Dreams of Glory

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 8, 1998


Daniel 2:1, 25-35 Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a statue

In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. . . .

Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, "I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means."

The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), "Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?"

Daniel replied, "No wise man, enchanter, magician, or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about; but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these:

"As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other people, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and may understand what went through your mind.

"You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue--an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet of iron mixed with baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time, and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth."

Mark 13:24-31 The day of the Lord

"But in those days, following that distress, "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'

"At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

Arcana Coelestia #1975 Dreams flow in from heaven

It is well-known that the Lord revealed the secrets of heaven to the prophets not only through visions, but also through dreams. These dreams were just as symbolic as the visions, and carried a spiritual meaning in the same way, since dreams and visions are almost the same.... These kinds of dreams flow in from heaven just as visions do. The only difference is that dreams happen when our body is asleep, and visions when it is awake.


"You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue--an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet of iron mixed with baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time, and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth." (Daniel 2:31-35)

Speaking of dreams, as most of you know, this is the weekend of our Fall Youth Retreat at Blairhaven. I returned home from the retreat last night, but the teens and the rest of the staff are still there. They are having their closing worship service about now, led by Tammie Wilson. I am still basking in the glow of the retreat myself. We had a small group--five teens and four staff--but each person there contributed in his or her own way, forming a tight-knit group that made for a very special weekend.

A small group was good for the retreat's topic, which was "Dreams." We talked about where dreams came from and how they are put together, and then we looked for meanings in some of the teens' own dreams. For our evening meditation last night, we read Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue, and then explored how the images in it may relate to our own growth and experience as human beings. I would like to do that with you this morning as well. But first, it might be helpful to look briefly at dreams and where they come from. This may help you to find some meanings in your own dreams.

Dreams, Swedenborg says, are not just a random mixture of unrelated events and images from our everyday lives. Though they do draw on our experiences, they are actually spiritual movies that tell stories about what is going on inside us, and in our relationships with our family and friends. The meaning and flow of our dreams may not be clear to us. But Swedenborg says that when he was in the spiritual world, and told some of his dreams to the spirits and angels who were with him at the time, they said that his dreams expressed in images exactly what they had been discussing among themselves. And since the angels and spirits with us are ones who are similar to us in the way they think and feel, that means that our dreams express something about our own thoughts and feelings.

How can the often strange and seemingly disjointed images and events in our dreams express our thoughts and feelings? If we are flying, or running away from a monster, or lying on a warm beach, what does that have to do with our thoughts and feelings? The answer lies in Swedenborg's idea of correspondences. Those of us who grew up in Swedenborgian Sunday Schools learned that correspondences are like a symbolic language that we can use to interpret the stories of the Bible and find deeper meanings that relate to our own spiritual growth. Water, we learned, corresponds to truth; the sun corresponds to the Lord's love and wisdom; light corresponds to understanding, a sheep corresponds to innocence; and so on.

But correspondences are much more than symbols. Correspondences are a living relationship between God and creation, and between spiritual and material things. We experience this relationship every day, whether we realize it or not. Every time we hug someone we love, we are expressing a correspondence. Our love for that person is expressed through our body as we put our arms around him or her. On the other hand, if we get angry at someone and yell at them, or worse yet, hit them, our anger is given a corresponding physical form in the damaging words or the slap whose pain the other person feels in his or her body. These are genuine correspondences, because they express physically what is in our hearts and minds. If we think about it deeply, we will find that every single thing we do, moment by moment, day in and day out, expresses something about the thoughts and feelings inside us.

This is also the language in which the Bible is written. And everything Swedenborg says about finding spiritual meanings within the Bible works with our dreams as well. For example, Swedenborg tells us that some things in the Bible have universal meanings. For example, everyone on earth experiences the sun as the primary source and sustainer of life--and the sun corresponds to God's love and wisdom sustaining our life spiritually. But other things in the Bible have meanings based on the cultures through which the Bible was written. In Biblical times, swords were a soldier's primary weapon. Because of this, a sword came to mean God's truth fighting against falsity--or falsity fighting against truth. Today, we rarely see swords outside of museums and movies. If the Bible were written today, we would read of guns instead of swords, and they would carry the meaning of truth or falsity fighting.

Just as there are both universal and culturally-derived meanings in the Bible, some of the images in our dreams have meanings that are similar for everyone, while other things in our dreams have meanings that are special to us--such as the feelings that come from eating those wonderful cookies that only our grandmother could make.

There are many more things we could say about dreams and their interpretation. But instead of talking theory, let's take a closer look at Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and see how it might relate to us. In the Bible story, after the part we read, Daniel interprets the dream as relating to several successive kingdoms in Babylon, starting with Nebuchadnezzar's own kingdom. Swedenborg interprets it, not as literal kingdoms, but as the great spiritual ages of humankind. The connection with the mythological Golden and Silver Ages, and the not so mythological Bronze and Iron Ages, makes this interpretation easy to see.

