Nightmares and lullabies

A child cries out in the middle of the night. He's had a bad dream. His mother jumps from bed and hurries to his room. She cradles him; shhh, shhh. She will probably sing quietly. Perhaps turn on a soft light.

Invariably she will say: Everything is all right; everything's fine.

Yesterday I finished reading Peter Berger's A Rumor of Angels, in which he offers the scene of a mother's response to a child's nightmare as an example of what he calls a "signal of transcendence." By this term he means something in prototypical everyday human behavior or experience that points to another reality that can be truly explained "only if there is some truth in the religious interpretation of human existence."

Given the danger and death lurking in life, he posits that the only reason the mother's words are not a lie (albeit a lie told in love) is because the "reassurance…implies a statement about reality" and this "trust in being" is essential to becoming a functional human being. Any ordering gesture points to a core human belief that there is a reality that transcends the empirical sphere.

So many reassurances--given and received--of order in the universe we daily substitute for the mother's whisper: things always work out for the best; it was meant to be; what goes around, comes around; it will be all right.