In the spring of 2008, not long after I returned from some time spent in Malta, during a period of major upheaval and grief in my life, I was exploring Catholicism for the first time. Looking back, my reasons for exploring entry into the church at that time were less than pure, but there is much from that period of my life that continues to mark my journey towards joining the church today.
Among the things that marked me deeply from that time period was a dream in which I encountered a profound moment of God’s healing, through the hands of a woman named Clare. For years I have wondered, believed and speculated at turns whether this was one of those mystical moments that have marked my journey with Christ, and whether in this moment what I encountered was the intercession of St. Clare of Assisi. It is because of that dream that off and on for years I have worn a medallion with Clare’s image around my neck – the same medal that is pictured in the header photograph at the top of this page.
I found myself thinking of that dream as I glanced at the calendar this morning, and realizing that today would be an ideal day to share that experience in this space. Why today? Well, August 11 is the feast day that the church has assigned to St. Clare, a fact I recognized with a smile as I headed out the door this morning. This is the first time I’ve shared this publicly, the first time it’s gone beyond the two or three people who knew me best at the time and the one or two who have walked parts of this new journey towards the church with me. But it is a moment that shaped me then, and continues to shape me now.
To give context to the dream you should know that my time in Malta (and Rome and London on the way back to Canada) was the precursor to one of the most difficult seasons of my life. Lent had begun while I was still in Rome (in fact, I attended my first ever Ash Wednesday mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican). That spring the weight and depth of Lent sat more heavily than it ever has in my life. Tears were a pretty much daily companion as I watched relationships that I had counted dear fall to pieces, and found myself in the middle of feuding and anger, wondering how on earth a missions trip had led to such discord among those I had thought of not just as friends, but as family. My heart was broken, and I spent much of the Lenten season fasting, praying, and weeping, longing for the hope and joy of a resurrection season not just in the sense of the annual recognition of the miracle of resurrection, but in the very real sense of seeing the need for resurrection and restoration and healing in my life and in the lives of those who I cared for so deeply.
In the dream I was attending a prayer gathering – a sort of healing and worship service, similar to many I’d attended through my time in charismatic churches. I was sitting near the front of the room, watching and listening.
There was all this movement, and then people were lining up to be prayed for. With oil. Marking crosses on their foreheads.
And I’m sitting in my seat, and weeping. Can’t move, can’t explain what the Lord is doing. Just sitting as the tears spill down my cheeks.
A young woman who in the dream I apparently know very well comes over to me. She’d been one of the people at the front praying for others, but spotted me, and left the line of people waiting for her, and came to me. Her name is Clare, and she is full of tenderness and love and joy and light. (I looked up the meaning of the name Clare when I woke up. It means clear, bright. This is a very good description of this girl.) She comes to me, and kneels in front of me, so that we’re on the same eye level. She has really beautiful blue eyes – very compassionate. She places her thumb in the little container of oil she’s carrying, and takes my face in her hands. She is praying, silently, I can tell, as she marks crosses on each of my cheeks, mixing the oil with my tears, before marking another cross on my forehead. She gathers me in her arms then, holds me and hugs me.
I don’t remember a lot of details after that. I think the event carried on, we ended up sitting around tables, discussing something. I know that Clare stayed close to me, nearly touching me. I woke up sometime shortly thereafter.
It has been more than seven years since the morning I woke from that dream, but if I close my eyes I can still see her eyes, still feel the way the oil she anointed me with mingled with my tears. I can still feel and rest in the healing love she imparted in that moment, holding me as I wept and sat in the place of intercession I occupied so often that spring, staying near me as I continued to heal, as I readied myself to move forward.
In the time immediately following that dream, I did a tiny bit of research on St. Clare. I was moved to note that she is one of only two female saints who is ever depicted bearing a monstrance – bearing Christ in person – a meaningful depiction for someone who has wrestled with a deep calling to serve Christ with my whole self. I was struck by her unique friendship with St. Francis (whose story has also been so pivotal in my journey towards Catholicism, both all those years ago, and again in the last year). Other bits and pieces of Clare’s life have struck me at various times, but these two are the ones that consistently stand out as challenges for me in my ongoing journey with Christ.
Was it St. Clare that I met in that dream? Most days I would hesitantly say yes. Even if it wasn’t her that I met I am convinced that it was a dream sent by Christ, at a moment when I so desperately needed healing. And it is the memory of that dream, that encounter with a saint, that healing that causes me to wear Clare’s image on a simple silver chain around my neck most days, a physical boundary stone of sorts, a marker of a moment in time with Christ.