Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality

I’ve had many dreams, some pleasant, some horrific when I’ve woken up sweating, but often depending on what I’d eaten for supper the previous evening. Some are predictably based on latent fears, like being buried alive. The horrific ones seem to stand out in the memory rather more than those with a pleasant edge.

The commonly recurring one in my experience has been to do with the experience of preaching around Christmas time. Because the text is in Matthew Chapter 2, there is no need to open the Bible to the page before hand. So you mount the pulpit, open the Bible at about two-thirds of the way through to the beginning of the New Testament, and look for Matthew but it’s not there, Matthew seems to be missing! You can’t believe it! You start scratching around for the famous words ” After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea, in the days of Herod… “, this New Testament seems to start with Mark’s Gospel, thankfully at least the Old Testament finishes where it should do with the Book of the prophet Malachi, but where is Matthew? You feel the perspiration beginning to fog your spectacles. Sometimes the binding is suspect, so you surreptitiously consult the Index not wanting the congregation, particularly the youngsters in the congregation to think you don’t even know where Matthew is. Ye, its down there alright in the Index with its page number, but the text pages are still missing. Some Bibles have the Apocrypha included, but that’s not there either. And then in my dream I fall out of the pulpit and mercifully have a soft landing in bed. What a relief!

Yet the Bible is full of examples where God uses dreams to help his servants to understand what he is about to do, recorded in both Testaments. This is not surprising since some dreams can be a very vivid way of remembering and communicating. One such dream remains ingrained in my memory cells even after retirement.

It was a Wednesday morning, and the previous evening I’d been reading over the text of the Niner to the second year Structural Engineering Class, and doubtless making some changes just to make it that little bit clearer. That morning I was due to introduce the topic of the Principle of Virtual Work and to apply it to the different situations of equilibrium, plastic collapse of planar frames and the yield line analysis of reinforced concrete slabs. Truth to say I didn’t really understand it as an undergraduate student myself, but when you’ve got to teach something you’d better know your stuff or…..! Generations of undergraduates recoil in horror at the mere mention of the Principle, but when you understand it is so simple and clear and beautiful, its like opening up a new world. I was so keen to pass on what I’d understood. It was about five in the morning that I became engaged in a dream, where I was striding the dais – more of a platform really, and getting lost in my own eloquence and in love with the topic, when in my dream I espied a student fast asleep in the second row with his head resting on his arms on the desk in front of him. The others in the class were awake and listening. I stopped, to absorb the indignity of the situation, a student fast asleep in the second row- not even at the back of the class, while I was opening up such beautiful new gems of knowledge. As it happened in the days of chalk and talk, I broke the stick of chalk in my hand( into small bits as I was Safety Officer!), and tossed it towards him and scored a direct hit. He was startled, and I was about to read him the riot act when I sensed opposition from the rest of the class. “Why did you wake him up? He wasn’t disturbing you, and he certainly wasn’t disturbing us. If he wants to sleep let him”. I woke in a cold sweat and was glad that it was only a dream after all, and I didn’t have to resolve the situation in real life.

I didn’t think any more about it. At nine o clock I started the lecture on Virtual Work, and was soon lost in the simple abstraction of this wonderful mathematical construct. As I strode the platform and turning at the end I espied a student in the second row with his head resting down on his hands, fast asleep. I actually went for the chalk and broke it in several pieces and was about to throw a projectile towards him when I felt a caution, the other students had also noticed him and were watching for my reaction. The dream came back to me some four hours after I had received it, and the projectile remained in my hand. I did nothing, but continued enunciating applications of the Principle I had so much fallen in love with. 

As I was clearing up at the end of the lecture the offending student came to chat, and I noticed he was dressed in a dinner jacket with a dark dickie bow. I’ve come to apologise for falling asleep in your lecture, he said, I did’nt want to miss it, so I came directly here from last night’s party! I had to smile.

So what of the dream, what was its purpose. It certainly taught me that God can use dreams to communicate some intention, where we’re required to make a response, and to respond flexibly to situations with our students. It was not long after when another member of that class asked to be excused during the course of my lecture, indicating that he was feeling unwell. I sympathetically suggested a particular course of action. By evening he was dead. Often we do not know what is in the minds of colleagues and students. As Christians in particular we need to be aware and sympathetic.

Gwynne was Reader in Structural Engineering at Nottingham University, retiring in 1998, but has subsequently lectured part-time until recently. He is a Chartered Engineer, involved in the design and construction of bridges and is a member of both Civil and Structural Engineering Institutions. He has been for several years UK delegate to Commission XV of the International Institute of Welding, and has served as secretary and acting chairman of the Sub-commissions XV-E (Tubular Construction) and XV-G (Seismic Effects on Welded Steel Structures) respectively. He has been an active member of the Professional Groups of UCCF acting as chairman of the Co-ordinating Committee, the secretary of ACHE and Editor of Forum. He is a member at Cornerstone Evangelical Church, Nottingham, and is married to Marilyn. They have just celebrated their Ruby Wedding Anniversary.