Book Review: Dreams by Morton Kelsey

This book review is of Dreams: A Way to Listen to God by Morton Kelsey, released in 1978 by The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle and Paulist Press. In this book, Morton Kelsey looks at dreams as a practical theologian, as a Jungian Psychologist, and as a historian.

Book Review: Dreams by Morton Kelsey
Morton T. Kelsey served in many roles; most notably as an Episcopalian priest, professor at Notre Dame University, and as a psychologist.[1],[2] Kelsey wrote and published over a dozen books, often covering various aspects of the spiritual world, dreams, psychology and the charismatic gifts.[3] Kelsey also became known for his poetry and various other forms of teachings. His training as an Episcopalian priest and a Psychologist makes his approach both unique and academic; but he most notably authors with a downhome approach. His approach, often identified with that of the mystics, in this book is on the topic of dreams and how the church has dealt rightly and wrongly with dreams over the years. He also shares quite well about what he has found to be true, when dealing with, dreams through his several decades of studying dreams and dream interpretation as a psychologist.
Early on in Dreams, Morton Kelsey makes his purpose in writing this book clear, communicating that “the purpose of this book is to show accurately and simply how the ordinary person can begin to understand the incredibly varied and fascinating “shows” that take place within our psyches each night.”[4] For him, that means understanding when a dream is God talking, when your body is telling you something about yourself and when a dream is just a dream that means nothing. He expands on this purpose by adding, “it is my hope that many people who have been interested in the dreams and visions of the Old Testament and New Testament may find that the interpretation for dreams is not reserved just for experts.”[5] Rather, they can learn about the ways the church has historically understood dreams and their connection to both the inner and spiritual worlds.

As a pastor, and an individual who works in a homeless shelter, I have met many individuals that have had dreams that they felt were with meaning and significance. Yet, many of them admit that there are few spaces for individuals to safely converse on and process these experiences. Studies in this book, show that 39% of those interviewed admitted in a study to having mystical experiences, yet not being able to safely discuss them.[6] Another survey in England, of 19,000 people, revealed that 10% of them admitted to having a meaningful dream or vision, again without a safe place to process.[7] These significant percentages of nonrational encounters should not be surprising for followers of Jesus, who have a New Testament, that an approximate 4,874 of the 7,957 verses in the New Testament are touching on a nonrational spiritual experience.[8] Perhaps we need better safe spaces to process them – openly.

This does not mean all dreams should be trusted or interpreted. Morton does explain the differences between dreams, visions, fantasies, daydreaming and active imagination. Overall, I accept his overarching definitions, but I might reclassify a few of them slightly differently (as well as their purposes). He also categorizes dreams into several categories including everything from insignificant to symbolic, revelatory, archetypal, clearly a guiding dream and more.[9] For those who do want to find which dreams are worth paying attention to, Morton points out that it is important then to write down your dreams, take your dream seriously, pay attention to images, make associations, paying attention to repetitions and then listening to the dream as if it were a dream or a movie; before realizing also the importance of learning archetypal symbols.[10]

I appreciated the way Morton Kelsey walked through the dreams of the Old Testament, New Testament and even the early church fathers. This was the ultimate highlight of the book for me. In fact, he walks us up through 400 A.D. with stories of dreams of some of our most honored and respected Church Fathers; and the reminder of these were quite helpful to see the switch in our thinking over the years. Intermingled in those stories he also shares some of his own stories and experiences. His research has led him to believe that it was in the thirteenth century, when Thomas Aquinas tried to interpret the life of the Church with the help of Aristotle’s philosophy – that we find “the idea that the human being can experience only through sensory perception and reason. There was no place for this dream. It took about three or four centuries for this view to become totally accepted. As this happened, Christians ceased interpreting dreams. The intellectual tradition of Europe in the last four centuries has taught people to think in conceptual terms only.”[11] This post-enlightenment understanding of the church, especially throughout the modern era, has greatly undermined the mystery of God’s revelatory and spiritual revelation. Regardless if you agree with Morton Kelsey’s understandings of dreams or not, he strategically argues for the church to recognize the legitimacy of dreams, explains their role in history and witnesses to the need for a safe and healing community to process these experiences.

While I do not agree, yet anyway, with every experience and assumption Morton Kelsey makes, I believe he brings forth some important history and teaching, as well as notable experience and understanding. It was a valuable and encouraging read. I do believe Kelsey brings about some important history and thought processes we have forgotten and undervalued. More importantly, I agree with his finding;
  1. God is always present, not only in the physical world, but also in the spiritual world, which constantly breaks through into our consciousness via the dream and the vision.
  2. God gives directions to those who are open to them.
  3. We can directly confront and experience this spiritual world.
  4. God is much more anxious to communicate with us than we are to listen.”[12]
If the topic of dreams and their roles interest you, this short book may be of great value to you, as it was for me.



[1] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), Back Cover. [2] "Kelsey, Morton T(rippe) ." Writers Directory 2005. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 25, 2022). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/kelsey-morton-trippe [3] "Kelsey, Morton T(rippe) ." Writers Directory 2005. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 25, 2022). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/kelsey-morton-trippe [4] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 1. [5] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 1. [6] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 8. [7] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 34. [8] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 19-20. [9] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 40-45. [10] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 40-51. [11] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 76-77. [12] Morton T. Kelsey, Dreams: A Way to Listen to God (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1978), 69.

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