Reflections on a dream

June 7, 2024 in Uncategorized

BILL TONER SJ :: A few nights before I was due to go on an organized retreat with forty of my Jesuit brethren (not a common event in my case!), I had a rather vivid dream. In one scene, I entered a tearoom in the retreat house where three of the Jesuits I know very well were gathered for the retreat. They smiled warmly and one of them asked, “And who are you?” I replied, “Bill Toner”. And the questioner replied, “You are not Bill Toner!” In the manner of dreams, I continued to wander around the retreat house, but it was clear that I was not known to any of the Jesuits gathered there. For some reason I then found myself looking into a mirror, and discovered that my face was covered in a thick white lather, as if I had been interrupted in the middle of shaving, and I would have been unrecognizable except perhaps to God. I then wiped off the lather, and walked back into the kitchen, and the three colleagues immediately said, “Bill, great to see you back!”. In an earlier part of the dream, I had been in a city in Spain for some reason, where, incidentally I, had got lost, so (in that half-world between dreaming and waking) I took it that my colleagues were welcoming me home from a holiday.

Of course, as soon as I awoke fully, I began to analyse the dream in all kinds of ways. My first reaction was to think that my Jesuit life had deteriorated to such an extent that when I turned up for the retreat some of my more zealous colleagues were welcoming me back into the fold, though only after I had wiped clean my soul (rather than my face), which was disfigured by some unacknowledged blemish.

Then, I began to recollect recent events that might have triggered events in the dream. I had recently attended an event in our nursing home where we were all asked to wear Covid masks, and where I warmly greeted a man who turned out to be someone else! And I had also just seen the film That They May Face the Rising Sun, where on Christmas morning the character Billy shaves his hairy face carefully in white foam so that only his eyes are showing.

When I related the dream to a colleague, who knows more about the psychology of dreams than I do, she wondered if the start of the dream might relate to what Carl Jung would call my persona, the social face that an individual presents to the world. Jung describes it as a kind of mask which a person adopts to make an impression on others and which can conceal their true nature. So, plenty of room for reflection there!

I had also recently written a short piece for the Messenger, ‘Meetings with Jesus’, which focused on the words about the disciples who encountered Jesus after his Resurrection, “their eyes were held so that they did not know him”. I wondered then if that was what the dream was about. The point of the piece I wrote was that it is possible to overcome to some extent the dislike or revulsion we sometimes feel for people, by thinking of the words of Jesus: “as long as you did it to one of these least of my brethren you did it to me”. If we try to see Jesus in everyone, all of us being in fact part of the same mystical body of Jesus, we may be ready to go easier on them.

Of course, I preferred this interpretation of the dream to some of the others! Like so many things in life, we tend to think of dreams as being “about me”, but perhaps insofar as dreams have any meaning or application, they could have a wider scope. Perhaps the point of the dream was that my colleagues did not recognize Jesus in me, just as I, sometimes, do not recognize Jesus in them. When we read in the scriptures that we are all God’s works of art we must include ourselves as well as others.