“…When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD,
reveal myself to them in visions,
I speak to them in dreams.” Numbers 12:6
At 28 weeks Baby Chris’ brain development is continuing rapidly, and his head is now in proportion to his body. He has REM (Rapid Eye Movement) during sleep phases.
In adults, REM indicates a dream-state. Scientists are intrigued by the idea that if babies have REM in the womb, it follows that babies also dream. But what could he be dreaming about? Do babies have the same kind of surreal images and sensations in their dreams as adults? Some scientists believe that instead of dreaming in the womb, babies’ REM activity indicates the development of neural connections related to language. Whatever is happening, a lot is happening while we sleep, no matter what our age or stage of development – and it happens without input from, or activity by, the sleeping human.
There is a computer term – “boot” – that describes the process when a computer is powered on and the very first program starts up, followed by a series of processes. When we “reboot” a computer, we are forcing the computer to refresh and repeat those steps again. Maybe REM is something like that: our mental “programs” are “running in the background” - embedding memories, processing information and cleaning up neural pathways as we sleep - and when we re-awaken, “rebooting” afresh for maximum cognitive functioning in the next wake period.
To be “made in the image of God” means many things. Unlike animals, humans share the attributes of our Creator: love, self-awareness, justice, grace, and mercy. While we acknowledge the existence of DNA and the multitude of unique characteristics and propensities it carries, the spiritual aspects that separate human beings from the animal world are more than just the sum of chemicals and the mechanics of cell division. These spiritual aspects of our being – the expression of the Imago Dei – is sometimes thought of as personhood.
Some philosophers argue that the sentience that comes with personhood – the self-awareness and the ability to relate emotionally and consciously to our environment and other human beings – should be the utilitarian litmus test for “when life begins.” But REM in the womb – coupled with the ability to recognize human voices (weeks 25-28), respond to music (week 16), react to touch (8 weeks), recoil from pain (20 weeks) and self-soothe (27 weeks) – indicates that self-awareness and environmental interaction are present in utero.
It seems there is a point in our earliest fetal development (or before?) when God begins equipping and gifting humans with whatever it is that they will need to become the fullest expression of the imago Dei in their unique selves. There is a kairos time designated by God when we are equipped and gifted to answer God’s call and fulfill God’s purposes, as evidenced in the prenatal call stories of the patriarchs, prophets and Christ himself. I would not go so far as to call it “programming,” but perhaps “mapping the hard drive,” isn’t too much of a stretch. There is something intentional going on: God is fashioning a dream come true.
For God does speak—now one way, now another— though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds…”
Read more on sleep at Baby Chris Week 20, “Domez-vous?”