The Enchanted Castle

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Francis Danby, “The Enchanted Castle” (c. 1841)

When I first saw this painting, I was struck by the intensity of its vision, not simply the artist’s but the lingering figure of the woman by the reflecting pool. She seems oblivious to the slow burn of the golden light beyond the dark overarching trees and the darkened castle. Their shadows have won the day. She looks down, dwelling on her thoughts even as the shadows grow. She seems unaware of the fiery sunset, perhaps unconcerned. Her introspection holds her captive, there by the enchanted castle, be it memories or dreams or affairs of the heart or the world or the steady drone of the day.

Inexplicably, Danby’s “Enchanted Castle” flashed before me today as I listened to a performance of Glenn Rudolph’s The Dream Isaiah Saw which to my mind presents a diametrically conflicting vision to that of the painting. The choral text is a poem written in 1994 by Thomas H. Troeger:

Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
blood will not darken the earth that God made.

Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
life redeemed from fang and claw.

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
deep in the heart and in systems of gain,
ripe for the judgement the Lord will ordain.

Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
justice purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
nations obeying the call to repent,
all of creation completely restored,
filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.

I fear sometimes that “the knowledge and love of the Lord” gets lost in the shuffle of the worldly life’s “enchanted castle,” and we miss the golden vision given to us by the prophet in Isaiah 11: 6-9:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

To dwell in the light of this coming day is to “walk by faith and not by sight”(2 Cor. 5:7), to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), to be wholly aware of the eternal God whose steadfast love never fails, and to anticipate “‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9-10). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

To dwell in the oblivion of the “enchanted castle” is to lose the light of salvation and to walk in the shadows and growing darkness that follows, like the woman in Danby’s painting, a vision of terror.

How fervent then must be my continual prayer that Christ “take new lodgings in my heart” and “bring the dream Isaiah saw: life redeemed from fang and claw,” the fang and claw of worldly care no less than violence and destruction! Let this be my clarion call:

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us. (Psalm 123:1-2)

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