Right before me on the back side of the room stood the Savior who appeared to be engaged in speaking. As he placed his eyes upon me he stopped and looking at me smiled- the most beautiful smile I ever saw. The man at the door said “he knows we are his servants.” I then walked in and s at down, Joseph and Hyrum, Lyman Wight, and a number of others I did recognize were there. The Savior continued his instructions- his body seemed transparent and it seemed to me that I could see the Holy Spirit in him. It seemed to me in the dream to be the time spoken of when the Saviourswould come to minister “wine on the lees well refined.” After he was done talking we all knelt down while the Savior prayed. We then walked out on the porch and beheld the immense multitude of people in every direction all looking with joy toward the building where we were standing. When I awoke I was filled with the Holy Spirit and was healed of my infirmities to the astonishment of my friends. I could not remember distinctly the words of the Savior, they had passed from me with the dream.[3]

I am sure that many individuals throughout time have had dreams in which they saw or met the Savior–perhaps some of you have had such at one point or another. However, this dream is of particular curiosity to me because it is almost identical to a dream that I had several years ago. A few of the details are different–it was a different building, and the individuals present my contemporaries, rather than C. C. Rich’s. Among them were several of my closest friends, including one of my dearest childhood friends who had left the Church. However, my GGG Grandfather’s account of approaching a building, having an individual inform him that the Savior was in the next room, and walking in, seeing Him smile toward him, being overcome with the warmth of His presence and love, and then seeing the Savior pray–these are all part of my memory of my own dream from years ago. Similarly, in my dream the Savior spoke to me, but after waking up, I could not recall what He said.

I do not believe that this dream was a vision of some future event that will actually take place; similarly, Charles C. Rich never hinted that such a meeting eventually came to pass. As a friend mentioned to me once while we were talking about this topic, “Read the old journals and they are chock full of dreams…and to be frank, they often got it wrong.” So, clearly I am not suggesting that any dream–spiritual or otherwise–need be more than just a dream. Still, it feels oddly incorrect to think of my dream as “fiction,” because it, remains among the more memorable and choice spiritual experiences I’ve had, and has had a “real” effect on me by altering to some degree how I perceive and interpret the feelings and sensations we often associate with the Holy Ghost.

What say, ye? Shall I put a lid back on the can of crazy? Or are dreams a real, legitimate source of communion with God, inasmuch as they are interpreted correctly? Can a person discern between random and inspired brain activity during sleep?



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[1] I call it a spiritual gift, because it seems to me to be an appropriate descriptor, though I know it is not listed in the standard locations in scripture.

[2] I am descended from the youngest son of the C.C. Rich’s first wife, Sarah D’Armon Pea. Any other Rich descendants out there in the ‘nacle?

[3] See History of Charles Coulson Rich, pp. 5-7 (manuscript), pp. 4-5 (typeface). The spelling and grammar from his original manuscript are maintained here.

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Believing in Dreams

Comments

  1. While I’ve never seen Christ in my dreams, I have had dreams much more vivid than usual that detailed some kind of religious allegory. One especially comes to mind during my mission when I was struggling with a certain passage of scripture and then had a dream about it which helped me see it in a new light. When relaying it to my mission president, he said to record it and then continue to ponder on what the dream meant and whether it helped me at all in understanding the gospel – the true test of whether that dream was of any spiritual significance.

    I think that a good dose of skepticism is required when considering dreams. Writing them down and then continuing to ponder on them I think helps add distance to the immediate event and lets time justify whether the dream actually helps you spiritually or not. Otherwise, the dream I had last night means that Elder Bruce R. McConkie really did create a superweapon deep beneath the earth under a chapel in Bountiful, Utah within a chamber which he cursed with some Kabbalistic invocation, which said superweapon the Russians now seek to activate.*

    * I really had this dream just last night.

  2. Whoa, buddy. Best lay off the fruity pebbles before bedtime.

  3. I honestly don’t know where that dream came from. However, it would make a great movie.

  4. Scott,

    I read somewhere (yeah, sure I did…) that dreams are a vital part of our life, and that we dream every night, whether we remember dreaming or not. When REM sleep is disrupted for a prolonged period, seizures, psychosis, and death readily occur.

