‘Here comes the man of dreams’ they said to one another. ‘Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’
This passage comes from the story of Joseph’s brothers, jealous because he was their father’s favourite, plotting to disappear him. They wouldn’t kill him – that would have been bad luck – but planned to leave him to die slowly at the bottom of a well. It exposes the hidden history of the world and much of our family life and religious and civil politics. It is disturbing how often jealousy operates as the deciding factor in our behaviour. Even God is a ‘jealous God’. One zealous commentary, defending the literal meaning at all costs, says, ‘God’s jealousy is appropriate and good’. Jealousy is an inevitable consequence of favouritism: a chosen race, the prophet who trumps all predecessors, the saved, the elect in any form. Yet, how hard it is for the monotheist, longing to be loved more than others, to believe (like St Paul) that ‘God has no favourites’.
You probably have a virus scan on your computer. It protects against the digital terrorism of hidden, isolated individuals who have probably come to feel they connect to others only online. The online persona is a risky gamble. So, we need an interior scan, too – examination of conscience, spiritual alertness, guarding the heart. Viruses like jealousy, racism or perfectionism lurk in dark attachments in our deep hard drives. Meditation searches them out. We have to be prepared for the struggle they will put up before they are deleted – or their energy is converted back into our original goodness. Lent is a time for this kind of spring-clean.
Modern affluent cultures give great attention to lifestyle choices and ways of improving our physical and psychological well-being. How many topical conversations revolve around food that’s ‘good for you’, the latest celebrity vegetable, diets that will save the world, new nuggets of esoteric wisdom revealed for all. These ‘discoveries’ and the reactions they evoke in the modern consumer-of-news feels like a flock of birds rising together and swerving in ever changing directions. Much less attention is given to our mental state.
We care less about what we allow our minds to absorb and become concentrated on or addicted to. So, the healthy-liver and eater today can resemble the ‘proud virgin’ of earlier centuries. We can be so careful (and right) at one level and yet blow it all away in another. Pride like jealousy is our common downfall. All that’s needed to make this double-standard a concealed lifestyle is enough people who agree with you.
Why do we love our own ‘dreams’ so much and so often despise or ridicule the dreams of others? To share a dream can inspire self-sacrifice and service. Or it can unleash a collective nightmare and the scapegoating of the most vulnerable. Watch your dreams.
To scan our deep mind for possible viruses and to test the mettle of our dreams – this is the work of pure prayer. The only sure test is to let go of all representation of our hopes and beliefs – conceptual, verbal or visual. Whatever regularly survives this radical cleansing of our mind can be trusted (most of the time).