Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Daniel 2) transports me to a crazy dream I had early this morning. I was traveling somewhere, and had my dog, Charlene Darlin’, in the car. We were traveling down a mountain road, and stopped to do some hiking. We got out of the car, and before going on the walk, I realized I needed to put sandals on her front feet, and couldn’t figure out how to do it. Charlene started talking to me, telling me how to get them on. If that wasn’t enough, when we started walking through the woods, I started examining the various flowers, and they started talking, too, basically small talk, chit chat, how’s the weather kind of stuff. I don’t remember how the dream ended, but when I took my daily walk with Charlene through our woods this morning, I was on the alert more than usual, looking at flowers and leaves and trees with a bit of expectation that they had something to say to me. What I did notice today, more than I have in days before, were the many yellow poplar petals and their orange batman symbols that have fallen into the beds of brown leaves throughout the woods. While they didn’t speak to me, literally, they communicated something, something about seasons and cycles of life and death and new life. There is a season for deep green leaves to drink in the sun, and for beautiful pollinator-attracting flowers to bloom for reproduction. Then there is a season when these leaves and flowers fall to the ground and die, over time forming the rich, brown beds where the seeds can fall and burst open and grow into new trees. The whole process is no less fantastic and bizarre than my dream world, when you really think about it.
The Hebrew exile Daniel was well acquainted with the bizarre world of dreams, and of seasonal change. When the Babylonian King began to be troubled by dreams, he called in all his soothsayers and diviners and palm readers and tea leaf readers, and told them of his nocturnal problems. They asked him to tell his dream, and they’d be able to interpret it. The King was not so sure; he must have had his suspicions about some of the scam artists who frequented the castle. He said they had to both tell him his dream and its meaning, which of course none of them could do. Enter Daniel, the boy wonder prayer warrior who claimed he could do it. He must have had dreams of his own, and something in those dreams told him he was seeing the same thing that the King was seeing, so he took a risk and described a vision in great detail. A statue made of various minerals – head of gold, chest of silver, middle of bronze, legs of iron, feet of iron and clay – is struck by a stone hewn not by human hands, and crumbles to dust, carried off by the wind, as the stone then fills the earth. Yes! That was it! And what does that image mean? That the Babylonian empire, as golden as it was, would not last, but would be succeeded by an inferior one, with more successions happening as empire after empire crumbled, until finally the stone crushed the last and all the vestiges of human power scattered to the wind. Finally the reign of God, the rock, would break through and fill the earth for an eternity. For whatever reason, this foretelling of the downfall of his empire did not trouble the King. He heard it as truth, and celebrated Daniel’s wisdom and the power of the God who revealed it to him.
So what do dreams of talking flowers and crumbling statues have to do with us today? It seems to me they tell us the same truth – these human institutions, these empires and legislative bodies we attach so much allegiance and significance to, are not eternal. There is a season when they flourish, and a season when they are scattered to the wind. The vision gives us a word of caution not to put too much stock in the empire, in its protections and privileges, because none of these will last forever. But there is a stone that breaks through, a rock that crushes the coercive power and the hubris of every empire, and that rock would be defined a few generations after Daniel as love, unconditional and sacrificial love. We can celebrate any time we see the reign of this love, the rock not hewn by human hands, breaking into our imperial systems, bringing in love where hatred used to reign, bringing in welcome where fear used to reign, bringing in contentment where greed used to reign. Rock of ages, cleft for us all, let us hide ourselves in Thee whenever and wherever the empire is not hospitable to your Way.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.