Monday, June 13, 2011

Castle on a hill

E and her friend CC are in Great Britain.  Have I mentioned that?  A time or twenty?  A thousand?  Well, that's nothing to how often I'm thinking about them.  This morning (their time) they took 'a bus to a bus to a bus to take a 45 minute plane ride from Dublin to Edinburgh, where they'll be for the next several days.  Edinburgh. Sigh.

Back in 1982, when SKC and I were riding the rails (which makes us sound like a couple of hobos from the depression!) around Europe, we got off the train in Edinburgh late in the afternoon, and hiked, backpacks firmly on our backs, straight up to the castle.  Er, THE Castle.  To me, Edinburgh Castle is one of the great places in the world.  Sure, there are more spectacular castles--think Heidelburg Castle, for example--but there's something about the very long and varied history of Edinburgh that tugs at me.  Maybe it's because that day, when SKC and I finally got up there, it was about 15 minutes before the grounds were closing for the day and the guard told us we could just go on in (this was a simpler time, after all). We stood at the wall (the Argyle battery), just as the sun was setting off to our left, casting a glow over the whole city.  It stirred my imagination as almost nothing else on that whole trip.  I imagined a young girl standing there, dreaming of a prince, or even a second coachman (if she was merely a dairymaid), and of guards watching the city and the water in the distance.  A thousand lives I dreamed in that gloaming.  A thousand years' worth of lives.

We went back the next day and crawled at a snail's pace through every nook and cranny of those buildings--the chapel, which is the oldest building on the grounds; the room where Mary, Queen of Scots, bore her son, James, who became the first Scots to be King of England as well as Scotland...all of it fascinated us.

Then, almost two decades later, with my mother and sisters, I returned to Edinburgh.  Stood at the Battery.  Looked over the city and was stirred again high on that hill.  Or remembered the stirring.  The imagining and dreaming.  The lives spent and lost in that castle, defending it.  Lives I can imagine...lives that would never dream mine.

Edinburgh Castle sits at the top of a hill that separates Old Town from New Town.  The old is full of soot-covered buildings from the coal that burned as the main source of heating 100 years ago.  New Town is shiny.  Untouched by that soot, clean.  Some of the buildings have been designed in exactly the same style as in Old Town, but they are clean.  And between, runs a street called The Royal Mile, like a dividing line between the old and new (so-named because it is a mile between the Castle at one end and the Royal Palace, Holyrood, at the other.

It's a little like our lives, isn't it?  With an old life, all covered with dirt and grime and, in great need of repair (they are systematically cleaning the old buildings in Edinburgh...just so you know!), and a new life, clean and beautiful and shiny with life.

And between?  There's a hill where something powerful took place, something that stands like a castle through-out the centuries, for us to be protected by, covered by, shadowed by.  We can look up from whatever we're doing, whatever we've gotten ourselves into this time, and there it is, like THE castle on the hill, that changed the course of history.  It encompasses everything, you know.  A mother gave birth to a baby who would be KING, the oldest church of all dwells within it, and yes, death came here.

The hill on which our castle stands is Golgotha.  But it also stands within each of us.  The cross is our castle on a hill.  It's the place that changed everything.  And the place that changes us. And that castle's name is Jesus.

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