On Joseph’s Dream

Sunday’s Gospel: Joseph’s Dream
see http://www.edgeofenclosure.org

How do you know when to listen to your dreams? When are your dreams truthful and when are they simply ridiculous? When does the trickster or the devil or your own malformed desires undermine your journey toward the good and lovely? How soon after falling through a trapdoor into a wider consciousness can you scramble to your feet, find your balance and head in the right direction?

Unknown German Master, c. 1250, detail

How did Joseph know to turn aside from righteousness as he knew it, to follow a dark, non-rational,  alternative righteousness? Something in his life must have prepared him to pay attention to that particular dream that night: do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Such a statement can make perfect sense in the context of a dream. But not upon waking. What is more likely, really, that Mary experienced sexual relations (welcome or unwelcome) OR that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit? But the messenger in the dream sweetens the message with a scripture passage familiar to the dreamer: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Joseph, like his ancestor Joseph the son of Jacob, must have trusted his dreams. But even more than his dreams, in order to embrace Mary’s unusual pregnancy Joseph must have trusted the voice of God in the thread of narrative tales of reversals of power, the message of the prophets, and the psalms:

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea,
and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. -Psalm 146:5-9

A poor man working as an artisan (probably building for the Roman oppressors) Joseph drew hope from these texts, this promise, this dream of all dreams. What righteous dreamer upon waking would not lay down his prejudices for such a dream?

Give us your dream, O Holy One.
Guide us and give us
courage, like Joseph,
to live
toward Your dream’s fulfillment.

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