In the last year, I’ve encountered half a dozen or more dreams reported by women that all revolve around the same theme. In the dreams, I (as the dreamer) am in a church, trying to perform a ritual, usually communion, and everything is going wrong. The cups are broken or dirty, there isn’t enough wine, I can’t remember the prayers, or I spill on my official robe. Often in these dreams there is a feminine symbol that draws my attention, possibly even distracting me from the ritual I think I’m supposed to be performing.

My projection on these dreams is essentially that I (as the dreamer, and especially as a woman) am trying to fit my spirituality into an old model that no longer works for me. Usually the model is the church of my upbringing, though not always. Sometimes it’s just a generic church, but the rituals are those that would be familiar to people raised in a Christian church. I suspect that there are women around the world dreaming similar dreams about other religious traditions, but I haven’t had the luxury of hearing those reports.

In the dream, the dreamer is trying to lead the ritual. For me this suggests that I am now charged with creating my own rituals, my own spiritual practice. Only through sincere spiritual practice can we hope to lead others, and so in trying to lead a ritual that doesn’t hold a representation of the truth for me, I will inevitably fail in some way. The glasses will be dirty or broken, the communion bread moldy. I will forget the words of the hymn that I’m supposed to lead.

While there is great comfort in communal spiritual practice, and churches provide an important support network for their congregants, the only spiritual path I can really take is a solitary one. If I’m lucky, I’ll find fellow travelers, like-minded people who will understand the journey I’m on and share their own learning with me.  If I’m very, very lucky, those fellow travelers will become like family to me, and our paths will run together for a long time. But at a very important level, the spiritual journey is a solo one. I may have a profound “aha” moment while sitting in church or in dream group, but even if that moment is shared with others, the internal experience of it is mine alone. Just as only the dreamer can say for sure what his or her dream means, so only the spiritual traveler can walk his or her own path.

I think it’s significant that the dream reports of messing up the old rituals have all come from women. Until recently, women were systematically kept out of the ranks of church leadership for generation upon generation. Though that has changed significantly in some churches, it certainly hasn’t in all. I see women realizing that they don’t need to have a priest or pastor approve their spiritual search, but rather than they can seek and find spiritual meaning on their own, and that the face of the divine can be feminine. I see women exploring spiritual questions in art, in writing, in music, in dream groups, in nature, and in the practice of compassion. Perhaps the old rituals have broken down because we need new metaphors for connection with the divine. The dream reports I’ve heard on this theme fill me with hope that we’re taking responsibility for our own spiritual journeys.

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2 thoughts on “Broken Rituals”

  1. Very interesting. I’m thinking of the recent facebook posts of our new assistant minister, a young woman who’s only been on the job a couple of months. She was very nervous about giving her second sermon, but glad she got it written before Saturday so she could enjoy her weekend. And of course she did an amazing job.

    And I’m reminded a bit of the dream I had Friday. It was my annual waiting-to-be executed dream, which I figured out coincided not with going back to work, but with the first snowfall. In my dream, I was living in a village and some terrorists had come into town and lined the women up to be shot with their babies (they were shooting us in the womb, but the babies were in our arms.) I was concerned that I didn’t have a proper headscarf, but another woman loaned me one, a big, beautiful rainbow-colored one. As I was waking up, I wondered whether it would do any good to explain to the gunmen that I already didn’t have a womb. Anyway, that concern about having a headscarf kind of resonated with your post.

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