Wednesday, August 10, 2011

DREAM: EAST SIDE SQUARE..januray2, 2011

There was a large plain concrete square building structure. It was one story tall and half a city block on each outer side. Most of the inside was open, an empty square within the larger square. From the inner square each side of the structure consisted of rooms and offices, between the two concentric squares, for various human purposes. The East side of the inner square was one large room. There were no regular doors but a hanging rubber like curtain with open places where one could enter the large room running the full length of the East side of the structure. The weather was dark and drizzly. I was on a chaplain kind of night work shift. I was told to make my quarters, including sleeping, in the East Room. It seemed uncomfortable to me, cold and no privacy. But I assumed I could manage to make it work for what I was there for.

REFLECTION: I don’t feel like thinking about this dream image. An item that strikes me as centrally important is the 'square within a square.' A square is a symbol of wholeness(spiritually and psychologically) and maturity and 'square within a square' emphasizes that even more. Yet the center is open, empty, not yet filled and finished. There is still much needed to bring this potential 'mandala' to completion. This picture is plain, earthy, cold and wet. These are the 'opposite' of beauty, heavenly, warm and dry, those things that our culture considers as more positive. My Western ego consciousness is understandably not comfortable with any of this. And being asked to dwell, even sleep, on the EAST side does not agree with my Western Christian  psyche. I saw it as cold, not private or personal enough and it was more susceptible to the elements. In a sense it seemed unsafe to me. It reminded me or made me think of a place where Eastern terrorists might be more at home. And a place where people are generally too different to fully appreciate or genuinely feel a love attraction for them. This on the surface is a very secular environment of concrete business operations and bad weather. Yet it is a 'square within a square' which is a highly spiritual image and I am there to do the spiritual work of a chaplain. A chaplain does not represent a 'one and only faith' of any particular orthodoxy. She will be of a particular faith but she equally values other faiths for they belong to the people she serves. A chaplain must learn to meet people where they are and help them use their own personal spiritual resources and faith, and to not attempt to evangelize or proselytize people to his/her own faith. Every approach to worthy chaplaincy that I am aware of has to work on this issue and many a pastor has had trouble getting free enough to provide this kind of eclectic service to a diverse population of 'other faiths' and 'no faith.'

The East versus The West is a primary image by which our culture sees and experiences the world. Until recent decades The East has been clearly the 'other' compared to us. We have tended to see it as Old, superstitious, dark and the home of wrong God religions and of world wide terrorists. The dream image captures this Western negative 'feeling' about the East. The dream challenges us to look for something far more positive and meaningful in this, from our Western Ego perspective' unattractive situation. My Western consciousness needs to know that 'work' needs to be done in this strange and 'other' kind of place. I can use this image as a way to 'see' my challenge. Perhaps others who share the Western perspective need to be reminded that the East has always meant where the 'sun rises' from and where every 'new day' comes. We should also remember that the stories we have made ours i.e. the Hebrew and Christian stories came from this dark and other place and from people of dark skin and strange languages. It as if Western civilization and religion eagerly lifted the cream generated by the East and Westernized it but have rejected the people and cultures who gave it birth in the first place. The present day 'troubles' in the East are now our troubles also. And the solutions to those troubles, including the anger present there and the recruiting to terrorism, lie in our coming to a genuinely renewed value of this part of world and to the diverse cultures it has produced.

The dream challenges us to see such places (The 'East' as described in the dream image exists everywhere and in every institution and community) are where we need to practice our 'chaplaincy' spirit that values everything and everyone. The etymology of 'Chaplain' or 'chapel' may come from a fourth century Christian story of St. Martin. He began as a compassionate pagan soldier who cut his cloak in half to cover a beggar. That night he visioned Christ wearing the half coat thus making the half coat a sacred symbol. The dreamer was converted to such a Christ. The torn coat became a sacred relic that was taken into battle by Christian armies. A clergy person was assigned to go with the coat and remind all of its meaning. This person was named what has now become our 'chaplain.' The same word later was used to describe a smaller church outside or behind the larger church , a church for the unchurched or a 'chapel.' The dream is stressing that this spirit of the care and respect of souls, ideas, cultures that are 'different' is an essential attitude for our day that Western people need to grow for the sake of the whole world.

In the places I have lived the 'East Side' has been the place of the 'others', many times the more poor and ethnic minorities. This was true in Florence, AL and is so in Springfield, IL. It may be that most American cities began more Eastward , then spread to the West which came to be seen as new, fresh and desirable. Then the place of origins, the East, is looked on as undesirable, backward and the East gradually becomes often literally, unknown and disconnected, and under valued to the New West. This imagery is of course true of the Eastern and Western hemispheres of our planet. The dream brings the challenge of 'bringing back' together these halves, that have always been parts of a whole, that have become so separate, so different, so polarized , so 'other' to each other. The spirit of the Chaplain is needed to do this work so that the 'center' of the potential 'mandala of wholeness (shown as a mandala in the rough) and health' can can be filled in and completed, symbolizing a new day, a new world, a 'new creation.' Our Western attitude cannot afford to keep believing like children that ' East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.' Like it or not they have met and this meeting brings the highest , most demanding spiritual challenge of our day.

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