Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dream a Little Dream

Today I'm thinking of the wife of Pontius Pilate. We hardly ever mention her or her dream.

While [Pilate] was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him." Matthew 27:19

There are many traditions about Pilate's wife, regarding her name, history and even her faith before and after the crucifixion. There has been speculation as to her dream being from the Holy Spirit to bring her to faith and rival contemplation that perhaps her dream was a move by Satan to thwart the plan of salvation through the resurrection. (If Jesus doesn't die, he can't be raised now, can he?)

Regardless, in this week of sleeplessness (full moon + breastfeeding + Holy Week), I think of this woman waking up in a cold sweat, calling for a servant and telling him to go without delay to her husband and give him this message. I wonder how she felt when Pilate came home and said, "You won't believe the day I've had."

There have been many elaborations on this verse. The rock opera/musical/move "Jesus Christ Superstar" gives the dream to Pontius Pilate. You can see that below.

You can also read a poem by Charlotte Brontë elaborating on the dream and the traditions around Pilate's wife.

We hear so often about the people at the center of Holy Week (Jesus, Pilate, Peter, Judas, Anais and Caiaphas, Herod, the Marys), but we should remember the people who were on the periphery. It's worth thinking of the events from their point of view. Given that this was an event of biblical proportions (ha!), the scope of the actions is hard to comprehend. So in the middle of the whole story that you know so well, look around at the faces in it and step into the shoes of someone's whose view point is new and, maybe, fresh.



Pilate's Wife's Dream (published under the name Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell)

I've quenched my lamp, I struck it in that start
Which every limb convulsed, I heard it fall
The crash blent with my sleep, I saw depart
Its light, even as I woke, on yonder wall;
Over against my bed, there shone a gleam
Strange, faint, and mingling also with my dream.

It sunk, and I am wrapt in utter gloom;
How far is night advanced, and when will day
Retinge the dusk and livid air with bloom,
And fill this void with warm, creative ray?
Would I could sleep again till, clear and red,
Morning shall on the mountain-tops be spread!

I'd call my women, but to break their sleep,
Because my own is broken, were unjust;

They've wrought all day, and well-earned slumbers steep
Their labours in forgetfulness, I trust;
Let me my feverish watch with patience bear,
Thankful that none with me its sufferings share.

Yet, Oh, for light! one ray would tranquilise
My nerves, my pulses, more than effort can;
I'll draw my curtain and consult the skies:
These trembling stars at dead of night look wan,
Wild, restless, strange, yet cannot be more drear
Than this my couch, shared by a nameless fear.

All black one great cloud, drawn from east to west,
Conceals the heavens, but there are lights below;
Torches burn in Jerusalem, and cast
On yonder stony mount a lurid glow.
I see men stationed there, and gleaming spears;
A sound, too, from afar, invades my ears.

Dull, measured, strokes of axe and hammer ring
From street to street, not loud, but through the night
Distinctly heard and some strange spectral thing
Is now upreared and, fixed against the light
Of the pale lamps; defined upon that sky,
It stands up like a column, straight and high.

I see it all I know the dusky sign
A cross on Calvary, which Jews uprear

While Romans watch; and when the dawn shall shine
Pilate, to judge the victim will appear,
Pass sentence yield him up to crucify;
And on that cross the spotless Christ must die.

Dreams, then, are true for thus my vision ran;
Surely some oracle has been with me,
The gods have chosen me to reveal their plan,
To warn an unjust judge of destiny:
I, slumbering, heard and saw; awake I know,
Christ's coming death, and Pilate's life of woe.

I do not weep for Pilate who could prove
Regret for him whose cold and crushing sway
No prayer can soften, no appeal can move;
Who tramples hearts as others trample clay,
Yet with a faltering, an uncertain tread,
That might stir up reprisal in the dead.