    One hypothesis presented was that dreams were an attempt by our subconscious to resolve cognitive dissonance incurred during waking times: we physically need to fit sensory input into a plausible framework or it will interfere with first higher, then lower brain functions. Having a unified understanding of the world enables us to think holistically: when we see a projectile coming towards us, we duck without pondering the meaning of the trajectory. This is presumably because we understand at some deep level that such motion is physically possible. The nausea that comes from walking into a hall of mirrors may stem from our inability to process the input at a subconscious level, so we are forced to process it at a higher level, and that strains our mental abilities.

    If all the above is true, then dreaming of Jesus is the logical attempt to “make sense” of a supernatural belief: if there is a God, we must be able to meet him and chat. Your dreams may be nothing less than the subconscious attempt to accept and integrate Christian faith with the everyday world.

    That you still need to do this in a dream tells me that you have not yet fully accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Keep dreaming…

  5. Latter-day Guy says:

    …they were simply deep, spiritual experiences that left me with a profound and lasting closeness with God.

    Like any revelatory experience, the meaning of a spiritual dream may be complicated and our understanding will likely be imperfect. There are all sorts of things that influence our communication with God, and I think that it is rarely a simple process to separate what is inspiration and what may just a personal wish and what may be the result of the ham you ate before bedtime. However, given your description above, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss your experiences, as per Moroni 7:

    But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

  6. Dan,
    If what you say is true, then it presents an interesting set of competing incentives–obviously, I would like to have “fully accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior,” but would also like to have more dreams of the nature described above.

    Oh what to do…

  7. I do believe that some dreams can contain truths we need to understand, answers to prayers, solutions to puzzles that have been heavily on our minds, etc.

  8. I usually only lurk around here, but I was interested to see the Charles C. Rich story as he is my GGG Grandfather as well, although through the second wife, Eliza Ann Graves.

    I’ve had dreams of my own of people beyond the grave, but not as interesting as that one.

  9. Fascinating post, Scott. First, I’m glad you liked that old post, though to be frank, upon re-reading it, I don’t particularly find my framing of the topic particularly helpful or accurate.

    That said, I think people can hear God through many experiences. I’m a little rusty, but there are some interesting things in the research right now on dreams. And though the regular interpretation of dreams is folly, this experience of Rich was a dramatic blessing to him. I imagine yours was to you as well.

  10. For me, dreams are one of the primary ways in which the Spirit communicates with me. It has taken me years to figure out exactly how this works, and a big help was my patriarchal blessing which pointed out this fact. Before that time (I didn’t get my blessing until I was nearly 20) I spent several years wondering if there was something wrong with me because of experiences I had. It usually isn’t the kind of dream-narrative described in this post; instead, it is more a representation of things that have happened and confirmation (or not) of my actions. Something like that–like I said it’s hard to explain. While, for me, dreams are definitely a gift of the spirit I recognize that they aren’t for everyone. And not every dream is either; I have had some very weird ones that certainly were not spiritual manifestations. I think that as in any other thing we must seek for discernment to tell when the Spirit is truly speaking to us and when it is not

  11. In one of the classes I teach I include a module on dreams. We read a broad, eclectic mix of texts that includes Genesis and Daniel, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Zhuangzi, Japanese poetry, and some neurocognitive studies on dreaming. Invariably, on the day we read the biblical texts a student or two will volunteer their own accounts of “predictive” dreams they’ve experienced in the past; and on the day we read Freud a someone will offer up a recent dream for the class to psychoanalyze. Students usually get really excited over this, as most rarely discuss their dreams with others or in a venue like a public seminar. However, the Daniel account of dreams–Nebuchadnezzar– which suggests a policy situation where the King’s dreams are construed as matter for public policy and as a legitimate source of truth poses interesting problems for our discussion. It usually leads to a discussion of whether dreams could similarly be a legitimate soucre of truth for the public sphere today and of course the earlier enthusiam is immediately tempered. Nearly everyone eventually concludes that dreams are not a source of public truth but can be a source of private insight and personal truth. I wonder how dreams are accepted within the church? Are they delimited in the same way that my non-member students delimit them–for private consumption only. I wonder how many have used dreams as the basis for a policy or leadership decision in a church organization, or even a family (nuclear or extended situation)? What would it take, supposing it were desirable, to seriously integrate dreams into non-private discourse and practice, whether in the church, family or public space?

