The cover of City, Rochester’s alternative newsweekly , last week featured an article about “The American Dream.” The young woman on the cover and the five people in whose stories are told inside are Muslims living in Rochester. The Dream Act, stalled in Congress, would open up a process for immigrant youth who have grown up here to come out of the shadows and begin moving toward temporary legal status and eventual citizenship. Immigrants/refugees have dreams of belonging. So do we, cradle or naturalized Americans. So do people all over the world.
Dreams are an acknowledged, but distrusted part of life. We are apt to dismiss our nighttime dreams and daydreams as fantasy. Only children have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, we say. We set our dreams apart from our real world, where cold facts and adult responsibilities in resisting the unwanted or unexpected absorb all our time and energy.
Yet as December enfolds us, we begin Advent, a season of dreams.
This year the first reading for the first Sunday of Advent is from Jeremiah who in poetic, prophetic language tells of Israel’s dream, how the very promise of a savior for Israel is fulfilled. The passage from Jeremiah stands in stark contrast to Luke’s apocalyptic description in the Gospel, wherein the dream has become a nightmare of disaster, and Christ warns us to be on guard against the powers of darkness.
We move between the dream and the nightmare as individuals and as communities. We can limit the meaning of our dreams and nightmares to the psychological sphere. But our dreams are also a gift from God. God comes with a word of warning , a word of encouragement or hope. Infusions of courage and conviction can come in our dreams.
In addition to the dream of Israel, during the Advent and Christmas seasons we will hear how Joseph had several dreams, as did the Magi. Those dreams gave them the guidance they needed. They relied on the truth that God would not lead them astray. God has dreams for us: “I know the future I have in mind for you” God says in Jeremiah 29.11, “plans for peace and not disaster.”
We may not always be sure of our worth, but our personal dreams can make a difference in our fragile world. God-inspired dreams can and do re-shape our world as a people - the end of terror, food, water and health care for all. Work for all. An earth cared for. People’s gifts honored. As 2016 approaches, what will be our nation’s dream? Will we, as a people, be noble and generous? Will we want the best for the most? Will we add the convictions of our own dreams to build up the common good?
If we believe the dream of Jeremiah and the dream of Christ, then we won’t wait for others to act. We ourselves will act to make the dream a non-negotiable part of our reality.
As the December landscape turns blue and grey, as the early darkening of the winter sky puts us in a frame of mind to dream, the readings of Advent tell us: Watch carefully. Pray constantly. God is ready to meet us in the dream.
Sister Joan Sobala