Does God Speak To Us In Dreams?

There’s a very good reason why we are often advised to “sleep on it” when faced with a decision. It’s possible to wake up with an entirely different mindset, glad that we didn’t act, as initially planned, since now we have a fresh perspective after a good night’s sleep. Add to the benefit of “sleeping on it” in terms of decision-making, it’s sometimes true that ideas come to us during sleep.  Against this backdrop, then, I found this article in the Scottish Catholic Observer by Father John Bollan very interesting – here’s a short extract, where he speaks of his forthcoming holiday and the need to step back from the noise and the fuss of everyday life. Prayer is, of course, the principal way in which a priest should slough off the cares of life, restoring balance and perspective. Our recently acquired ‘sleeping St Joseph’ statue is a reminder that sleep is also a door, not only to physical refreshment but also to that space wherein God can speak to us in dreams.”

The key question is that contained in the headline: does God speak to us in dreams? Any examples you’d like to share?

Note:  whether or not we agree with this young priest’s comments is not the purpose of this thread. If, like moi, you are green with envy about his holiday destination, having just survived the horrendous snow and ice that hit us in Scotland (and, indeed, across the UK) over the past couple of weeks, say nothing!  As you will see if you read his column, he’s quite stressed out enough without having the Catholic Truth Blogging Experience (CTBE) sometimes doled out, in true charity, of course, to the clergy.  On this occasion, we’re cutting him some slack.  What fascinated me about his column is precisely what is outlined here – the truth that God speaks to us, enlightens us, even as we sleep. Something we’ve never discussed before but which is fascinating… Yes?  No?   

26 responses

      • Editor,
        How to determine if it is a common dream or an inspiration?

        One night, a long time ago in Rome, I dreamt that a prelate, in ceremonial dress (why?), was struggling in a magma and that I could not help him although he begged me to give him something to drink. It was horrifying and I could not go back to sleep…

        Was it a common dream or a sign from heaven? maybe both?

        • Lionel,

          It sounds to me like a dream resulting from all the reading you do about the crisis in the Church, maybe frustration at the “dubia” cardinals for not following through on their promise to publicly correct Papa Francis and your subconscious desire to punish them. I doubt very much that it comes from God!

          Be assured, I will never break a promise to you – never! 😀

          • Editor,
            Although it happened in the 1970s as far as I remember, I think that you are probably right as I was in Rome at that time and we were much arguing on the issue and the subconscious minds were certainly at work…
            It is not obvious to discern what is just a nightmare or an inspiration.
            If it would have been an inspiration let us guess what was the motive? There must have been one which I have not yet clarified…

  1. Yes, definitely God speaks to us in dreams. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up with a completely different take on a problem or an issue and changed my mind about how to deal with it. One example is leaving my job and looking for another. I’ve gone to bed determined to leave my job, ready to start searching for a new job next day and next day waking up deciding just as strongly to stay put! LOL! I can also think of times when I got ideas in the night, but they are connected with my family and job, so not for the blog, sorry! I definitely do believe that something goes on in our hearts and souls during sleep, and I agree that it’s fascinating. I hadn’t known about that Scripture quote from Acts – how amazing.

    • Fidelis,

      All very interesting. I’ve similarly been set on taking a particular course of action, found myself prevented from doing so for a number of practical reasons that day but determined to do so next day. Then, after a night’s sleep. I’ve wakened up relieved that I had NOT taken that course of action – and shelved it. And no, I’m not talking about making an appointment for the dentist!

      As for ideas – I’ve wakened up remembering something I’d forgotten (if you get my drift), and I can truthfully say that the idea for some of our best events began forming during sleep, and were at the forefront of my mind on waking. It’s remarkable.

  2. I think God does communicate to us in dreams, but I also think that the devil does as well. The problem I’ve had is trying to discern which is which, even after I write them down (which I do regularly) and try to analyze them. St. Ignatius’ method of discernment doesn’t seem to work very well, since I’ve often found that dreams which leave me feeling quite elated are in fact tricks of the devil.

    Two examples of dreams I decided were tricks:

    1. About 18 months ago I dreamt that I had fathered another child (that’s the way the dream put it) who grew up to be the Pope who does battle with the anti-Christ, and loses – i.e. is killed. In the dream I was watching the battle and trying supernaturally to help my son (apparently I was already dead).

    What made me suspicious about this from the start, besides the preposterous notion that I would be, in effect, the forerunner of this Pope, was the phrase “fathered another child.” Not “I re-married and had another son,” but “fathered another child,” as if I was some passing soldier who rolled in the hay with a farm girl or something!

    2. Last week I dreamt that I was looking up at the night sky through a sort of picture window, like a space ship window, when all of a sudden the Lord took me up to the edge of the visible universe and showed me the mystical spheres beyond the veil! And then I thanked Him profusely and said I knew it was He who did that.