  12. I’ve only had a couple of dreams in my life that were more than regular dreams. One was very like dreams I regularly have. It was at least partially set in the temple, but it contained a weird amalgamation of people I’ve known at various points in my life, and the characters kept changing, as did the story (though it all made perfect sense in the dream — this happens a lot in my dreams, at least). The difference was that instead of waking up thinking “Huh. That was odd. I wonder where that came from,” I woke up with a completely new perspective on some things that were happening in my life at the time. It was strange, but wonderful, and I still don’t really understand it (or really remember it, either).

    The other dream I’ve had that I think was more than a dream happened a week after I had my second son. I had a dream that I was pregnant, and that it was a boy, and I named him a specific name in the dream. I woke up thinking “What the heck?! My baby’s only a week old, I am _not_ thinking about having another one!” But that dream made me think about having another baby sooner than I might have otherwise (though I still waited a little while), it made me accepting of it being another boy (I still really wanted a girl, but I expected it to be a boy, so I wasn’t disappointed when I found out it was, which I probably would have been otherwise), and it gave me a name for him. Not that I’m convinced that his name has some sort of eternal significance or anything, but at that point I was definitely going to go along with it (and it didn’t hurt that it was a name I liked anyway).

  13. mormoninvestigator says:

    I just dreamed that I was reading a post on BCC about dreams and look it came true. Joking aside, the most attractive thing to me about this Church is the belief in personal revelation be it through prayer, dreams, moments of extreme clarity or whatever. A number of years back my wife and I belonged to a church whose denominational motto was “God is still speaking” – it was I suppose an attempt by a very liberal protestant body to justify the innovations they were implementing that may not have had basis in scripture (or even went against the common understanding of scripture) i.e. blessing of same-gender unions, gay ministers etc…but the motto itself really got me to think about past experiences I have had like very vivid dreams that I had previously dismissed as wishful thinking or some combination of that and what #4 stated. However thinking that God might communicate with me through dreams has made me wonder a little more about the content of those previously dismissed dreams and I find that it is comforting to think that they might have been a touch of the Divine in life.

  14. How neat.

    I rarely remember my dreams, but when I do, they’re often symbolic and usually trying to tell me something (and not always what I want to hear). People often represent other people in my dreams.

    My husband has really vivid dreams. We named our son Elijah because my husband had a dream in which his dead grandfather told him to while I was pregnant.

    When my daughter was small she had a dream that she went in our minivan to heaven and saw Heavenly Father. I asked her if he said anything to her, and she said he told her he was happy to see her.

  15. Wow Susan. That’s a really neat dream!

  16. Just last night I (really!) had a dream in which a recently deceased elderly ward member, who had been unhappily unemployed for the last several years of his life, told me that he had finally found a job. As a porn star. And I really wasn’t sure whether to congratulate him or not .

  17. Segullah had a great article in the Gifts issue on Dreams.

    My mother’s patriarchal blessing is very explicit about her have dreams from God, which has been quite a blessing. In 1983 she dreamed there would be a flood and we would be evacuated. The next day she collected all the things she we need for her 2 newborn twins and 7 other kids in baskets ready to go. 3 days later it happened. Another time she dreamed are house burnt down and she had to get my brother out. 10 days later the next door neighbor’s house burned down, and she had to go in to get my 3 year old brother out, who had started the fire.

    I always wanted that gift. I was hoping it was genetic. Segullah had a great article in the Gifts issue on Dreams. It was great to explore my own dreams and as the article suggested. They aren’t my mothers, but it has still been a blessing.

