Most of my dreams are wisps of vapor that are gone before I wake to consciousness. If I remember anything at all, it is usually some strange place or wild brew of events from the storehouses of imagination. Sometimes enough of my will is awake to bend the dreamscape according to my desires.
But tonight (look at the time stamp on this post) was one of those rare differences. It started out like any other dream, some dim reflection of remembered or imagined life. It must have been college days, for those were the dream figures that walked about me most prominently. I was changing apartments and was considering doing so with an old friend, moving our tawdry collection of things from one slovenly, thin-carpeted abode to another. I had returned, alone, to our apartment to begin collecting things.
I say that I was alone, for the casual conversation usual to these sorts of dreams was absent. I was alone, but he was there with me.
his presence did not seem odd at first, like he sort of belonged there along with the shabby silverware, mismatched furniture, and worn cabinetry. But slowly I came to realize that this was no ordinary dream and dread oozed in like a low cold fog.
Nightmares begin most often as ordinary dreams, but at one point there is a crossing over, a portal through which the events or people pass, and slowly, imperceptibly at first, I begin to realize that the dream has changed. It no longer wells up from fertile imagination, but arrives from somewhere else.
And this other source always brings dread. It comes at some turn of events, some passage through a hall or a door or a normal-seeming turn in the road. One or more of the phantoms that accompany me in the realms of dream, whose faces are ordinary painted with those with whom I am familiar, suddenly changes and becomes terrible in some imperceptible way.
But worst of all, nightmares are always a struggle. Your will awakens in a way it does not in other dreams and it finds itself powerless against this other source. You see a light switch, and your will, out of fear, drives you to turn it on. And though your imagination says that a light switch turned on ought to bathe the room in light, the other source knows differently. It humiliates you, and fear increases as the darkness deepens with a flick of the switch.
It was just this way tonight.
he was there with me, and I didn't notice him as odd at first. I chatted with him about the move and he seemed to help, picking through my things, helping me decide which things should stay and which should go. And then the moments' imperception faded into realization and then horror. I knew this one, and he was no ordinary dream phantom.
What makes him different is that he is something utterly other, beyond the ebb and wake of my desires that change everything else in dreamscape. Just as dream phantoms reveal themselves to be just that when their faces change to suit the whim of the moment, so he is revealed to be something other, for my will in dreams does not affect him. That is what makes it nightmare.
his will comes and I know he means me nothing but pain. I press back but to no avail. The apartment takes on a horrible aspect and now it seems to follow not my own imagination but his, darkening, becoming filled with new objects, profane and desolate.
his face had been like other dream phantoms at first, indistinct and impossible to remember. As soon as I recognized him, he was challenging me, mocking me with my own words repeated, questioning me in their echoes that struck the cords of my soul. My own words in his mouth, merely repeated, were accusations true and terrible. At such confrontation, horror swirled about in the dream. The light became dimmer, and dimmer still, and the air thicker. his actions began to mock mine, repeated precisely, and mirrored in his frame they too were terrible accusations.
And then the worst of it. As he mocked and imitated my every move, his face changed to mine. Just as in those moments when you stare at your face too long in a mirror and begin to fear your own eyes, my face hung on him as a gruesome reflection.
At this last blasphemy I attacked him with all the strength my dream self could muster, but he mocked my violence as easily as the rest, each motion of my fists thrown back in my face, each landing limply on my own body as they had on his.
As my desperation rose, so did his condescension and loathing. The shabby apartment room was steeped in it. I pressed harder and harder to the attack, throwing anything within reach at the horrible apparition that wore my face, and with each moment I grew wilder and more desperate, my full waking will arising to the challenge of expunging this beast from my dreamscape.
I knew now what was happening and the dreamscape slowly began receding, and this also is why I call this a nightmare. While the rest of the dreamscape began evaporating, he did not. his face ceased to be mine now as he walked for the wavering, flickering door that was once the entrance to my apartment. I caught a glimpse of it as he turned to look at me, white-faced, grimacing, an eternal seething mass of inhuman teeth and hair. From all around me his voice seemed to come from the world itself, this time not my words but his own, "you bear my image..."
Oh please, no.
It was more than I could bear. As the apparition passed the fading door for other worlds, I fell to my knees sobbing. With the voice of a terrified child, I feebly cried out, "Yes, but I bear HIS image too."
The words rung out through the dreamscape like a peal of thunder and somewhere beyond the door, I knew his face, for the first time, winced. And he was gone. At last I stirred from my sleep, released from the prison of my nightmare, and there in my mind hung that last exchange, burned into my mind as if it were not a dream at all.
Waking from that dream was like breaking free from a prison. My consciousness returned to me as if it had been submerged in water and only now had snapped some tether of the deep that held it fast. Melissa had heard my last words, for I had uttered them aloud.
To awake was nearly as terrible as the dream itself, for its meaning was immediately obvious to me.
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:27-31
The enemy cannot mimic the actions of God. he cannot turn the other cheek if someone were to strike it, because his pride will not permit it. he must return the blow, he must seek revenge, he must right the wrong. he cannot give freely in such a way that he himself is only hurt and the other is only helped. he cannot do to others what he would have done to himself, because he desires nothing more than the worship of every creature and he will not bow (willingly) to anyone.
As a Christian, my highest purpose is to reflect the words, actions, and thoughts of the One who lifted me out of a life of corruption, cleaned me up, and offered me a place in His loving family. God kicked open the door of this world and began decisively to end the rule of pain and death when Christ died on the cross and then was raised to new life. It is in the reflection of these things that I participate in the work that God began at the cross. If, through God's strength, I can lay down my own needs and desires for others, if I can give of the life God gives me every moment for the sake of others, then I reflect His image and His alone.
At yet the dream is true. The accusations are true. The enemy, satan (which means "accuser") need only imitate my own words and actions to accuse me of sin. he need not invent any deceptions to do so. But even so, even while I continue to bear the sin nature until it is taken away by Christ forever, I still yet bear HIS image. There is a part of me, constantly being made new through my life in Christ, which is capable of reflecting His image. In that day when I stand before God and satan brings forth accusations of what I did and what I failed to do in this life, Christ will speak for me, having taken my punishment upon Himself at the cross and having taken from satan all his authority to accuse. And His life, which began in me here on earth, will blossom so that I will reflect His image, and His alone, forever.