She was young, perhaps early twenties, with dark hair and a familiar face. She appeared to me in my dream-before-waking this morning. As I woke slowly, surfacing into the morning, I thought about the dream, holding the image and trying to recall all that I could. The odd thing about this dream was that I felt partially awake, looking to the foot of my bed where this woman smiled at me. I don’t recall ever having the experience of dreaming where I thought I was awake, lying with the covers pulled up, peering out.
She was part of a line of others who filed past me, right to left, but her face was the only clear one, and in full color. The others were gray tones. She turned to face me with her wide white smile. She was beautiful, in her prime years. And she was happy. Her face was filled with joy.
As we drove to church this morning I thought about the dream and suddenly realized who she was. She was a close relative. I will admit that I have been working on old family pictures the last few days, scanning them for posterity, for my son and his children, my sister and her children. The woman I saw as the sun filled my room with piercing light was an early image of this family member. It was one of the photos.
I could dismiss this as the experience of working with these images the last few days. I could dismiss this as my own mental projection, and I probably would, for I accept that many dreams are a working out of recent experience. But my partial wakefulness fights this interpretation. I literally watched her from the bedcovers. I watched her turn, smile, and move on in line. If she hadn’t been so happy, and somehow her happiness made me happy, I would indeed have been unnerved.
This woman I saw is still living and of advanced and frail age. Today she is not a believer in God, although at the time of this photo she was a born-again Christian. She lost her faith many years ago and when she lost her faith, it was my sense that she lost her joy.
This morning was the Sunday after the great feast of Corpus Christi (Thursday), a feast celebrating the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is an incarnational sacramental day, a day in which we give thanks for God working among us in and through creation. I considered this amazing miracle of the Eucharist that occurs on altars everywhere, Christ becoming present in the bread and wine. And I considered the woman who still hovered in my vision, as I listened to the Gospel reading, Christ’s fearful parable about the rich man and Lazarus. The parable tells how the rich man ignores poor Lazarus who begs at his gate for crumbs. The rich man dies and goes to hell. Lazarus dies and is carried to heaven by angels. The rich man, tormented by flames, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a little water, but Abraham refuses, explaining that the gulf between heaven and hell is too wide and cannot be breached. The rich man begs Abraham to warn his five brothers still living on earth, to warn them about heaven and hell and the terrible breach, the fearful flames. Abraham says Moses and the prophets have already warned them.
This parable is often interpreted as Christ warning the Jews to pay attention to Christ’s life and words. But the story also paints a vivid picture of heaven and hell, a greatly divided heaven and hell (an idea C.S. Lewis explores in The Great Divorce). Christ clearly believed in hell and hell’s great divorce from heaven. A fearful story indeed. But the Epistle answers the fear with Saint John’s wonderful ode to our God of love (I John 4:7+). In this poetic passage, John begins with “let us love one another for love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God…” And later, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love…”
I thought about my dream. I thought about the Gospel and the Epistle. I thought about the torment of hell and this God of love. I thought about my many unbelieving family members and friends. Then I recalled the words of a priest who told me once that he thought that God evaluated the whole life of a person. God, being out of time, collapses that life into the best of the person, the faithful years of the person.
I have often wondered about the new bodies we will be given in our own resurrections at the end of time, in the Last Judgment. Which body will they be? Young or old? What about babies who die in the womb? It seems to me that it would make sense that our resurrected bodies will be the perfect body of our peak years, the form we were intended to be, without blemish or handicap. Beautiful. Just so, our souls will reflect our best years, our faithful years.
I see now once again the face of the woman in my dream, and again see such beauty. Was she asking something of me? Was she asking me to pray for her? Was she not only the woman still living whom I love, but also the eternal woman she is to become, walking toward heaven? Did eternity meet time this morning in the early dawn at the foot of my bed?
I cannot wrap my mind around these ideas and shall consider them mysteries. But I am glad for God’s mercy. I’m glad for this God of perfect love that casts out fear. I’m glad for Corpus Christi, for since Christ is present in the bread and wine at each Eucharist, all is possible.
And I shall pray for this close relative of mine, seeing her in my mind as she was and ever shall be: beautiful.