  18. I have never had a dream that I felt even might have come from God or been revelation of any sort – but my wife had a very clear dream regarding one of our children that we see as a sacred manifestation. Other than that one experience, the rest of our dreams just are whatever they are – but all the others we don’t understand at all are worth the sacred one we understand.

    Otoh, one of our best friends from a former ward regularly had dreams telling her if her pregnant friends would be having a boy or a girl. If they wanted to know, she would tell them. She was never wrong.

    So, yes, I believe in dreams – at least that some of them come from God / are a gift.

  19. Stapley (9.)–I admit that when I linked to your post, I hadn’t really read the comment thread that followed, and after doing so this morning, I possibly understand your comment. It seemed that many of the commenters were interpreting what you wrote as saying that _none_ of these things take place anymore, whereas I had understood it simply to be saying that the frequency of them has changed. No?

    Also, the statement that everyone seemed to be arguing about was the idea that the body of the church doesn’t require these gifts anymore–and I don’t understand really how that is objectionable, I guess. In other words, I see a “preference” for such gifts, but not really any “demand” or “requirement” from the people I sit with in meetings every week.

    I suppose that makes me sad–because, as I said in the post, I yearn for the manifestations that are recorded in our early histories, and believe that they are not inaccessible.

  20. The interesting thing–and perhaps frustrating thing–is my final question in the post about how to discern between inspired and normal brain activity. Even after sharing my own dream, as I read stories in the comments of other dreams, I find myself tempted to discount them (except yours, Kaimi–clearly inspired). Pots, kettles, etc…

    The fact is, I believe in dreams, but I have no idea how to discern between them, and equally importantly, I have no idea how to discern when someone else is close to the Spirit or crazy or both.

  21. I don’t think that discerning between inspired and normal brain activity is really any different in the case of dreams than in any other way of trying to feel the Spirit. Just as we have to learn how to figure out which of our many thoughts/feelings/random emotions are inspired, so we can with dreams. For me, I always think about whether they fit in with scripture/doctrine as I understand it, whether they are positive or lead to positive actions, etc. When acting on any prompting I tend to follow a ‘err on the side of doing good’ rule.

  22. How do we know when our dreams are inspired?

    I have often wondered how schizophrenics do not realize that their visions are false, once they’ve been told. Apparently the part of the brain that distinguishes truth from falsehood is also affected, so that they believe they have rationally decided that everyone else is crazy.

    Whether God speaks to us in dreams is not the issue. What worries me is if Satan also speaks to us in dreams, and we cannot distinguish the two. Knowing is not nearly as important as knowing that you know (or to write it in my more usual pompous style, perception is nothing without apperception). Without the latter, the former is just superstition.

    I prefer to leave my dreams in the fantasyland they came from, unburdened by the need to be true.

  23. Well, dreams are how your mind works out the stress and complex matters of the day. So your dreams will reflect things that are traumatic, important, stressful, immediate, etc to you, especially if you are thinking about it right before you fall asleep. Dreaming is an actual physiological experience, its just the storyline that isn’t real. Its like saying a book that is fiction isn’t actually meaningful. So while I think dreams can, and are, important and reflect what is going on in our daily lives, I don’t think the vast majority of people, and the dreams they have, are true visions from God. Perhaps its just your intelligent mind arranging things into meaningful truth.

  24. You are a wise man, Scott.

  25. It’s always a treat to have a post on things of the Spirit. Having a manifestation of a gift(s) of the Spirit, including dreams, is evidence of the Holy Ghost operating in our life.

    Regarding how we can know if a dream is of the Lord or just the workings of our mind:

    1. Was there something useful conveyed?
    2. Was it an answer to a prayer?
    3. Was there a feeling of the Spirit?

    I’ve had a enough experience with the gift of dreams to know it is one way Heavenly Father communicates with us.

    In my opinion, any time we dream about the Savior, I would pay close attention.

    We’re told to diligently seek for the gifts of the Spirit so we won’t be deceived (D&C 46). I wonder how many Saints really do diligently seek.

    Thanks Scott

  26. I think of dreams as true in the same way the some fiction is true.

  27. I think that’s close to where I am, smb.

  28. Thank you, Scott. This is lovely. Personally I don’t recall any experience with this particular gift, but I appreciate the desire for and receipt of the wonderful gifts of the Spirit.

