Underwater with rocks on bottom and light streaming down from above

Drowning During Lent

Scott Hamilton, YTI Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling

February-March 2018 Inscribed

Over 20 years ago I had a dream, the memory of which remains as vivid as it was the morning after the dream occurred. My feet were tied together; my arms were tied behind my back. If being bound was not stressful enough, I was also under water in this dream, and sinking. As I continued to sink, bubbles from well below me began to rise, slowing my descent.

The flow of bubbles grew larger and more intense, eventually reversing my murky fall. As the force of the bubbles increased, I began to rise. As my ascent continued, I remember thinking, “I will drown soon.” As I approached the water’s surface, my pace increased until the intensity of the water flow ejected me, hurling me into the air. I awoke as I reached the place where I would, once again, begin to fall back toward the water.

Without some context, the dream makes no sense. I experienced this dream during Lent, a 40-day (weekdays) period of time in the Christian liturgical calendar when people commemorate Jesus’ 40-day fast at the beginning of his ministry. Lent is a time when Christians intentionally open their hearts to the refining power of prayer, confession (repentance), fasting, and giving to the poor as we anticipate Holy Week and Christ’s crucifixion. For still more perspective, a quick examination of Lent’s aspects is paramount to understanding the importance of my dream.


Confession is acknowledging to God our sinfulness, the inability to be the sort of people God originally created humankind to be. In Psalm 51, David asked God to cleanse him from his sin (v. 2). In verse four, David acknowledges his sin against God. In my own life, I’ve come to understand that, apart from my acknowledgment of brokenness, my relationship with God remains stagnate. When I allow God to remind me of my inability to do life well on my own, my relationship with God deepens.

Fasting and Prayer

Fasting, denying ourselves life’s excesses, is a concept found in both the New and Old Testaments. Those in the Bible who fasted did so to hear better from God. Please remember that while fasting can be about going without food, as Jesus did, fasting can also be denying one’s self access to Facebook, television, or anything that may have arrested too much of our attention. The itch I feel to scroll through Facebook would then be my prompt to be prayerful about my relationship with God.

Meditating on Christ’s Sacrifice

In confession, we concede our brokenness to God, repent, and ask for forgiveness. If we choose to fast, we consciously choose to deny ourselves some of our life experiences and use the promptings to remain prayerful as we deepen our relationship with God. As we remain prayerful, we can turn our attention to the Scriptures noting Jesus, the suffering servant or the Gospel accounts.

Giving to the Less Fortunate

As we prayerfully consider Christ’s suffering on humankind’s behalf, Lent prompts us to remain mindful of those who have less than we do. Not only might we increase our financial contribution to worthy causes, we could also increase our physical presence with others, both like and unlike ourselves.

Connecting the Dots

I had my water filled dream during Holy Week, the last week of Lent. The spiritual director who led me through the experience highlighted my own spiritual bondage to any number of things (being bound in the dream), and how those idols might very well destroy me (drowning). Through my confession of human frailty, I began to prayerfully focus on the timing of the dream and realized, with the director’s help, that I had this dream on Good Friday, the Friday noted scripturally as the day of Jesus’ death. As I continued to prayerfully consider Christ’s sacrifice for me, I came to value still more the depth of God’s love for me. I was bound in my dream and sinking, according to the director, signifying my entrance into my own tomb from which I also arose (flew from a certain watery grave).

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