Counselling, Madness, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Whose dream?

I was talking with someone recently.We were talking about Christmas. They commented that it was downhill now until Easter. They meant, I think, in term of the Churches’ calendar. I nodded and we carried on our conversation. But something nagged at me about this view. Then I remembered the story of the Massacre of  the Infants by Herod which is recorded only by Matthew. The story is that the Magi call on Herod first asking where they can find the new king. Herod knows nothing of this but asks them to come back to him when they have found him :”that I may come and worship him also.” They are warned in a dream not to return to Herod who when he realises this orders the slaughter of all children under the age of two. We next read that Joseph also has a dream telling him to flee into Egypt to protect his family from Herod. This he duly does and we hear nothing more of them until Joseph is told in yet another a dream not to go back to Judea.Following this dream the family go back to Galilee and we hear no more of them until Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist which marks the official launch of his mission.

It’s an interesting story. Angels, visions, dreams, Magi, refugees and so on.  Many things worry me about it but it is the dreams that most intrigue me. If I were still a “bible believing Christian” I might be happy to accept that God spoke to people in dreams. As a psychodynamic counsellor I understand dreams rather differently to Matthew. I see them as our unconscious nudging us to attend to something important. We give ourselves our dreams. (Always an uncomfortable thought!) Freud wrote “By exposing the hidden dream-thoughts, we have confirmed in general that the dream does continue the motivation and interests of waking life, for dream-thoughts are engaged only with what seems to be important and of great interest to us.” (The Interpretation of Dreams :1900)

If we could allow Joseph to free associate about his dreams, it would be fascinating to see what came out. I imagine most potential parents dream about their new baby. Dreams about its safe delivery and concerns about its future. Thoughts about its impact on the couple and the family.We might wonder about some ambivalence on Joseph’s part. This new baby has caused him more than the usual amount of trouble. A Virgin conception, visits from Royalty, the envy of the Governor, time in exile, mass murder as a consequence of this baby. And all before its first birthday. That’s quite a lot to take on. So perhaps Herod isn’t the only man who feels murderous towards this infant. Joseph’s dream tells us as much about his inner world as the story does about Herod’s. We might wonder if Joseph’s “flight dream” is also about his own wish to run away  to a place where nothing is known about him. He can remain anonymous and live his life quietly.

All this is pure speculation on my part. I have no idea about Joseph’s dream-thoughts. We have no record of them. But the alternative is that God is a mass murderer. Or at least chooses to do nothing about the actions of Herod. We don’t have a record of how many babies were killed by Herod’s soldiers. We don’t know how many families were devastated by the murder of their children. But God appears unbothered by this. His interest is solely in the preservation of His own- making him no different from Herod. Perhaps my next blog will explore what we might understand of God’s unconscious.




One thought on “Whose dream?

  1. “I will praise the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. Because he is at my right hand.” Psalm 16

    To think of God as “Protecting his own” is surely to think in rather small scale and Human terms? God, after all, sacrificed his only Son for us all, ultimately; including the murdered babies.

    One might respond by suggesting that was God’s choice! The families who suffered under Herod’s spite and envy didn’t have much choice. (The same is, of course, true of every Holy War.)

    It was necessary to get this “Saviour” into a very violent world and safely to a maturity where he could begin to fulfil his mission for the benefit all mankind past, present and future? It is ‘We’ that kill babies, not God.

    I don’t know how much comfort I take from that! It raises all manner of issues about God’s timing.

    The old ‘Why would God allow this to happen’ argument is one I heard repeated by Stephen Fry a year or so ago to justify his rage at God and his ultimately, sadly, wanting nothing more to do with Him. I have a lot of time for Stephen and am a great admirer of his intellectual prowess. I therefore could not understand his rather small scale thinking and simplistic adding together of two and two to arrive at an answer of five.

    If this life is “Just a Ride,” as the Comedian Bill Hicks once put it, that is to say that when we die it is not all over by any means and this life merely a series of experiences, then those murdered babies will yet know their God, and, under the last shall be the first rule may yet perhaps enjoy a very great inheritance indeed?

    I think that sucks! That I will see my murdered loved one in the next life. I’d much rather se them in this life alive and well.

    I have many times felt ‘guided’ often (Though not always) after a restless nights sleep. The guidance has – in my own experience – taken the form of a persistent feeling rather than a nocturnal SKYPE call from the Great Boss himself. Maybe it was the same for Joseph and Mary? The trick is to be tuned to these ‘Leadings’ from within one’s own conciousness and, crucially, ready to act upon them immediately?

    For me that says something important and interesting about your unconscious. Not much about God!


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