Who dreamed a dream?

Step aside, book clubs. Enter: dream clubs.

Kate Murphy recently wrote for The New York Times about the proliferation of dream groups where people gather to discuss their sleep experiences. The story is mostly experience-quote-experience-"expert" opinion, but I was glad she at least mentioned that dreams might be associated with religion.

Over the last five years, classified ads to form or join dream groups have proliferated in alternative newsweeklies and on Web sites like Craigslist and Meetup.com. The groups are social and don't cost anything unless they are led by psychotherapists or a growing number of self-styled shamans, dreamworkers or dream coaches, who charge $15 to $45 a meeting.

There are also an increasing number of church-affiliated dream groups--not surprising, perhaps, given the long association of dreams with religious experience or epiphany. More than 200 church-sponsored dream groups have formed in the United States since 2002, according to the Haden Institute, a Christian organization in Flat Rock, N.C., which, in addition to courses on spirituality, offers dream-group leadership training to clergy and laity.

However, I wish she would have added another sentence or paragraph to explain why dreams are associated with religious experience. There are several instances in the Bible where dreams appear: think Jacob, Pharaoh and Joseph, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, (New Testament) Joseph, the Magi. Dreams and the interpretation of dreams played a large role in often-recounted biblical stories.

What's unclear is whether the religiously-affiliated groups in the Times story are connecting the dreams to religion or spirituality more broadly.

"Telling your dream to a group of people can be very intense experience," said Liz Hill, 55, a technical writer, who, after attending a workshop at the Haden Institute last year, organized a dream group at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, Ohio, where her husband is the minister. "It invites different perspectives, which illuminates aspects of the dream that you might not have thought of on your own."

So are the dreams interpreted at all? Is it mainly for sharing experiences? Are they asked to glean lessons from their dreams?

The story quotes two Unitarian Universalists but no one from another religious group or denomination.

Jeremy Taylor, a former Unitarian Universalist minister who has written several books on how to start and sustain dream groups and has become something of a New Age guru on the subject, said projective dreamwork "takes dream interpretation from a parlor game to an authentic spiritual discipline."

But Tess Castleman, a Jungian analyst in Dallas who has also written guides on facilitating dream groups, said, "Saying something like 'if this were my dream' is just code for 'this is what it means.'" Instead, she advocates that the group ask the dreamer clarifying questions to get the fullest and most detailed account of what happened in the dream and then help the individual find meaning by exploring the symbolic nature of images in the dream.

These paragraphs feel so obvious to me. I would be interested in how some conservative denominations reconcile dreams and interpretations. What kinds of ministers believe God still speaks through dreams? Are there some concerns with dream interpretation?

Most mornings, I wake up and quickly forget the dream I just had. Some have been more vivid, especially when I would study for a test or work on a project for too long. Dreams are fascinating to discuss because they inherently ask you to suspend reality. Unfortunately in this case, this story could have been taken higher.

Please respect our Commenting Policy