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preview: why 'invisible castle'?
the invisible castle (Luke)
Imagine a friend or sibling who goes missing. Years are spent searching for them. Dangerous quests undertaken. Finally, on a remote mountainside, they appear — not bedraggled or withered. But more vibrantly alive than you ever remember. You enquire of their life. They reply that they have married and live in a castle more beautiful than any other. Only it is imperceptible to most human eyes.
Unsuccessfully you seek to prise them from this delusion. To bring them home safely from their invented life. But to no avail. When you part that evening it is with sadness and a sense of futility. The wounds of loss not healed, but reopened. Wearily, you begin the long walk home.
As twilight encroaches, and mist falls, you pause for breath and before you emerges an unexpected vision. Later you will recall:
‘I lifted my head and looked once more into the mist across the water, I saw that which brought my heart into my throat. There stood the palace, grey — as all things were grey in that hour and place — but solid and motionless, wall within wall, pillar and arch and architrave, acres of it, a labyrinthine beauty. As she had said, it was like no house ever seen in our land or age. Pinnacles and buttresses leaped up — no memories of mine, you would think, could help me to imagine them — unbelievably tall and slender, pointed and prickly as if stone were shooting out into branch and flower.’
Then, subtly and swiftly, it fades.
‘Perhaps it was not real. I looked and looked to see if it would not fade or change. Then as I rose (for all this time I was still kneeling where I had drunk), almost before I stood on my feet, the whole thing was vanished. There was a tiny space of time in which I thought I could see how some swirlings of the mist had looked, for the moment, like towers and walls. But very soon, no likeness at all. I was staring simply into fog, and my eyes smarting with it.’
This is the story of the invisible castle. In C.S. Lewis’ final novel, Till We Have Faces, from which the narrative and two quotations above are drawn, the character who sees the vision — Orual — pushes the experience to one side for a while, files it as illusion, and assumes her lost sister deceased. As a result it is to be years before they meet again.
It’s a powerful echo of the ancient words ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near’ (Is. 55:6). But here is the twist: We all live in God’s world and in a reality contingent on him. And so he is always near and the invitation to call on him remains ever-open.
the art of seeing reality (Kristi)
Yet this response calls for seeing. And that requires having eyes to see. Till We Have Faces is a reimagining of the Ancient Greek myth of Psyche and Cupid. According to Lewis, the original version of the myth (transmitted by Apuleius) lacked the ring of truth. A myth must, first and foremost, be true. So, Lewis set to re-working the myth.
One of the greatest changes Lewis made was to the palace (we prefer ‘castle’). It went from perceptible in Apuleius’ version, to imperceptible in his own—‘invisible’, if you will. After all, why should those searching so easily find the palace in which their erstwhile sibling resided? It was too easy. At the stroke of Lewis’ pen, the palace was shielded from sight.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of my favourite book, Le Petit Prince, writes:
And now here is my secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
That which is essential is often invisible; that which is valuable is often difficult to find. Here, at invisible castle, we present the art of seeing reality so that the heart ‘can see rightly’.
seeing reality today (Luke)
We learn the art of seeing reality not only for ourselves. But also that we might help others. Our life, lived in God’s world, is permeated by fleeting visions of something more than we can see or touch. In my first book I recall being at the Burning Man festival and meeting with a young woman called Kate.
She told me that she had never been a part of any organized religion and her upbringing was entirely secular. Throughout her childhood, though, she had a growing awareness of something good and beautiful beyond the physical. This sometimes found expression in art or dance, but was always hovering in the background.
When she got to university, Kate fell in with a group of people who would spend long hours having deep discussions about life. It was the first time she had been part of a community which was willing to talk at length about big questions of existence and meaning.
Kate also took classes at college where she learnt to dismantle received ideas and interpretations of culture. This confirmed her previous intuition that there are more possible ways of understanding reality than those with which she had been presented thus far. Perhaps, as she had thought for so many years, she really was surrounded by a spiritual reality.
There was no dramatic turning point for Kate, but the years since college have been an ongoing process of ‘opening up to an ever-present spirit of love, or of goodness and opening [my] heart to this power that’s waiting for us, that’s all around us;. She said she sometimes calls this spirit ‘God’ and it was a source of ‘very big acceptance and gratitude… it’s not like I’m seeing beauty and feeling a love based on what I see. It’s just that suddenly it’s there.’
Others find this sense in other subtler ways — through art, through the love of friends and family, or simply as something which hangs in the background of their existence. To speak of Jesus to someone like Kate, then, is to give a face and name to these intuitions. The invisible castle took on flesh and walked among us, and to all who received him he gave the right to become children of God.
who we are (Kristi):
Both Luke and I have invested decades of our lives sharing the story of Jesus, both directly with people seeking to make sense of their fleeting sense of more, and also in helping those already following Jesus to invite friends to explore the castle which need not be invisible. You can read more about us here.
We have been practitioners and teachers. We’ve penned books; I’ve written about truth, Luke about contextual apologetics, and about movements sharing Jesus around the world. Together we edited a book exploring the wide contours of life with God. More publications are to come. We are also each involved in developing fresh initiatives in a range of settings across the UK and Europe.
As we have done (and continue to do) these things, we have been in regular conversation with one another, reflecting on how to recalibrate our approaches for the constantly-shifting culture. After our first joint publication in 2020, we began discussing other possibilities for making our reflection more widely available, and in mid-2022, sipping coffee in the courtyard of the British Library, we settled on starting here — with some short digestible articles.
who is invisible castle for? (Luke)
The invisible castle is aimed at anybody active in engaging others with the story of Jesus. It’s especially geared towards those who interact with Generation Z and below; students, twenties, those emerging into adulthood. If you interact with these demographics — whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, or simply as a friend or relative — then invisible castle is for you.
We care about this age group, in part, because it is the one with whom we both most regularly interact. But we also write with an eye towards them because we believe that the dominant received models of communication, including many of those categorised under the heading ‘apologetics’, can undermine our best intentions and even work against us when engaging with these groups.
This doesn’t mean we offer invisible castle with a dismissive wave of the hand towards anyone else. We routinely learn from and listen to all kinds of perspectives, and integrate them into our own ever-evolving teaching and praxis. But we do wonder if perhaps there is space to explore a fresh way of seeing and of helping others to do the same.
what’s next? (Kristi & Luke)
Each month, hopefully beginning in early 2024, we’ll send out a couple of these updates; one an original article, and the other highlighting a book or resource which has caught our eye, or a commentary on some recent event or trend.
We’re also working on our first physical invisible castle publication, which should hopefully be available by the end of the year. Over time we’ll announce more, including in-person training and events, and possible other media.
The idea, though, isn’t to grow something huge, but to quietly offer another perspective for interested friends and connections, and to be available to help you with what you’re doing in your setting. So please do get in touch if you think we can be of help to you.