Only Wonder Comprehends

WHAT DREAMS TELL US ABOUT OURSELVES

From the time of the ancient Greeks, we have been counseled: “Know thyself.” As if we could. And yet we know instinctively that the advice is right. We should know what moves us, what we truly desire, the limits of what we can know, what we really believe and really do not believe, what we are in doubt about, all the bets we are willing to hedge. And even after we have made a thorough inventory of all this, we will have only scratched the surface.

I put the whole sense of self-knowledge in the strange and tangled context of dreaming. Since I was very young I have had vivid and strange dreams, dreams so powerful that I have often wondered which of my memories are true and which come from dreams. In some dreams I remember dreams from other dreams, or seem to, as if I had a separate dream-world self with its own dream life. My dreams involve cities, landscapes, philosophies, religions, people I have never known in my waking life. This world is in some way larger and stranger than the one I inhabit consciously, stranger for obvious reasons (since one person or place so easily morphs into another), and larger because spatial and temporal boundaries are not as confining.

In one dream the moon is covered or replaced by a shining skull. In another, my father and I travel the world, pursuing rumors of a hieroglyph that is somehow vital to the life of the world and appears on walls and cliffs, and we always arrive too late to see it. In another, someone I know, with...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.