Two Days, Two Castles: Too Defended?

Today, an unscheduled visit to a ruined castle: bleak, windswept, bare, alone.

Yesterday, a planned-but-executed-differently visit to a much-tended, much-fed castle: full of human connection, on this encounter at least.

There are many things for me to go away and think about, including:

  • how the ruins were far more accessible to the passer-by than was the grand fortress, and yet so much less invitational
  • how the ruins were far more useful, in a practical sense: they could offer shelter to someone who had no other, whereas the vagabond would be cast out from the tended castle
  • how each was built to defend England from the Other (Scots, in these cases!), and had royal pedigree
  • how each had strong, deep walls, and ancient skin, and hallowed and unholy echoes
  • how stories bring life and death to both, and how the unknown stories, the secrets of the rocks, bring depth and distance
  • how the grand gatehouse in one is echoed in the total absence of gatehouse (evident only in the sign marking where it would have been) in the other
  • how a mirroring process like that can operate in the mind, and can show us many things
  • how defenceless the ruins are now, and yet they still stand
  • how life was lived in and around each of the castles, which brings me to…some thoughts:

I was struck by how windows have become a feature of today’s world, and what they say of it: primarily that we spend a great deal of our time indoors, I think.

As we live our fortified lives, protected against any Otherness and enrichment, we want to look out, and to let in the light, of course.

We look out, I believe, in order to see what it is that surrounds us: what we are protecting, and what we are protecting it from. Each of the castles will have had life:  communities, support networks, families – those who grew and produced food, those who loved and cared for and ministered to those whose work it was to watch, and warn, and defend. Those communities, that life…these are ostensibly the things being defended, perhaps, though it may have been in the name of the crown, or the land, or the faith. Defended from what? From change, from challenge, from difference, from slaughter too. The lives lived, sheltered, frozen, besieged, and the slaughter done, in support of those fortifications – are they lives destroyed by the work of protecting them?

Do we let our defences prevent us from living?

The harder thing to accept is that we have to let the light in. However much artificial light we can and do produce, there is something in the outside light, the light that shines on our earth, that we need. Without it we starve, our plants do not grow, our souls begin to die. This light is the light of life. This light is beyond our control; it is something we simply cannot shut out, no matter how much we might want to. This light holds us vulnerable, as we must have windows to let it in, or else we must go out into it – leave our fortresses and our defended places and venture into Beyond..and risk encounter with Others.



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