The other night I had one of those dreams where I am simultaneously my college-aged self and my present-day self. My college self was evidently in the process of graduating. There was some kind of special awards ceremony that someone insisted I must attend for some reason. I got there and stood on the fringe of the crowd and was shocked when my name was called and a sign was held up with my name written in large letters: MELANIE BETTINELLI. (Funny that I was dreaming of my married name in that context.)
The award was actually some kind of Pontifical appointment. It meant I had been chosen to be a sort of pilgrim/evangelist. I was supposed to travel the world and catechize and do it while on a student’s budget—in other words exactly the way I traveled during my semester abroad except while staying in monasteries and other religious institutions, which I never did.
And I thought: wow, that’s exactly the sort of thing I really want to do (evidently my dream self doesn’t have the social anxieties that I have) but don’t they know I’m pregnant and will have a new baby in January? How can I travel the world, especially on a student’s lifestyle, while pregnant and caring for a newborn? And then I considered that maybe it wouldn’t be quite so impossible, at least once I’ve recovered from the birth, because during the newborn phase babies are extremely portable.
Then the dream shifted and I was at some kind of celebratory Mass. I was in line waiting to receive communion and suddenly the sisters who had been acting as Eucharistic Ministers ran out of hosts and so turned to their next task, which was distributing bottles of water from a large sack. Then Cardinal Sean, who had been standing beyond the sisters, noticed me and the line behind me and made a sort of inquiring motion, as if to ask if I wanted to receive communion. I signaled affirmative and he approached me and I was surprised to hear him address me by name, Melanie, because while I have met the Cardinal on several occasions, I don’t expect he remembers who I am, though he does know Dom’s name. But then he reached into his ciborium and handed me a roll of consecrated hosts, rather like a stack of poker chips, and put them into my hands, clearly expecting that I would turn and distribute them to the people in line behind me, which is what I did, all the while protesting inwardly that I am not a Eucharistic Minister and shouldn’t be doing this job and am not prepared nor the right person for it.
I told Dom about this dream at breakfast and he chuckled a bit and said that it was clear what it was about. Oh yeah? I asked, curious. You’re worried about your duty to pass on the faith to your children and whether you will be able to do it when the new baby comes. My eyes teared up as I recognized some of my hidden worries given voice. But I don’t think he got at the heart of the dream because both scenarios were asking me to pass on the faith, to nourish others, beyond the scope of my immediate family. They were both clear calls to do something more, something bigger. And they were both something more than just the universal call to evangelization that all baptized Christians have. No, they were personal. Both times I was being called by name, and by a clear ecclesiastical authority to do a very specific task.
This morning at Mass it occurred to me that my dream tied in very well with today’s readings. First, there was Amos who had been a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores and who was called to be a prophet to Israel even though it wasn’t something he felt at all prepared to do and though he did not receive a warm welcome. In both parts of my dream I had that experience of having been called out of what I was comfortable with and into an unfamiliar role. Then there was the Gospel where Jesus sends out his disciples two by two, telling them to take nothing with them but a single change of clothes, very much like the part of my dream when I was called to go traveling with the same simplicity as I had when I was a college student living out of a backpack.
I’ve been feeling this niggling little wonder for a long time. I keep feeling like there’s something I should be doing, something more, some volunteer work in the broader community. At the same time most days—even when I’m not slogging through the first trimester—it feels like I can hardly keep one foot in front of the other on the home front: taking care of the kids, laundry, dishes, dinner, a reasonably clean house, grocery shopping: I never feel like I’ve got it under control. I feel like I’m just barely keeping my mouth above water. And so it seems ridiculous that I should be pondering this now, when I am struggling to care and not to care. How can I worry about some nebulous larger purpose when I can’t even get done the basic things that need to get done in the day to day? At the same time why do I think I am so special that my struggles somehow exempt me from this larger duty? Why do I think I am the only one who feels overwhelmed?
So I try not to dwell on it too much or worry at it. I keep praying about it, talking about it with my spiritual director, who tells me to keep praying about it. And I do and I tell God that I’m open to him calling me to do something, but that he’s pretty much going to have to hit me over the head with it. And so far, no two by fours have smacked me yet. Except in this dream, which certainly has that quality of hitting me over the head. Except that it is a dream and not reality. Is it my anxious mind worrying over the same old path or is this God’s way of telling me to be ready for the smack? I guess only time will tell.
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