I don’t know much about dream analysis, but maybe I should look into it. I have vivid, sometimes outrageous dreams. I know that pandemics bring out weird dreams in many of us, but I can’t tell you that my dreams have gotten any more outrageous in the past six months. They’ve always been that way. When I was very young, I once had a dream that someone brought a handbag to church, and the tag read, “Thank you for purchasing this garment. The proceeds from the sale of this garment will fund the purchase of tobacco products for the cast of Mama’s Family.” Really.
At least twice, I have dreamed that I was marrying my husband, after we had already been married. Those dreams were joyful events, if a bit confusing. I’m always concerned that if we weren’t actually married when we thought we were married, that maybe we had accidentally been committing insurance fraud. These are the dreams of lawyers, friends. Those dreams usually happen at the threshold of a major event in our lives, like right before a cross-country move. So at those times, it would make sense that I’d be dreaming about commitment and my life together with my husband.
This week, I dreamed that my family and I were about to go somewhere. (We don’t go anywhere these days.) We had forgotten something, and so we stopped by a grocery store and all went inside. (Again, we haven’t done such a wild and outrageous thing since February, at least.) In my dream, I went to collect the items, and my children went off with my husband to a cafe section of the grocery store. The cafe had a piano, and I could hear my boys with my husband, trying out a tune on the piano.
In my dream, as I was checking out with my groceries, all of the patrons in the cafe were singing along with the piano, which my husband and sons were playing. And they were singing Abide With Me.
We don’t sing “Abide with Me” much in the Episcopal Church. It’s not in our hymnal. We sing it occasionally at funerals, but I almost always associate it with the scene in Steel Magnolias when Ouiser “admits” to “having an affair with a Mercedes Benz.”
If you haven’t listened to the lyrics of “Abide with Me” recently, you might find them particularly apt for this season of our life.
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
I need Thy presence every passing hour
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power
Who like Thyself my Guide and Stay can be
Through cloud and sunshine O abide with me
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me
I usually latch right on to the part with, “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.” As a naturally anxious person, when helpers fail and comforts flee, this hymn speaks to me. That is no different right now. Overall, my family has really been fine, and we’re grateful. Two employed parents, two easygoing kids, three dogs that are so grateful we’re home all the time, and even a cat that showed up on the day following Easter Day. We named her “Feast,” as in “Therefore, let us keep the….” We’ve had our moments, most notably when the dishwasher and the washing machine broke at the same time. But we’ve abided just fine, and have felt God’s presence abiding with us. It’s impossible to overstate how grateful we are for that.
But there’s another part of this hymn that I think God needed me to hear, so much so that he sent angels to sing it to me in my slumber. “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” I work for a university. Nothing stays the same from day to day, whether it’s 2,300 pages of new regulations about how I conduct my work, or new guidance from the university about how the upcoming semester will look for our students. Meanwhile, I’m walking my kids through their constantly changing schedules and expectations as the academic year, and wishing I could give all of their teachers and administrators a giant hug because I know the constant changes are more difficult for them than they are for us.
Houston’s weather forecast, with hurricanes brewing in the Gulf, changes several times a day, and we are attached to our phones for updates on the constantly-changing analysis of what is happening in the constantly-changing sea. I am, apparently, thirsting for something constant and unchanging. I love novelty. I change up our dinner menu all the time, just to have something new. But my goodness, we seem to need a Love that Changes Not right now. We can’t safely return to church yet, but apparently I still needed to hear that sung from a cloud of witnesses, even as I slept.
I’ve never been so grateful for a God that abides with us, in pandemics, in changing school plans, and in whatever comes next. In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.