Forced to sit by his side and see his deeds;
Forced to behold that visage, hour by hour,
In whose gaunt lines, the abhorrent gazer reads
A triple lust of gold, and blood, and power;
A soul whom motives, fierce, yet abject, urge
Rome's servile slave, and Judah's tyrant scourge.

How can I love, or mourn, or pity him?
I, who so long my fettered hands have wrung;

I, who for grief have wept my eye-sight dim;
Because, while life for me was bright and young,
He robbed my youth he quenched my life's fair ray
He crushed my mind, and did my freedom slay.


And at this hour although I be his wife
He has no more of tenderness from me
Than any other wretch of guilty life;
Less, for I know his household privacy
I see him as he is without a screen;
And, by the gods, my soul abhors his mien!

Has he not sought my presence, dyed in blood
Innocent, righteous blood, shed shamelessly?
And have I not his red salute withstood?
Aye, when, as erst, he plunged all Galilee
In dark bereavement in affliction sore,
Mingling their very offerings with their gore.

Then came he in his eyes a serpent-smile,
Upon his lips some false, endearing word,
And, through the streets of Salem, clanged the while,
His slaughtering, hacking, sacrilegious sword
And I, to see a man cause men such woe,
Trembled with ire I did not fear to show.

And now, the envious Jewish priests have brought
Jesus whom they in mockery call their king

To have, by this grim power, their vengeance wrought;
By this mean reptile, innocence to sting.
Oh! could I but the purposed doom avert,
And shield the blameless head from cruel hurt!

Accessible is Pilate's heart to fear,
Omens will shake his soul, like autumn leaf;
Could he this night's appalling vision hear,
This just man's bonds were loosed, his life were safe,
Unless that bitter priesthood should prevail,
And make even terror to their malice quail.

Yet if I tell the dream but let me pause.
What dream? Erewhile the characters were clear,
Graved on my brain at once some unknown cause
Has dimmed and rased the thoughts, which now appear,
Like a vague remnant of some by-past scene;
Not what will be, but what, long since, has been.

I suffered many things, I heard foretold
A dreadful doom for Pilate, lingering woes,
In far, barbarian climes, where mountains cold
Built up a solitude of trackless snows,
There, he and grisly wolves prowled side by side,
There he lived famished there methought he died;

But not of hunger, nor by malady;
I saw the snow around him, stained with gore;

I said I had no tears for such as he,
And, lo! my cheek is wet mine eyes run o'er;
I weep for mortal suffering, mortal guilt,
I weep the impious deed the blood self-spilt.

More I recall not, yet the vision spread
Into a world remote, an age to come
And still the illumined name of Jesus shed
A light, a clearness, through the enfolding gloom
And still I saw that sign, which now I see,
That cross on yonder brow of Calvary.

What is this Hebrew Christ ? To me unknown,
His lineage doctrine mission yet how clear,
Is God-like goodness, in his actions shewn!
How straight and stainless is his life's career!
The ray of Deity that rests on him,
In my eyes makes Olympian glory dim.

The world advances, Greek, or Roman rite
Suffices not the inquiring mind to stay;
The searching soul demands a purer light
To guide it on its upward, onward way;
Ashamed of sculptured gods Religion turns
To where the unseen Jehovah's altar burns.

Our faith is rotten all our rites defiled,
Our temples sullied, and methinks, this man,
With his new ordinance, so wise and mild,
Is come, even as he says, the chaff to fan

And sever from the wheat; but will his faith
Survive the terrors of to-morrow's death?

I feel a firmer trust, a higher hope
Rise in my soul it dawns with dawning day;
Lo ! on the Temple's roof on Moriah's slope
Appears at length that clear, and crimson ray,
Which I so wished for when shut in by night;
Oh, opening skies, I hail, I bless your light!

Part, clouds and shadows! glorious Sun appear!
Part, mental gloom! Come insight from on high!
Dusk dawn in heaven still strives with daylight clear,
The longing soul, doth still uncertain sigh.
Oh! to behold the truth that sun divine,
How doth my bosom pant, my spirit pine!


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