Dreams and Dragons

 

Headlines daily declare man’s beastly behavior. Here are just a few of today’s headlines:

From the AP: “Indictment: Woman poured toilet water in roommate’s drink”

From ABC News: “Husband who had blamed cold medicine pleads guilty to killing his wife, stabbing her 123 times”

From Chicago Sun Times: “Saturday shootings kill 2-year-old boy, wound 8 other people”

And, “Man, 36, shot during argument in South Austin”

And, “2-year-old toddler dead, 18-year-old wounded in Hermosa shooting”

 

Going back in history, a Babylonian Times headline might have read:

“King Nebuchadnezzar Loses Mind, Lives with Beasts of the Field”

King lives like wild animals, eats grass like the ox

Nebuchadnezzar – William Blake

 

We read in Daniel chapter 4 of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and of Daniel’s God-revealed interpretation of the dream. We find out that the king, depicted as an enormous tree in the dream, has grown in pride and presumption and power over many. He will be cut down. We further learn that the king will become beast-like until he acknowledges God as sovereign. Those who walk in pride God is able to humble (Daniel 4:37).

In Daniel 7 we read of Daniel’s dream. In his vision he sees four great beasts. Daniel is able to describe them in detail. There are disturbing images of the earth’s rulers as terrifying unearthly monsters. These beasts rule over four kingdoms.

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

Daniel goes on to describe a protruding animal-like horn: “This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.” He then describes heaven’s court room where thrones are set up and books are opened and where the Ancient of Day presides. And where a human figure comes into the vision:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7: 13-14 (emphasis mine)

Take note. A “son of man” designation is another way of saying a human. Ezekiel the prophet used this form of address (93 times) to remind Israel of their place: that they are not God but mere humans accountable to God.

In apocalyptic literature, Daniel is called a son of man, a human, in chapter 8 vs.15-17.

While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man.
And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.”
As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.”

Where am I going with all this talk of beasts and kings and kingdoms and humans? To stop the presses. This will require an explanation.

The “Son of Man” title is used by Jesus throughout the Gospels. Mark records the title 12 times in his account. What we are to understand when Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man? That Jesus represents the human that God intended when he created the universe.

To clarify his ministry of redeeming fallen and often beastly humanity, Jesus, the Real Human, talked about servanthood and sacrifice and about his relationship with the Father. He talked about justice, and about the means to nourish the true human in each of us: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

 “…and just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

And He said to him [Nathanael], “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:51

“For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Matthew 24:27

So, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. John 6:53

You see, only a True Human – the Son of Man and Last Adam – who has been given all authority in heaven and earth, can redeem and restore humanity from its “red in tooth and claw” ways and from its beastly rulers. And, that reminds me.

C.S. Lewis, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, describes the agonizing redemption process the boy Eustace Clarence Scrubb goes through after Eustace became less than human. Eustace was selfish, whiny and cruel. Such a boy had turned into a beast – a dragon.

With Eustace’s permission, the lion Aslan claws off Eustace’s think scaly dragon skin until Eustace’s humanness is uncovered. The de-scaling has left Eustace raw and in a lot of pain. Aslan provides him a cool bath to recover in.

You see, being Son of Man human is the destiny of the sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve. We will be like him when we see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. Revelation. 1:12

 

Roll the presses: “Dragon Skin Found Among the Ruins”

Unwrapping Up

This past year has been an incredibly agonizing one for me due to unexpected family events and the subsequent heartrending trauma that accompanies such a trajectory.  At the same time, though, I’ve become increasingly aware of a fundamental shift going on in my own nature – the shedding of my flimsy oft pretentious human nature to reveal Substantial Reality.  The nexus between these two versions of my person has been continued prayer for others and a regular partaking of the Eucharist.

 The whole divestment process has not been easy. In fact, it has been acutely painful, its unpleasantness much like what Eustace described to Edmund in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawntreader.  Here Eustace relates his dragon skin being torn off by Aslan.

 “The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, however many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.

After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”

Here’s what is being peeled away from me (not for the queasy!):

 – A sentimentality of the kind that keeps my soul inbred, subservient to its self-rationalizing self-pity.

 – The desire to control a situation or someone to obtain a pleasant outcome, to soften reality’s blow and effectively deny its painful truth. 

 – Pretense.

 – The need to look good so as to impress others with my abilities, the need to compete for another’s attention hoping to gain the pride of place.

 – The impulse to take action when waiting would be the most prudent – not easy, but prudent.

– The lack of acceptance at face-value of knowledge presented as feminine – intuitive, passive, receptive.

 – The lack of acceptance of wisdom as a gift from God and therefore not derived as a human accomplishment.

The list, the shedding, goes on…

 As this painful process continues I am beginning to see my Real self emerging. This in turn has invoked in me a need to return to my baptismal vows and to those baptismal waters that I at one time had thought only help serve to moisten and seal the earnest of one’s inheritance in Christ.  Little attention did I pay to my rapidly developing dragon skin. 

 Today, by fire and trial and Aslan’s claws, I am being freed of the hardened outer layer of self-protection and I am submersing myself in the waters of my baptism.  In doing so, I, the vulnerable suppliant I, has become alive to the REAL – the “perfectly delicious” Real.

 This peeling away is all about knowing Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. That is True Reality.