My Best Nightmare

Have you had recurring dreams?

In my youth it was nocturnal flying. With carefully calibrated movements of my arms and legs, I maneuvered vertically, horizontally, even hovered like a hummingbird. I dove like a Peregrine Falcon, my supernatural vision bringing every inch of ground into sharp relief. I soared over vast, lush landscapes, galloping on currents of wind. Breathtaking! I would awaken with this great sense of promise, the future looming luminous with hope.

Somewhere over the years that Technicolor glory got cancelled by my subconscious and replaced with a shabby rerun, a black and white nightmare that always has the same basic components.

I’m on my way to church, obliged to preach and lead worship, but I’m sorely unprepared. I don’t know my topic; it’s a meager outline, something I haven’t practiced. I try to tell myself I can just open my mouth and “let it rip” through the Holy Spirit. Then I remember that the Spirit has always flowed most freely when I’ve lived in the message, internalizing its points, its illustrations, its contextual drama.

I arrive at the Sanctuary, always a slightly Cubist version of a place I’ve actually served. My feelings of inadequacy inflame when I look around. Hardly anyone is in the pews. The sound system isn’t on. The musicians aren’t in their places. I try my best to pull it together, but to no avail. Then there’s a flutter of hope. Maybe this time my message will rise with those wings Isaiah spoke of. I open my mouth and the words are like noisy gongs and clanging symbols; or if Paul were writing today, traffic noise from the freeway, the hissing of a tire slowly deflating. People start to leave in the First Act.

My counselors have had field days interpreting these icons. A self-centered need to be affirmed. Old feelings of shame, of being “found out” and left alone. The eternal footman holding my coat and snickering. A persistent fear of failure, unable to shoulder the great responsibility I promised to uphold with my ordination vows.

But let me tell you what happened the other night. The nightmare began with sickening familiarity. But this time the sanctuary is full. The Praise Band is waiting eagerly, primed by heavenly sound checks. They launch into Spirit-filled worship that fills the space and our hearts, inviting me to bring the Good News.

I look down at my outline. NOT AGAIN! It’s more meager than ever. But suddenly I’m not afraid. I begin, and every time there’s an awkward gap, someone from the congregation says, “Yes, it’s like…” or “That reminds me of…” or “This is what faith has taught me…” or “The word of God is alive for today!”

We’re in dialogue as a community, letting the Spirit bind us as we share discoveries on our mutual journey of faith.

And how do I describe the atmosphere in the Sanctuary? Simple. Love.

I’m hoping those flying dreams will return from their winter migration. Stay tuned.

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