Since my college days, I’ve had a recurring dream. On a rainy Sunday night, my car breaks down in a small, rural south Georgia town. The only gas station that boasts a real mechanic won’t open until Monday morning. The only available food is nearly day-old fried chicken at a quick market.
Worst of all, there’s only one motel. The elderly woman who runs it has curlers in her hair and pink house-shoes on her feet, and she isn’t particularly pleased that I’ve interrupted whatever television show she was watching. She gives me my key. I walk to my room, open the flimsy door, and discover a twin bed with a very flat pillow, thin sheets, and a rib cord bedspread. There’s a none-too-clean recliner, a burnt orange shag rug on a worn linoleum tile floor, one threadbare towel and wash cloth, a bar of soap about the size of a matchbook, two plastic cups; a black and white television set which gets two stations and a lot of static, a bathtub streaked with rust stains, and a shower curtain barely hanging by two rings from its rod.
I take a shower with no hot water, and try to settle into the bed which basically sags to the floor when I get in it. I spend a very long, restless night, sleeping only fitfully. In the dream, I’ve never checked-out of the motel (like the Eagles in Hotel California, I suppose) and never gotten my car repaired.
Teresa of Avila threw light on this dream’s meaning. She said: “Life is a night spent in an uncomfortable inn.” No doubt, I’ve had more than my share of Ritz Carlton moments. I’m aware, that as a white, male, middle class American, I have a position of privilege which I didn’t earn.
When I echo Teresa, what I have in mind and heart is the intuition, confirmed by my understanding of God’s purposes for us, that human beings aren’t meant to live in conditions of pervasive fear, the kind of fear which causes us to see people who are different from us as our enemies; which makes violence, verbal or physical, the first response to whatever or whoever threatens settled assumptions; which drives even the well-off to imagine scarcity; and which keeps us, from acknowledging, even to ourselves, our vulnerability and neediness. Fear imprisons potential and locks oppression and prejudice into place.
My recurring dream says to me: “Don’t be surprised when life in the here and now leaves you feeling restless, anxious, helpless, and out of touch. You weren’t made for life under these conditions.”
My faith tells me that there is a home for us, and it’s not a remote place or a future. Home is a person, the person of Jesus in whom and with whom we live, while also in life’s uncomfortable inn. It’s one of faith’s many paradoxes: we’re home while away from home; we live in love while facing-off with fear. Because we do, it’s possible—difficult but possible—to live not just in love but by love, the kind of love that gentles our own fears and makes it possible for us to be agents of love in this troubled world.