  29. Brother of Dakota says:

    I myself believe that not all dreams are visions, but I believe that any rational and or logical member of the church should believe in visions coming in dreams. (think Lehi and his dream to come to the promised land)

    I have had many dreams be a foretelling of future evens nothing major, just meant as personal guidance to me.

    I also believe that some dreams are to sacred to share to the general public. Encounters with Christ and Angels most likely fall under this tent. One thing that I believe is OK to talk about is how to know if it is really a vision. Every time I have had a dream that I knew was more than a dream I have felt the spirit burn within me so powerfully there is no way that it could be denied. There was also feelings of intense happiness to be in the presence of such beings.

    There are many gifts of the spirit and we are taught to seek after them for the building up of the kingdom of God.

    Also just becuase someone has these dreams and or visions doesn’t mean that they are any better than anyone else. We are all equal in the sight of God.

  30. I dreamed as a twelve-year old that the girl I liked wore a new pink-striped polo shirt to school; I commented that I liked the shirt, and she replied, “Oh, thanks. It’s new.”
    The next day at school, she was wearing…that exact shirt. I nervously commented on it; you can guess her response. I spent a lot of time wondering why I would have a prophetic dream about something as inconsequential (spiritually) as a girl’s new shirt. Ignoring the temptation to assume that this dream meant I was to marry this girl, I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to know He was available to talk with me; He figured using a girl as the subject would be an easy way to get my attention.
    It worked.
    I take my dreams seriously, though in the same vein I do not believe “all dreams are visions” (#29).
    Because of many subsequent experiences in the eighteen years since, I firmly believe with #29: “any…member of the church should believe in visions coming in dreams.”

  31. I always want God to tell me something in a dream. Surely the easiest way to get it. And many dreams did come true. Some for good, some for bad.

    But I’m really wondering about how it happens. Apparently, after this life we will be able to surmount time and space. Say, we want to feel the ocean breeze – and we’ll be able to feel it. Or we want to be in ancient Jerusalem – and we’ll be there. Certainly very similar to what happens to us in the dreams now. So vivid and real.

  32. Excellent post, Scott. I need to start recording my dreams again–the periods of my life when I’ve done so have yielded remarkable spiritual and emotional discoveries. In fact, I’m going to go find my journal right now so I can remember what I’ve surely forgotten. Thank you.

  33. Scott:

    I do believe for some of us, dreams are just as you say. I believe in spiritual gifts and that some of us are more apt to receive revelation in dreams.

    There was a time when I was very concerned about one of my sons and had prayed fervently that he’d be OK. One of my dreams involved the two of us holding hands and taking flight into a battle below us. I could tell the Savior and Heavenly Father were near us. I didn’t see them, but I FELT them. I guess it could be best described an overwhelming joyful glory. It was the very real to me, and I remembered details the next morning. I just knew they were near, and all would be fine.

    Don’t put a lid on it. You’re very sane, and very blessed.

  34. Brother of Dakota (29),

    I also believe that some dreams are to sacred to share to the general public. Encounters with Christ and Angels most likely fall under this tent.

    So was this post out of bounds for you?

    JC (30),

    I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to know He was available to talk with me; He figured using a girl as the subject would be an easy way to get my attention.

    Well played, sir.

  35. I don’t think it’s crazy at all.

    I have had dreams that I believe were revelatory and are directly tied to my joining the Church. Interesting thing is that since being baptized, I have never up to this point had a dream quite like those that related in any apparent way to the Gospel.

    I remember even in early childhood having a dream of profound religious significance. I have shared these with some young men once in the temple, feeling it was the appropriate place to share sacred experiences. I remember Drew, a deacon, later asking me if I really did have such dreams, to which I of course answered in the affirmative, while explaining that it was different for each person when it came to how the Spirit works. Didn’t want to confuse him, though frankly I think he’s smarter than me by a long shot on so many things. I look up to the kid.

    But I digress. Wonderful post.

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