The senseless have vain and false hopes,
and dreams give wings to fools.
As one who catches at a shadow and pursues the wind,
so is anyone who believes in dreams.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 34:1-2 (NRSV) – October 31, 2014)
The shadows tonight will be full of dreams moving from house to house, door to door, seeking handouts of candy or toys or whatever with a cry of “Trick or Treat!” We hope the wind will stay away, at least until America’s children’s annual celebration of the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain is completed.
As much as I like Ben Sira, I think he is too dismissive of dreams in this passage. He’s right to sound a note of caution against self-delusion (or buying into the fantasies and fallacies of others), but dreams are also the stuff of hope and aspiration. Young Joseph, son of Israel, became overseer of Egypt because of his ability to correctly interpret dreams. Another Joseph received the message that he would be foster-father to the Son of God in a dream. Dreams can be substantial!
So, parting company with Ben Sira, I say, “Believe in your dreams! Chase them!” Yesterday I wrote about using our imaginations and playing with metaphors to better understand the words of Scripture. Following our dreams is a further exercise of imagination. Imagination, as I see it, is our only way forward; without dreams and imagination we have no way to envision the future.
Forty-five years ago, when I was in college, I read a newly published book by Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner entitled The Ritual Process in which the author explored the idea of liminality, the experience of standing on a threshold leaving behind a known, accepted reality and entering into an as-yet-unknown, new reality. (I was reminded of that book this week when I found it cited in the footnotes of another, a text on the use of imagination in biblical exegesis and preaching.) That threshold is the place of shadows and wind; it can be a frightening place. To stand at that threshold demands that we dream and imagine; otherwise, we will never move through it.
Ben Sira is right, dreams give wings, not just to fools, but to everyone. Have the imagination and the courage to take those wings and fly! Fly through the threshold of shadow and wind into the unknown future.
I hope that is what the costumed children, the living dreams wandering the shadows tonight will do.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.