    This dream was also easy to identify as a trick, since, unlike St. Paul, I am in no way possessed of enough grace and virtue to merit such a gift. I also realized that it was a re-creation of a poster I had when I was in college, known as the “Flammarion woodcut,” which used to mean a lot to me when I was foolishly immersed in new age garbage. Here is the image:

    Those obvious tricks aside, however, I’ve also had numerous pre-cognitive dreams about various mundane events. I did not know that dreams were potentially dangerous until I returned to the Church, but having been trained to write them down and pay attention to them, I find it to be a hard habit to break. So if any of the bloggers have any words of wisdom about this, I am very interested.

      • Petrus,

        I agree 😀

        But, don’t keep us waiting too long – YOUR major decisions and dreams will make rivetting reading. Spill!

        I had no intention of posting cartoons when I launched this thread but I couldn’t resist that one… 😀

        • Editor and Petrus,

          It’s those bits of undigested American beef, I’m sure of it. I certainly wouldn’t be having such dreams after a meal of haggis…..in fact, I probably wouldn’t get any sleep at all….

    • RCA Victor,

      It’s been a while since I laughed so much! You really are a case for the High Court.

      My only disappointment is that you haven’t dreamt about me, but I don’t hold grudges…

      And I couldn’t resist that cartoon either! Will be good from now on, though…

      • Editor,

        I’m reminded of a conversation that took place between two ladies on a bus. One of the ladies was telling her companion about a dream she had the night before. Apparently her phone kept ringing but she couldn’t find the hand set. The phone rang and rang as she franticly searched the house. Eventually she found it but it stopped ringing before she could answer it. Her companion said ‘so you don’t know who it was then’ to which the lady replied ‘no, but they’ll maybe ring back tonight.’

  3. I wouldn’t be too quick to give credence to dreams as either God inspired or devil inspired. The difficulty with dreams is that they are generally ludicrous in nature, pieced together from random memories into a fantastic story that just doesn’t fit with real life events. I feel fairly certain that Almighty God would not make use of such an untrustworthy system to inform us of anything.

    The “dreams” of exceptionally graced individuals referred to in Sacred Scripture probably were not dreams in the way we understand them. We are told, for example, that St. Joseph was told in a dream that the Blessed Virgin was with child by the grace of God. In another dream he was warned of Herod’s plot to kill the Saviour and instructed to take the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child and flea to Egypt. Now St. Joseph was far too level headed a man to have been convinced by dreams that could so easily have been figments of his imagination, so I believe his “dreams” were more tangible and real than anything the average person would experience. There must have been a convincing element that the average dream does not contain, something supernatural and indisputable.

    As regards decision making after a good nights’ sleep, there is a perfectly rational explanation for this. The mind has rested and is refreshed thereby casting fresh light on our deliberations and decisions when we’re tired. It’s common advice from both spiritual and medical experts that we should not attempt problem solving late at night when we are tired as our rationality and mood are adversely affected by tiredness. Things always look brighter in the morning.

    For me, if God wants to enlighten a soul He will do so via a more trustworthy source than dreams.

    • Athanasius,

      I didn’t interpret the verse from Scripture as meaning God, literally, speaks to us in dreams as we know dreams. I don’t interpret AIDS as a “punishment from God” in a literal sense either, but that God allows the natural law to do its work because that’s the way he made us, so he lets us take the consequences of our immoral behaviour (in the case of STDs) and speaks to us, or clears our mind during our sleep – again because of the way he made us. It all boils down to God’s action in our lives, doesn’t usually take an openly miraculous form.

      I’ve actually always thought that was the meaning of the story of the angel speaking to St Joseph in a dream – I took that as the evangelists’ way of explaining that Joseph woke up realising the truth of the matter.

      Long before I read this thread I used to say to friends that I believed it was God clearing my mind when I “slept” on a decision. Remembering some of the choices I’ve made that were wrong, and made when I was wide awake and not tired, then after a sleep, next day seeing clearly that this was the wrong choice, personally, I don’t think that’s a natural phenomenon, but I suppose it’s a matter of opinion.

      • Lily,

        That makes sense. I agree totally about making wrong decisions when wide awake (not tired) and then next morning thinking the opposite, as I’ve had the same experience. It’s a really interesting phenomenon, whether a natural one or more supernatural.

    • Athanasius,

      This priest is saying what you’re saying if you scroll to 3.23 in the video (it’s only about 5 minutes long anyway, the first part is about chapel veils.)

      • Father Mike’s explanation does not explain how someone can wake up with an idea that they didn’t have before. It may have been in the subconscious, but not talked about or been in the mind consciously. I’ve had that experience and I’ve thought it was God at work even when I was sleeping.

