A Penance: On Dreams, Difference, and Depth

Dear God,

Fr Jude penanced me to write a letter to you. The theme is: your dreams for me. At that moment in the confessional, I caught a glimpse of vast forgotten longings, and I choked up a little.

Writing about your dreams for me presupposes I know what those dreams are. But I don’t; at least, I don’t think that I do. Perhaps Fr Jude assumed that all it takes is some prayer and some reflection to remember and/or recover them, or some silence to hear my lifesong sing through the world’s dissonance. He assumed that I would take one night. This letter took 3 weeks.

I address this letter to you and to each of you. Father, I have been prodigal. Jesus, I have neglected your Cross and your Covenant. Holy Spirit, I have let the world drown out your voice. Here is my penance.

Dreams of Other Worlds

Since I could dream, you gave me dreams of other worlds. To me, there is nothing quite like immersing myself in a good fantasy (or better yet, fairy) tale. (Sadly, that happens far too rarely nowadays.) From Eddings to Feist to  Gaiman, my favourite authors may have changed, but the feeling of magic remains the same.

At a chalet when I was in JC, I shared one of my most vulnerable and radical beliefs with N. It was late in the night, and most people had gathered on and around the bed to share about gossamer and gossip. I sat apart with N, in a corner of the room, listening vaguely. We were more apart from than a part of them. (Even during, or perhaps because of, my band days, I had learnt to be exclusive and/or elitist.)

“I believe in real magic,” I whispered to him. At that time, I did not yet know that I was simply declaring my belief in you.

He stared at me for a while. And then he whispered back, “Mel… you’re crazy.”

I enshrined my belief in magic on a postcard, during a Post-Secret run that the JC councillors organised that year. My postcard got selected for exhibition. I had coloured it vibrantly, had enjoyed doing so, and had enjoyed the memories it brought back of much younger days when colour pencils were more common than pens. I was proud of my postcard.

Re-watching HTTYD2, re-reading TOEL, reviewing SotS – these are my memento moris. These are my reminders that there is more to life than thorn and thistles. These are the ways you guide my life decisions.

But while using fantasy may be your prerogative and your modus operandi to enchant my life, the waking and working worlds remain distinct. (I acknowledge that I am now more cynical than I used to be; but that is your fault, and I do not yet have the humility or the vision to think otherwise.) These are mere fantasies of flight.

Feeling / Being Different

I remember two dreams in which I flew.

In one dream, I was riding on a flying chair. It flew unlike Enid Blyton’s Wishing Chair – whimsical and ponderous; but more like the hover-cycle from The Island controlled and exhilarating. I skimmed over lakes and rose over mountains. And when I lost power (and panicked) and set down on the ground, home (read: Serangoon Gardens) was just a short walk away around the corner.

When I have dreams like this, I always wonder if you are trying to say something to me through them. I think of all the deja vu moments that I had, and I wonder if my dreams are supposed to be prophetic. (That would be pretty ominous, considering that I have dreamed of nuclear explosions at least twice.)

From my Primary school days (i.e. even before my ego had fully formed), I had harboured secret hopes of having superpowers – prophecy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, etc. I had felt that I was and wanted to be different – not in the trite sense that everyone is unique in their own right, but to be truly different. Desire and experience are as indistinguishable as cause and effect here. I wanted to be set apart; I felt that no one really understood me. I wanted to do great things (not necessarily by the world’s standards); I felt I was meant for extraordinary things. I wanted to live the avant-garde; I felt unfettered by orthodoxy.

At SOW, I saw two paths of life stretch out before me: the Decadent Path and the Orthodox Path. In the former, I would live for myself, travel the world, experience its pleasures, and disregard the rules of life. In the latter, I would have a family, get a stable career, live the vicissitudes of community, and form my conscience. As enshrined and proudly proclaimed for years, I chose the “more romantic, more perilous, more exciting path“.

For years after that, I abandoned my dreams of being different; I attributed the source of such dreams to my pride. But as I told Fr D the last time I met him, I am now realising how false a dichotomy those two paths were.

Writing this letter, I am re-discovering your call for me to be different. When I mentioned this part of my letter to Fr D, he brought up the Enneagram’s Individualist / Romantic personality type, whose fundamental motivation is the desire to be special. He was spot on: I had paid for a Enneagram test a couple of years back, and my result was a Type 4 with a Type 5 wing i.e. a Bohemian. Recently, and without trigger, Fr Jude also suggested that I was called to be “different”.

(Yes, yes, I heard you the first time.)

Central to feeling and being different is my Struggle. I guess it is no coincidence then that my Struggle has recently been re-surfacing. Insofar as attraction is a prelude to vocation, here is the really scary thing: I have reached the tipping point in my life where I see how my Struggle is opening rather than closing doors. What a joke. What a troll. I imagine your mirth and your warmth, and I shake my head in wonder and despair.

I end the second part of this letter with my second dream of flying then. In my dream, G puts his arm around my shoulder and pushes me as we walk down the stairs. He goes faster and faster, and I am lifted off my feet as G flies me down the stairs. I feel the wind rushing around me: it is dangerous and exhilarating. I feel G’s arm around me: it is embracing and protecting. When I wake up, I reel from how breath-taking the dream was: it is like I have re-surfaced from the deep.

Sinking Deep

Hillsong’s Sinking Deep has been my earworm for the past few weeks. Alone in the adoration room last Wednesday, I plugged in and sang along. I wonder if you were amused by that.

From relationships to art to the moments of gossamer and amber, depth has been the immutable axis through which I have plotted my life experiences. Similarly, all my spiritual warehouse experiences are inherently subjective, intensely personal, and deeply embracing.

I still remember how my guardian angel that I had imagined when I was younger looked like. He had expansive dazzling white wings that would envelop me when I despaired. He had deep blue eyes that “contained all the sadness and all the joy of the world“. While a construction of fantasy cannot be part of a spiritual warehouse, it is nevertheless illuminative of De Profundis that you have always inspired me to.

N once asked me: isn’t compatibility sufficient? Isn’t complementarity sufficient? Isn’t it enough to get along, to be able to connect, to share, to build a life together?

I thought for a while, about how possible, how easy a solution this could be. And then I thought about the glimmers of depth that I have known in my life. And I knew that to settle for anything less would be inauthentic: convenience cannot substitute communion.

So you have blessed me and cursed me with this romantic melancholy. Must all your cribs foreshadow such heavy crosses?


Years ago, I wrote a piece that I never completed about how when we look for you, we are like fish swimming to find the ocean. We look all around for you; we don’t realise that we are already sinking in your presence. I feel like that nemo recently: a nobody lost in a plan that I do not know made by a God whom I cannot feel.

Lord, are you still dreaming for me?

It seems superfluous to say this to a God who is Love, but what my head knows cannot prevail over what my heart fears. So I’ll say it anyway: please don’t stop dreaming for me. There will come a day when all the stars align – courage, open doors, signs, timing, freedom.

Till then, I’ll live this dream of slowness, of waiting, of gentleness. I’ll live this heaven (can I honestly say this?) that is on the way to heaven.



5 thoughts on “A Penance: On Dreams, Difference, and Depth

  1. Pingback: First Love – Mel

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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale. https://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/about-mel/