Dreamwork as a Sacred Practice

Rebecca Hill
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 09/20/2015

From Genesis, the first book of the Torah – Chapter 28, verse 12:  “Jacob dreamed that a ladder was set on the ground with its top reaching to heaven. Angels of God were ascending and descending”. Time period: approx 1400 BCE.

From the Koran - Chapter 12, verse 6 :  "Thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of dreams and perfect His favor on you and on the offspring of Jacob, as He perfected it on your fathers, Abraham and Isaac.” Time period: approx. 600 CE.

I’ll be sharing more examples of dreams from sacred texts in a moment, but given that INVITATION is the theme for our worship services this month, I now invite you to consider dreamwork as a sacred practice.

When asked about personal spiritual practices, many people say that meditation, prayer, sacred reading, the lighting of candles, and communing with nature are the modalities that sustain them.

And yet, have you ever had a dream that felt prophetic or was life-altering in any way? If so, have you considered the source of that powerful dream?  


The Vedas, the oldest texts of Hinduism, written around the same time as the Torah, also speak to the relevance of dreams in a spirit-filled life.  A long chapter on the interpretation of particular types of dreams, with a catalogue of specific images & their significance, is included in the fourth Veda. Thus, while many consider Freud’s famous book: The Interpretation of Dreams-written at the turn of the 20th century-to be the first dream dictionary of sorts, the Hindus preceded him by nearly 3500 years.

From Buddhist texts, we learn that Prince Siddhartha was born following a dream by his mother, in approximately 600 BCE, in which an elephant pierced her side with one of its six tusks. She understood this to mean that she would have a child who would become a monarch and someday rule the world.  Other Buddhist scriptures describe five of the Buddha’s dreams, as well as those of his father and his wife, Gopa.

And then there’s the Koran, where dreams are mentioned not one, not two, but in sixteen different surahs (chapters).  

And I have no doubt that, if asked, many of you could easily come up with a very  important dream or two contained within the New Testament.

And what about the importance of dreams to indigenous cultures around the world? Perhaps some of you are familiar with the Dreamtime of the Aborigines. Closer to home, you can access a NOVA special entitled “What are Dreams?” that contains footage of a contemporary native tribe north of Montreal, the Atikamekh, who are engaged in group dreamwork, a practice essential to their collective spiritual lives.

Is it any coincidence that humans throughout the world, for millennia, have been engaging in dream interpretation?

And why is it that this practice has been nearly lost in our frenzied Western society? 

Have we ‘evolved’ to the point of believing that dreams are useless…mere results of neurons firing off a cascade of neurochemicals as we sleep?

Dozens of sleep labs now exist around the world, mostly in university settings. One of their goals is to investigate the nature of dreams – which stages of sleep they dominate, how many occur per night, what mood states correlate with each stage of sleep, what purpose they appear to serve (eg., learning a new skill).

While all of this is fascinating stuff, as you might imagine, these researchers are hard-pressed to explain the full nature of dreams.  

I’ll give you two examples from my work as an NP (case #1, 2).  And now I ask you:  Do you think that there is a sleep lab in the world that could offer a scientific explanation for such events?

I’m obviously biased based on my professional work and my personal inner work. However, if you still think that dreamwork as a sacred practice is a bit of a stretch, consider the Hayden Institute in NC, one of the premier training sites for dreamwork in the country. Their byline reads: Spiritual Direction & Dream Leader Training in the Jungian Mystical Christian tradition. 

Also - consider the International Asso. for the Study of Dreams, now in its 30th yr, based in Berkeley. Each year they hold a conference attended by several hundred people from around the world, many of them PhD psychologists involved in an array of research studies, all using dreamwork, and designed to help suffering individuals (vets, refugees, childhood trauma survivors – to name a few). Their premise? Using the wisdom contained in dreams for deep healing.  

Here is just a small sample of the workshop offerings from this conference:

Dreaming in the church - Dreaming & mysticism - Dreaming through the lens of Kabbalah - How to use our dreams for spiritual growth - Five things dreams teach us about mindfulness - Using biblical dreams to unlock your nightly dreams

Now…I am fully aware of the hundred forms of distractions and to-do lists in the lives of most Americans. So why take on one more activity, esp. one that involves the sort of attention that dreamwork demands? For this sacred practice does ask  something of the dreamer. It requires a bit of time & focused energy. In my life, however, the riches gained from this discipline have been worthwhile beyond description.

How can attending to our dreams be beneficial? They can:

-provide valuable information (as seen in the examples I’ve given)

-serve as a conduit for visitations from deceased loved ones

-motivate us to make a needed change or to stay with a difficult path

-inspire scientific & artistic creativity – (eg., creation of periodic table, invention of sewing machine, idea for Frankenstein, theory of relativity, etc) 

But perhaps most commonly, they comment on the ‘condition of our condition’..ie, they provide us with the soul’s perspective on life. The Truth.

I was a big dreamer in childhood, and began recording some of my nighttime stories while still in grade school. It took me many years to find my way to a Jungian-oriented therapist in VT, who became my first teacher and mentor.

Later on, I became a member of the Jungian Asso. of Central Ohio while living in Columbus, and found a gifted dreamworker there, who eventually invited me to participate in one of her dream groups. Then, in upstate NY, I formed a women’s dream group, and I continue to work with a Jungian analyst on my personal dreams.

I told you earlier that I’m an ordained Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister…which means that my calling is to minister to those within any faith tradition, while also serving those who lack any faith tradition…which as you probably know, defines most of the millennial generation in this country today. 

My path is not to lead a congregation, but instead, to provide spiritual counseling within a Jungian/sacred dreaming framework.  In answer to this calling, I’ve also started offering weekend dreamwork retreats. I led one a few wks ago in VA for a small group of adults, two of whom claimed they never dreamed. Another reported dreaming vividly, but was attending because her father, long dead, had yet to pay her a visit in her dreams, while her mother, also long dead, stopped in routinely. She wanted a way to access her father’s wisdom from the other side.

On the second morning, after spending the previous day building confidence in their ability to remember their dreams, the two non-dreamers could barely contain themselves, so excited were they to share their dreams. And the other attendee? Yes…her father arrived that night with an important message to share with her.