Written by: Kathleen Schwab
Some friends and I were talking about heaven. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions,” and we asked the question, “What does your house in heaven look like?” The responses were very interesting. Some people talked about specific types of architecture that they found the most beautiful. Others talked about what would be inside the house. One person wasn’t interested in the house itself so much as the house’s setting: great surfing should be right outside. Another person said simply, “I want what God gives me.”
These are all good answers, and they say a lot about what people value.
I brought up this question with another friend, and she skipped over the house part, and went straight to the animals she wants to have in heaven, which include a unicorn and a winged horse. Mythological animals in heaven hadn’t occurred to me, but, after all, given the fabulous creatures we read about in Revelation, heaven will not be limited to what we’ve seen on Earth.
Anyone on my Facebook feed knows I am fascinated by castles, and so my friends said, “Your house in heaven is a castle, right?” And it is, absolutely. But this discussion did make me dig into why I see a castle as the perfect home. If I think about historical context, castles were not designed as wonderful places to live: they were built to be military fortresses, and to solidify the hold of a small group of people over a large piece of land. Control of fortified castles was critical in the constant warfare of the medieval period.
I not only have no interest in real warfare, but I believe in the equality of all people. Both Jesus and Paul urge Christians to see each other as equals. Why would my peace-loving self be attracted to castles, structures designed to enforce the rights of the military aristocracy?
Sometimes figuring out why we like things takes some time. One reason for my castle-love is my 16th century ancestor Grace O’Malley, who owned five castles that ringed Clew Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Grace O’Malley became the head of her clan after the death of her father, husband, and brothers, and led the O’Malleys through a particularly difficult time in Irish history. I like to think of her strength and wiliness, and her strategic use of both land and sea in taking care of her people. At first glance the O’Malley castles are tucked into the most picturesque spots on the undulating coastline; but on closer analysis, each square fortress commands the very best place in the neighborhood for line-of-sight and defense. They combine beauty and strength.
Then I read The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, and I realized that a castle is the perfect picture of the internal life of a Christian. You build it inside yourself as a fortress against this fallen world, the constant onslaught of the enemy, the distractions that hammer at the doors. An interior castle sets a boundary; inside these walls, I build my life with God. An entire army of besiegers may be outside, but inside I have a well. I have storerooms full of everything I need. I have a courtyard with sunlight, trees, and grass. In a hidden place, I have a whole life I share with Him.
What does your house in heaven look like?