(With apologies to William Carlos Williams)
Among the rain
I saw the figure 7
on a red
to gong clangs
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
The dark city of my dream, as often happens, was Pine Bluff, Ark., in the years when I lived there. I needed a job, a calling, a life. In brief, I needed taking in, and Pine Bluff took me in. The city of our dreams is like the first person who ever touched us, or whom we ever touched. It remains unforgettable, forever returning in reverie. Even while it goes on changing.
The figure seven has long been a touchstone of dreamers and philosophers and those of us who are neither but are called on to behold it again and again in our dreams. For it's the number of perfection, security, completion, safety and rest. It is the number of our destination, of journey's end.
Seven is said to combine the number three of the heavens and soul with the number four of the earth and body. The Pythagoreans called it the Septad, and Sir Isaac Newton identified the seven colors of the rainbow as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. There are seven days in a week, seven notes on a common musical scale, and seven letters in the Romans' numerical system.
Seven is the number of perfection, completion, wholeness, security, rest and safety. No wonder the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week.
It's a holy number and an unholy one, too, as in the Seven Deadly Sins: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath. It is woven throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, and is mentioned there more than 700 times. God takes six days to create heaven and earth, but on the seventh he rested, setting an example for all of us. The seventh day of the week is set apart for rest after work is done, even in today's driven world where work never seems done.
But in Scripture, the number seven signifies something complete, perfect, finished. And the association of seven with something done to perfection continues throughout the Bible, as when animals are to be at least seven days old before being used for sacrifices; the leper Naaman is told to wash himself in the Jordan River seven times to be cleansed; and Joshua marches around Jericho for seven days before seven priests sound seven trumpets to make the walls come tumbling down. In those instances, seven signifies a completion, a divine mandate being fulfilled.
Series of sevens keep coming up in the Bible: There are seven pairs of each kosher animal on old Noah's ark, seven branches on the ancient tabernacle's candelabrum as well as on modern-day Israel's seal; seven signs in the Gospel of John; seven things that, according to the Book of Proverbs the Holy One, blessed be He, is said to hate. Seven parables are told in the 13th chapter of Matthew and seven sorrows recited in its 23rd chapter.
Joseph, the great interpreter of dreams, dreamt of seven fat cows being devoured by seven lean ones. Consider another great dreamer, T. E. Lawrence, as in Lawrence of Arabia, who so wanted to be an Arab he became one--indeed, he became more Arab than the Arabs themselves. It was he who wrote: "All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act [out] their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." As indeed he did. Of course he was done in by mere reality, mainly the manipulations of diplomats, generals and empire-builders all around, but for a time he was so close to fulfilling his dream that he must have been able to taste it.
Yet sometimes a dream is but a dream, and the number seven just a seven. Which may be a letdown for those of us who would see signs and wonders in a single numeral. Fans of the number seven need beware getting carried away with it and with ourselves. Numerology can be fascinating, but in mundane practice it can come too close to being just superstition. So if Alert Reader isn't tired of the subject by now, he can surely find someone with whom to talk over this seven-fold subject of dreams at church or over a good dinner this evening. Maybe around seven.