In my dream, I was standing on the sidelines, in a crowd, watching. I was just one of many in the Bible-story-esque throng, looking on, sandy dirt under my feet, nose assaulted by smells of camel and crowded sweaty bodies, eyes looking ahead in rapt attention.
The man performed in front of us all, his body glistening like a famed gladiator or a modern-day bodybuilder, muscles rippling.
He lifted the huge weights, sweat dripping over the rounded rock-solid curves of his arms and chest, over his blond crew cut, his chiseled facial features. And as he brought the heavy iron up and down, he grunted out authoritatively, “Faith.”
The heavy iron went back down, only for a moment, and then again he forced it back up. “Faith,” he spoke each time he lifted as the crowd swooned in admiration. My own heart swelled. I couldn’t help it. Surely this was true faith in action. He repeated the word over and over again, his godlike body working like a fine machine, as we watched and worshiped. (If we ourselves couldn’t have faith like that, at least we could be so blessed as to watch his.)
“Faith. Faith. Faith.”
The word came out in a steady rhythm as he kept the time with his lifts. He was a thing of beauty, a being of power, and watching him was a delight.
That was the faith I wanted, the faith I sought after, a young woman steeped in Bible college classes, sermons, theologians and saints, given to personal devotion. I spent a minimum of an hour each day reading my Bible, studying, underlining and highlighting and making side-notes in the margins until the pages were multicolored. A Strong’s Concordance was almost always nearby, usually a couple of commentaries, too. I even fasted one day a week, specifically to deepen my reading, thinking that if I abstained from food, my spirit would be given deeper insight into the message of the pages.
It wasn’t long before many of the words, the verses, the chapters were memorized simply from reading them so often, from my heart and mind turning each word over and over. After a couple years, the worn leather cover of my Bible was falling apart from use. My hands and some tape brought the cover back together. I would have sooner parted with all of my money than to part with that book, it had so become a part of me.
And I wanted that kind of faith, the faith of the man in my dream. It was what I often saw in the waking world, that kind of faith, lauded from the pulpit, practiced most by the ones we were taught to look up to. All our revered leaders, favorite authors, and church movers and shakers often had that kind of faith. That’s why we followed them, that’s why we admired them.
Faith was strength, true strength. Faith was powerful. Faith could lift heavy things and do it, over and over again. Faith brought the crowds together. Faith let them see and feel and want it themselves. True faith in action was evangelism at its finest, for who in that throng of people did not wish they were the thickly muscled man? Lifting the iron, walking–no, prancing–around in a circle so that all could see him from every angle, he was the real deal.
Watching the man, I knew I was in a dream, and I knew that I was being taught something. Nodding my head, I made a mental note to pay attention. The Spirit was speaking though this dream, that was clear. I just knew that my new-found zealousness, my return to the faith of my childhood, was all for this, was all intended to result in something like this.
My “faith-muscles” should be honed–God was telling me through this dream–honed into shape. My “spiritual body” should be developed so that I, too, could drip with sweat as I lifted–so that I, too, could use my faith to draw in onlookers, and so that I, too, could impress and awe and shine for God. Dream interpretation was easy when the meaning was as obvious as this.
And then my dream suddenly changed.
I was still in the throng, but the entire mood had now shifted. Instead of looking on in admiration, the crowds were jeering. The ugly mood was almost tangible, scowls and derision covering the faces, the little man paraded in front of us being the last thing any of us wanted to be.
The thick beam of wood would have been hard for anyone to carry, even the muscle-bound bodybuilder, but this was a thin man and the weight seemed like it would almost pin him to the ground. Somehow, he kept managing to take the next step, even though it looked like it would be his last. Sweat dripped off of him like rain, as every ounce of his physical being straining to bear the load.
As he paused between his short faltering movements forward, the crowd laughed and mocked, throwing refuse and sharp rocks, calling names, making obscene gestures. On the top portion of the wooden beam he struggled to carry, there sat a figure (cloaked in what can only be called…Hatred? Fear?), adding to the weight, grinning, whispering down to the struggling man.
“You can’t do this.”
“You should quit.”
“Why don’t you give up?”
Blood mingled with the sweat, and I realized that the struggling man had been beaten. Badly. Welts and blood and broken skin peeked through the remains of the tattered garment on his back. Every strained step of the thin man was dogged by the whispers, proceeded by the whispers, surrounded by the whispers of the cloaked man, seated comfortably on the top of the beam, legs crossed, obviously enjoying himself.
“What’s the point? Why do you even care? They don’t care.”
“Look around you. Look at you. This is hopeless. “
“You are a joke.”
And that was when I realized that the thin little man was saying something. His plain face, nothing special about it—perhaps even a bit ugly—was all wrinkled up with effort, and somehow, amidst the crowds jeering and the cloaked man’s whispers I had missed the quiet but steady murmur that was coming out from the straining man’s broken teeth, bloodied lips.
I leaned in to try and hear it, and my heart jolted in shock when I finally made it out. With each faltering step—long pauses in between to catch his breath, legs shaking, body drenched, whole being bowed over, crowds pelting him with refuse, cloaked man’s nonstop whispering—yet even still (or because of?), the thin man was saying,
But I didn’t want to be that man. I didn’t want to be him at all. Nothing about him was what I wanted! He was thin, weak, fragile. He was laboring, not in the euphoric joy of weight lifting but in the kind of way that seems almost impossible to go through the pain and the horror of the moment, much less the next moment, and the next one…
The crowds laughed at him, not lauded him. They saw him as someone to mock, someone who was less-than, someone who didn’t count, didn’t matter. They saw him as someone to look at and be glad that at least you weren’t that.
And the man cloaked in hatred, relaxing on the heavy beam, being carried by the straining little man? Nothing the little man could do would provide him with an escape from the incessant whispers. The cloaked man could sit, carried by the strained efforts of shaking sweat-drenched legs, and whisper, and the little man couldn’t do anything but continue to carry him.
He said it confidently, even though he barely had the strength to murmur it out.
But that wasn’t the kind of faith I wanted at all.
I woke up with his quiet ragged voice still ringing in my ears. Quickly, knowing it meant something powerful, I wrote the whole dream down. I even told the dream to others (who were duly impressed). There was obviously a message there, I said, as I pumped my weights up and down for approval.
Only, it would be years before I would begin to truly understand.
image credit: ology.com