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Many of us have had the experience of awaking from a vivid dream or nightmare and being certain that what we dreamed really happened. Then, as we awaken more, we realize we were only dreaming.

It didn’t really happen. Or did it?

We can have the reverse experience too—dream-like moments happen even though we are awake. One day, while holding my grandson Kai on my lap, I had a waking dream. As if it were yesterday, I remembered sitting on my grandfather’s lap. In a dreamlike way I wondered how I had become the grandfather, and so quickly too. In some moments, life seems like nothing more than a dream.

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.

What is a dream if not a sequence of images that evoke emotions and reactions that come and go? Is this not true of our waking life as well?

Life is but a dream.

The dreams we dream while sleeping are the other side of the dreams we live while we are awake. Two sides of the same coin. Awake or asleep, it’s all a dream. Awake or asleep, life is a succession of images and experiences that give rise to feelings that come and go. Row, row, row your boat.

Ironically, to wake up is to see life as a passing dream. I am in a dream but I am not the dream. I am in a nightmare, but every nightmare passes. To wake up to life is to awaken to the deeper dreamer.

The changing landscape of our lives is nothing if not unpredictable. Ask yourself what it is that remains constant in the ever changing dream of your life—is it not the dreamer?

Think of the times you have simply shown up for others. Maybe you didn’t know what to say or what to do—but you showed up and sooner or later they told you that your presence was just what they needed to go on. Together, you were in a dream but your living breathing presence was real. It made all the difference.

The power of Presence.

I talk to a lot of people whose lives are in upheaval. Sometimes they say they want God to defend them against pain, suffering, and uncertainty. But this wish is just one more dream. Sooner or later we realize what we really need is not someone to protect us—but a Presence to share with us the dream of this moment.

The joke is that life is full of Presence—but we can’t always see it—we are asleep to the Presence. This mysterious and miraculous Presence lives in nature and it lives in every living, breathing creature and every human being.

Whenever we awaken to this mysterious, miraculous and compassionate Presence that lives ubiquitously within and among us we awaken to see that even though life comes to us as a dream—we are dreamers but not the dream.

I don’t know about you, but I take my waking slowly. But sometimes I get a glimpse. Beneath the broken surface of our lives there is a hidden wholeness, a profound Presence that is holding everything together. And every now and then, I touch this hidden wholeness, this unseen Presence and for a moment I am awake.

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Robert V. Thompson was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1973. For the past 28 years he has been the Senior minister at the Lake Street Church in Evanston, Illinois. In the early 1990’s, Bob began to explore the richness of other spiritual traditions, including indigenous and Eastern spiritualities, along with the Christian mystics, and since then, he and his church have become leaders in the evolution of an emerging form of Christianity. He is active in the sphere of social justice, and speaks out on a variety of issues including homelessness, politics, the Christian Right, advocacy and LGBT people. From 1999-2004 he was Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

He is the author of A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks (CopperHouse 2007), and a contributor to the book for preachers, Feasting On the Word (Westminster John Knox Press 2009). He is the Chicago Spirituality Examiner and writes weekly articles on spirituality related themes for the website.

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