Here is Part One of some thoughts I wrote a few months ago while I was waiting on my car repair. It was a long wait, and I needed an alternative to the TV soaps…
I am very fond of dreams in families. For nine months every mother and father dreams about their baby. Am I right? [Yes!] They dream about what kind of child he or she will be… You can’t have a family without dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies. So I ask you each evening, when you make your examination of conscience, to also ask yourselves this question: Today did I dream about my children’s future? Today did I dream about the love of my husband, my wife? Did I dream about my parents and grandparents who have gone before me? Dreaming is very important. Especially dreaming in families. Do not lose this ability to dream! –– Pope Francis. Mall of Asia Arena, Manila. Friday, 16 January 2015
I love these poetic words that Pope Francis spoke while he was in the Philippines! They help me to think of my reflection on the nature of the family as an act of theological imagination, i.e. the “ability to dream!” I always remind the seminarians I teach, “To pray well, to preach well and to love well, you have to purify and develop your imagination. You’re made in God’s image to imagine God!” To dream theologically about the family requires me to open both my mind and my heart in awestruck wonder – in prayer! – to all that life-creating Trinity has wrought in fashioning us in the divine image, and re-fashioning us after we had fallen into the ruin of sin. What a thrill! Artists and lovers dream, and so theologians — who are really iconographers painting in words the Word-made-flesh whom they love — must be able to dream big. I’ve long thought of theologians as “master dreamers,” called to mediate God’s lovely Word to the world – like Joseph (cf. Genesis 37:19; Matthew 1:20-21).
Dreaming is also, as the Pope says, an act of loving, and loving is dedicating one’s whole being to the divine conspiracy that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). I am convinced that to capture righty the deepest nature of reality – which is so beautiful! – one must, with mind and heart united, look at all things first through the eyes of love. A counselor I know once said to me of her marriage, “Our marriage stands or falls on my daily reaffirming the choice I once made to love this imperfect man to the very end. Only when I see my husband through eyes of love, the way God looks on me, am I able to see a charming beauty even in all his faults and warts. I only hope he sees me the same way!” St. Paul similarly described God’s “charmed” manner of seeing us: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Theologizing about family requires that I am able to read the inscriptions left by God in creation, to see beyond the clay of empirical data into the vast celestial vaults of human and divine love. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean…turning the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit, redeeming the darkness of the world by the radiance of love.”
John chapter 17, where Jesus speaks with unspeakable intimacy to the Father of their love “before the world began,” gives us a privileged window into what God dreams about in eternity. There we discover that God’s dream is his people; and the family, caught up in the unity of Triune love, is at the heart of that dream.