I have had one dream in my life that was very vivid and has stayed with me. It occurred in 1973 or 1974 and has had a significant place in my thoughts - at least, I have brooded about its meaning on and off for over thirty-five years. When I was on retreat this week-end just past, I meditated on it during prayer. The dream was rather more of a nightmare, and it is with some reluctance that I have decided to try to describe it. Yet I think it possible that, for me, at least, it may shed some light on ... well, you will see what, if any, light comes from it:
Susan and I are walking up a street - an 'avenue', in fact - a road lined with trees on both sides, though not straight - curving uphill. We are, I know with dream knowledge, in Honolulu, on one of those roads up a gorge in the pali behind the city - not the Pali Highway itself, but it is associated with it in my mind. There are large, fairly grand, houses on both sides. It is afternoon - very peaceful, idyllic, a park-like atmosphere - but the light is dim, because of the trees.
It is peaceful, but somehow I myself am a little uneasy. I am unsure what we are doing there, where we are, where we are going.
In dreams, transitions are not always clear - or perhaps, over the years since I dreamt this, I have forgotten - but now we have left the road. We have gone up a drive to one of the mansions. But now we are lost.
Lost, and terrified. Are we separated from one another? I think so. I - or we - are now wandering anxiously in bush. I am very much afraid. There are ... persons, though I am not sure they are human ... out here, living in houses on stilts.
And I know, with dream knowledge, that what we think of as ordered, ordinary life is only an artificially-maintained fiction, a kind of clearing in the midst of chaos - fated ultimately to be engulfed in the un-being of surrounding reality.Told baldly, I am puzzled at the power that dream had on me. I awoke, and was terrified. Is this what life is really like? Are order, meaning, love only stories we tell one another to keep away the surrounding Dark? Susan will remember my talking with her about the dream at some length.
This is the dreadful image of "Professor Weston's" rind in C. S. Lewis's Perelandra:
“It's all true, you know,” he said at last.
“What's all true?” said Ransom.
Suddenly Weston turned on him with a snarl of rage. “It's all very well for you,” he said. “Drowning doesn't hurt and death is bound to come anyway, and all that nonsense. What do you know about death? It's all true, I tell you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I've been stuffing myself up with a lot of nonsense all my life,” said Weston. “Trying to persuade myself that it matters what happens to the human race . . . trying to believe that anything you can do will make the universe bearable. It's all rot, do you see?”
“And something else is truer!”
“Yes,” said Weston, and then was silent for a long time.
“We'd better turn our fishes head on to this,” said Ransom presently, his eyes on the sea, “or we'll be driven apart.” Weston obeyed without seeming to notice what he did, and for a time the two men were riding very slowly side by side. “I'll tell you what's true,” said Weston presently.
“A little child that creeps upstairs when nobody's looking and very slowly turns the handle to take one peep into the room where its grandmother's dead body is laid out - and then runs away and has bad dreams. An enormous grandmother, you understand.”
“What do you mean by saying that's truer?”
“I mean that child knows something about the universe which all science and all religion is trying to hide.” Ransom said nothing.
“Lots of things,” said Weston presently. “Children are afraid to go through a churchyard at night, and the grown-ups tell them not to be silly: but the children know better than the grown-ups. People in Central Africa doing beastly things with masks on in the middle of the night - and missionaries and civil servants say it's all superstition. Well, the blacks know more about the universe than the white people. Dirty priests in back streets in Dublin frightening half-witted children to death with stories about it. You'd say they are unenlightened. They're not: except that they think there is a way of escape. There isn't. That is the real universe, always has been, always will be. That's what it all means.”
“I'm not quite clear--” began Ransom, when Weston interrupted him.
“That's why it's so important to live as long as you can. All the good things are now - a thin little rind of what we call life, put on for show, and then-the real universe forever and ever. To thicken the rind by one centimetre - to live one week, one day, one half hour longer - that's the only thing that matters. Of course you don't know it: but every man who is waiting to be hanged knows it. You say ‘What difference does a short reprieve make?’ What difference!!”
“But nobody need go there,” said Ransom.
“I know that's what you believe,” said Weston. “But you're wrong. It's only a small parcel of civilised people who think that. Humanity as a whole knows better. It knows - Homer knew - that all the dead have sunk down into the inner darkness: under the rind. All witless, all twittering, gibbering, decaying. Bogeymen. Every savage knows that all ghosts hate the living who are still enjoying the rind: just as old women hate girls who still have their good looks. It's quite right to be afraid of the ghosts. You're going to be one all the same.”
“You don't believe in God,” said Ransom.
“Well, now, that's another point,” said Weston. “I've been to church as well as you when I was a boy. There's more sense in parts of the Bible than you religious people know. Doesn't it say He's the God of the living, not of the dead? That's just it. Perhaps your God does exist - but it makes no difference whether He does or not. No, of course you wouldn't see it; but one day you will. I don't think you've got the idea of the rind - the thin outer skin which we call life really clear. Picture the universe as an infinite globe with this very thin crust on the outside. But remember its thickness is a thickness of time. It's about seventy years thick in the best places. We are born on the surface of it and all our lives we are sinking through it. When we've got all the way through then we are what's called Dead: we've got into the dark part inside, the real globe. If your God exists, He's not in the globe - He's outside, like a moon. As we pass into the interior we pass out of His ken. He doesn't follow us in. You would express it by saying He's not in time - which you think comforting! In other words He stays put: out in the light and air, outside. But we are in time. We ‘move with the times’. That is, from His point of view, we move away, into what He regards as nonentity, where He never follows. That is all there is to us, all there ever was. He may be there in what you call ‘Life’, or He may not. What difference does it make? We're not going to be there for long!”Reality is not self-existent. All of reality depends, not only for its origin, but for its every-moment existence, on the will of God. God creates all that is, and He keeps it in being.
He keeps it in being infallibly at the physical level. Quanta do whatever quanta are supposed to do. Gravity gravitates; radiation radiates. Here God is master. It may be, as some have suggested, that He works His mighty work of physical beingness through His countless hosts of angels. Yet, if so, they do their work for Him and - of equal importance to me - for us.
So, also, for biological life, although here - and possibly also even with respect to what we call physical laws - laws of the Law Maker! - it may be that there are effects also of angels - and not all angels are well-intentioned. Certainly the animal world that we see around us is at times horrifying. Some have suggested that devils are at work here, as well.
Man is free.
There is a reality to my dream. Ordered life - peace, tranquillity, benevolence - are not automatically guaranteed by God. He intends us to be free. He intends us to love - to love Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbour as ourself.
We do not. And so to some extent we live in a chaos of un-being that we ourselves have created. Can we look for no help in finding a way out of the wilderness?
I awoke from my dream without the answer, though I was a Christian at the time, but very much a beginner. Had I dreamt on, I might have found, in that wilderness itself, a place where a Tree had been planted. That Tree was not like the lovely shade trees along my avenue. It had a character not, at first sight, very different from the twisted and terrifying growths that surrounded it. And it bore a Fruit - a Fruit which, consumed, brought death - or at least dying - to the eater. But that dying had a strange effect not like other dying. That dying was a dying to the old chaotic self of un-being - and a living to eternal Life.