Mysterious Lord of every dream

*** Behind this hymn is the story of the Lord appearing to Solomon in a dream, commanding him to ask for whatever he wished.



Without mentioning him by name, this hymn offers an interpretation of Solomon’s prayer for an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil[1]. Both words and music are pitched below the surface of concrete order, at the place where random awareness may become either wholly chaotic or purposefully focused. Believing that each person is able to choose the furnishings of their interior, subconscious household, I have in the hymn drawn on ‘parables of the kingdom’ as resources for forming connected, fully integrated people.

Solomon’s prayer might be said to be hierarchic, expressing the concern of one born to rule; it can be recommended to rulers everywhere. But, for most people, the prayer needs democratising, since governing others is not what we do. Yet we do have influence, and the hymn asks that the influence of each person may be for the good of all, ’till all are saved at love’s expense’.

It may be only in modern times that people have ceased to believe that God is present in dreaming as well as in waking life. So the hymn begins where Solomon’s prayer begins, with The Lord appeared … in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’ The adjective ‘mysterious’ signifies, not that God is shrouded in impenetrability, but precisely the opposite: that God emerges into focused awareness from depths of ineffable obscurity. Like the bride in the Song of Solomon, who slept, but my heart was awake. Listen! my beloved is knocking. ‘Open to me…[2] ‘God’s Spirit in the mind by night’ alerts us to the presence that prompts the prayer for ‘discernment’s beam’, for ‘wisdom’s light’.

In the hymn’s third stanza postmodern people are presented as thinking themselves secure within self-chosen horizons; the ‘virtual world’ of computer technology mirrors the ‘virtual world’ of psychologically involuted people (no matter how extravert). The hymn’s prayer asks that, like a merchant in search of fine pearls, they may find within their ‘virtual world’ the one pearl of great value that will lead them out of their isolation and into the fellowship of all who share in ‘heaven’s kingdom’.

The hymn articulates a progress in awareness, from believing God to be present within the subconscious processing that goes on while we sleep, to asking that all within our unconscious be directed towards connecting and integrating us within the community of creation healing from its atomization. The next stage in this progress is to pray for the gifts and qualities that enable us to act consistently with that purpose: ‘teach tenderness, let none devour even one of all saved by your will’.

The difference between Solomon’s prayer and this hymn is that the hymn has not governance but salvation as it central concern. All people’s sense and wills are to be informed by ‘Christ’s own mind’, not for their self’s advantage, but in order that the salvation won by Christ for all creation may be impressed and inscribed into the behaviour of us all, both persons and institutions within people’s control. The climax of the hymn echoes another prayer, that ‘we may spend and be spent in your service’[3]. A closing line from another hymn is also echoed here, by W.H.Vanstone, which is also the title of his book ‘Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense’ (1977).

The music, written while Jessica Mary was in hospital, starts in one key and finishes in another. The first couplet contains elements of whole-tone scales in the tenor and the soprano lines. Each line has at least two passing notes within it. All these things are intended to evoke the elusive freedom of creatures in the unconscious mind. But the music is not out of hand, it is contained within conventions of form, of frequent melodic sequence, of consistent feeling-tone. Like the words, this is intended as music that Solomon himself would be glad to use.

[1] 1 Kings 3.9

[2] Song of Solomon 5.2

[3] Source unknown, but familiar to me from Church of England services in the 1950s.