01 Feb Highway of Dreams
Last weekend I dreamed I was driving along a highway in the middle of the ocean. I drove at a steady speed of 45 mph, watching the unchanging road ahead of me as it disappeared toward the horizon. I continued driving for what seemed like an indeterminate period of time. Road lamps, left and right, counted themselves off, and as each one disappeared behind me, one after another, their passing had a hypnotic effect. After a while, time seemed to pass by as well, as if it were being stretched out on the road itself.
Above the horizon was a vast sky, shading to blue, with a sheet of white cloud partly drawn across it. The late afternoon light was muted, and the sea was a deep and impenetrable blue green. As I drove along, my thoughts drifted and I began to feel a sense of calm, or peace, descend upon me, as I watched the road roll over the ocean. This peace was like an emptiness, without an object or thought at the center of it. It occurred to me that my dream-like surroundings were having a soothing effect, and I entered happily into a state of other-worldliness.
As you may have guessed, my dream was no dream at all, but a real life experience of crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a nearly eighteen mile long stretch of bridge and tunnel between Southeastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsular. My wife and I were returning from a couple of days’ break in Colonial Williamsburg which, by the way, also has a dream like quality.
What lulled me into this reverie? A combination of factors probably: moving along at the same speed, the absence of other traffic, being surrounded by water, and the improbable length of the bridge-tunnel. But there was something else happening which is hard for me to pin down exactly. In religious terms, we like to say that the Spirit fills the world, but this was the opposite: it was a feeling of not being filled, of emptiness, absence, but not in a way that felt wrong or problematic.
Perhaps it’s easier to say that God is lurking in the empty spaces. Maybe. If I can relate this experience to anything, it is to the practice of Christian Meditation, where you repeat a phrase or mantra for 25 minutes. Usually in this practice nothing much seems to happen, (which is intentional), but from time to time you enter a kind of stillness, which is really a blessed emptiness. This experience may be familiar to Buddhists, but Christians encounter it less often, perhaps because of our preference for a rational, practical Christianity.
There are many roads to understanding, and last Sunday I happened to find myself on one, both literally and figuratively. Later I reflected on the importance of being open to different experiences. Such experiences can often come out of the blue, and they remind us that reality, or at least our perception of it, is less certain than we think. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if it is God’s way of drawing us more closely into the abiding mystery of his creation.
With every blessing on your journey