This morning, though, let's look at how this dream might relate to the "ages" of our own lives--since that is where it becomes most personal to us. For our purposes, we will assume that the statue represents the various stages of our individual lives.

First, we notice that the statue was enormous, dazzling, awesome. Most of us think we have rather ordinary lives. But for us even to blink our eyes, various neurons must fire in our brain sending a precise electrochemical signal to certain muscles controlling our eyelids, causing those muscles to contract--a process that is a wonder in itself. If just blinking our eyes is so amazing, think how amazing it is that we can live a whole life full of thinking, feeling, and acting in so many different ways! Our very existence is an ongoing miracle.

As we focus in on the statue, we notice that the head is made of gold. Gold is the metal of love. When we started out in life, we were in what we could call our "Golden Age." As infants we lived in simple, unconscious, uncomplicated trust in our parents and other caregivers. We simply assumed that our needs would be taken care of--and they were. Though our lives were not perfect even then, we were loved and cared for through the times we cried and the times we smiled. We lived in a state of almost pure feeling. A golden time.

As we became toddlers, a more distinct consciousness began to dawn, and we started exploring the world around us. Silver is a metal of thinking and learning. At this stage of life, we spend our days learning in wonder about all the little miracles around us--that every time we drop something, it falls to the ground; that a ball will roll if we push it, but a block will not; that if we make a big mess, mommy and daddy will not be very happy about it! Our minds were engaged in exploring and mastering the world around us--a silver age.

Before long, we started off to school, and a whole new set of realities took over. We probably enjoyed our teachers and friends in school. We were no longer simply exploring; we began to build relationships--best friends and favorite aunts and uncles. We enjoyed what our bodies could do--ride a bike, play ball, sing, laugh at a joke. We were making our way into this new world of physical and human reality around us, experiencing both the good and the bad it has to offer. The gold of unconditional love and the silver of pure exploration have now turned into the bronze simple, natural goodness--good friends, growing physical and mental abilities, and simple daily tasks and activities.

As the years of our childhood passed, we moved toward a new phase of our lives. More and more, as we reached the upper grades of school and then took our first steps into the working world, we experienced life as a series of obligations and responsibilities. We had homework to do. We had to get a job, first as a teenager to supply ourselves with some of the things our parents couldn't seem to (or didn't want to) afford, and then, as a young adult, to keep a roof over our head and food in our stomachs. We had moved far from the silver and bronze times of childhood, when we could spend much of our days playing and doing what we wanted. Now life required discipline; we felt the iron rod of physical necessities pressing our life towards activities that we might not have chosen to do otherwise.

This stage of living in response to the necessities of life can continue for a long time. Some people spend the rest of their lives simply working to get by, and gaining what pleasure they can in their spare time. We all make the spiritual journey from golden to silver, and then from bronze to iron. But not all of us make the journey back upwards. That journey happens only when we consciously decide to make more out of our lives than simply satisfying physical wants and engaging in physical and social pleasures.

Often, we make that decision at a time in our lives that is described by the iron mixed with clay which formed the feet of Nebuchadnezzar's statue. As our adulthood wears on, the iron of physical necessity can become increasingly burdensome as we feel the tension between what we must do day after day--represented the iron--and what we want to do with the remaining time in our lives--represented by the clay. And just as clay is not the finest of materials compared to gold or silver, by the time we hit mid-life, our wants are often not the high aspirations of youth . . . a couple weeks to get away from it all would suit us just fine!

If we are on a spiritual path, though, the tension builds between simply getting along in life, and following those deeper impulses that keep welling up inside us. There is a hard, unyielding fact--a "rock" of spiritual truth within us that will make itself heard. And that rock has something to do with our knowledge that we are not living up to our full potential as human beings--that God has made us for something much greater than simply working for a living in order to satisfy the physical needs of ourselves and our families.

Throughout all our years, we carry within ourselves something of the early gold and silver from which we started. We carry deep within our hearts a sense of God's unconditional love surrounding us and sustaining us. And we carry deep within our minds a sense of the deeper wonders of life, if our eyes were only open to see them.

And so the stone of spiritual insight smashes to pieces the attitudes and the life that we have built up. Our old life must pass, because the Lord has a new life in store for us. That spiritual insight within us--which never died throughout all our life's experience--is telling us that there is, indeed, much more to life. It is telling us that life is not just about working and playing, eating and sleeping. Life, we discover, is really about loving and learning, about caring for others and following the Lord.

When we have passed through the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, and that confusing, disheartening mixture of iron and clay, then we may at last be ready for the Lord to set up a new kingdom in our hearts, minds, and lives--a kingdom of love, wisdom, and service that will last forever. Then our youthful dreams of glory can finally become a living reality in a deeper and more subtle way than we ever expected. For now, like the rock that smashed the statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the kingdom of God grows into a huge mountain within us, filling our entire life with the Lord's loving and wise presence. Amen.

Music: Dream Chaser
İNight Angel