        Here’s an example – one time I was very unhappy in my job and was listing ways I could change the situation, discussing it with close friends at work and so on. At no time did I consider leaving the job because I’d been there for a very long time and I actually loved the place, people etc, just a major problem had arisen that was lasting longer that I felt I could endure, but I still did not even think about changing my job. Also, nobody suggested that, so it hadn’t been in my mind at all. The major issue was whether to take some kind of union or legal action.

        Then one morning I woke up feeling clearly in my mind that I just had to apply for another job, and said to friends that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. Most people would probably see that as a natural thing, that the idea must have been festering but I know myself that I never at any time thought of leaving, and nobody had suggested it to me. In the end I did leave and it was the right thing to do.

  4. Here’s an example – one time I was very unhappy in my job and was listing ways I could change the situation, discussing it with close friends at work and so on. At no time did I consider leaving the job because I’d been there for a very long time and I actually loved the place, people etc, just a major problem had arisen that was lasting longer that I felt I could endure, but I still did not even think about changing my job. Also, nobody suggested that, so it hadn’t been in my mind at all. The major issue was whether to take some kind of union or legal action.

    Then one morning I woke up feeling clearly in my mind that I just had to apply for another job, and said to friends that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. Most people would probably see that as a natural thing, that the idea must have been festering but I know myself that I never at any time thought of leaving, and nobody had suggested it to me. In the end I did leave and it was the right thing to do.

  5. Sorry – I forgot to say, key, that I had been praying hard about what to do!

    Editor, please fix these posts into one, if you don’t mind.

    • Michaela

      I think what you are referring to is more divine inspiration, a sudden strong urge to take a particular action as a result of prayer. That’s a bit different to the notion that God communicates to us via our dreams. What you experienced as a result of prayer is not at all unusual and certainly sounds like inspiration received in answer to prayer.

    • Michaela,

      Sorry, but when I remove your surplus comments, Athanasius’s reply to you at 3pm disappears, so I’ve had to restore your comments. Can’t be helped. Don’t understand it. Will maybe try again later.

  6. I think there is some confusion in this discussion, and it centres on the word “dreams”.

    I seldom dream. Very seldom indeed. When I do, however, they are a mish-mash of things that have happened to me, things that I’ve said or others have said, all jumbled up and usually quite comical, if not hilarious. I had one such entertaining dream about three weeks ago, and told the acquaintances who had (unknowingly) participated in the event!

    So, although the headline refers to the Scripture quotes [and Fr Bollan’s remark] about God speaking to us in dreams, I sought to clarify that when I concluded: “What fascinated me about [Fr Bollan’s] column is precisely what is outlined here – the truth that God speaks to us, enlightens us, even as we sleep.” As we sleep. Not necessarily in a dream, as we commonly understand the term. I take those Scripture quotes as referring to “sleep”, the term “dream” being a sort of euphemism for “sleep”. I’m no exegetical expert, of course, so I may be wrong, but that’s how I’ve interpreted the meaning of “God speaks to us in dreams”. In my own recent dream, described above, God was about the only Person not present!

    St Therese of Lisieux, for example, remarking about her unfortunate habit of falling asleep during prayer time, commented that she knew, nevertheless, that God would work in her soul, anyway; she drew the analogy of a surgeon who does his most delicate work while the patient is asleep.

    As others have said, God works through His own natural laws; he made us, He knows our human make-up, our physiology, psychology, the lot. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to attribute clearer thinking after sleep to God. It’s possible that making a decision when tired, late at night and then waking up with a clearer mind is more easily attributable to our natural psychological processes etc., although less easy when the example is the one given above, where someone wakes up with an idea or a determination to do something that wasn’t already consciously in their mind.

    It is important to stress that God’s normal ways of working with His human creatures is through ordinary, natural means, as already stated by others. But that doesn’t mean that God is not responsible for our clearer thinking etc. The two cannot be mutually exclusive since God is the author of our human nature in all its aspects.

    Perhaps a good example of this, since it has been raised on another thread (Divine Mercy) is the matter of the infallibility of canonisations. The Fathers of the Church in earlier times concluded that a canonisation could be regarded as infallible because of the care taken by the Church’s human authorities to rigorously investigate the lives and beliefs of candidates. There was no bolt of lightning, no apparition to popes to assure them that this or that candidate must be canonised. God – apart from exceptional circumstances – works in the world using ordinary people and ordinary means.

    That’s really all that is being suggested, it seems to me, by the divine revelation in various Scripture verses, including (but not exclusively) Acts 2:17 – that God is working in our souls, enlightening us, even when we least expect it: during sleep!

  7. “God is working in our souls, enlightening us, even when we least expect it: during sleep!”

    I agree completely! I’m sure we’ve all experienced that in some form. It’s lovely to think we waken up refreshed and clearer in our minds because God has been working on us as we rested.

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