The camel came early.
Four weeks before Epiphany, and there he was, wandering through my dreams.
I had begun on foot. A young child, allowed to wonder the city while his mother worked. There is a magical street in that city, full of enticing shops and exotic flavours, treasures beyond compare. And for the time being, it was mine to taste and touch and smell.
People were busy: talking, choosing, buying. And I slipped past invisible, able to do as I liked. ‘If it were really like this…’ I thought, ‘if I had this freedom, this choice… if it were always this vibrant…’
And then I was lost in it again, amazed by the colours, too happy to think.
One shop was quite dark and narrow. I wandered through bolts of silk and smells of incense and found myself going out through a heavy wooden door. And there he was. The camel. Ready to take me up the hill.
As we rode on, the scene changed. No longer the crowded shops and clambering people, but wide open streets and tall buildings. We were in the city proper now, signs of power all around. But the streets were curiously empty — no one to notice a small boy and his camel.
We wandered endlessly, seeing the alleys behind buildings, where people huddled in shadows; then turning a corner to be blinded by light gleaming of stone and gold. It was beautiful, but this was not a happy place. So we turned and came away.
I have no idea what I was doing there. Why there were camels, who the young boy was (save that he was ‘I’ for the duration of the dream.) I’m not sure it has any meaning.
But I realised there were places I’d been before. The first street with all it’s glittering promise. The expanse that was crossed before climbing up the hill. A landscape of dreams that is seldom present to our waking consciousness, but waits for our return through months and years.
Like the prophets’ visions. Places so real, they take your breath away, but unlike any place we truly know.
Somewhere in the visions we name hope and confront fear. Face the possibility of existence and of loss.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.