In Tolkien's mythology of Middle-Earth, he writes of a time before the downfall of humanity, when the world was flat. The Valar, angelic beings similar to the gods of Olympus but much more virtuous, were still present in the world. Their home was a paradise known as Tol Eressëa or the Undying Lands. Elves could reach her shores by sailing West into the sunset. After a vain attempt by mankind to seize the Blessed Realm, and immortality, by force (sound familiar?), this heaven was taken away and the World was bent. It took on the globed shape we know today, and mortals who sailed into the West simply circled the planet and eventually ended up back where they began.
For the Elves, however, a way was left open to return to the Undying Lands; it was known as the Straight Road. As if sailing on an invisible bridge, travelers could pass over the rough and mountainous seas and leave the bent world behind them. It was a grace afforded to only a handful of mortals. This was the road taken by the grey ship at the end of the Lord of the Rings. After the fall of Sauron, when peace finally returned to Middle-Earth, the ringbearers Frodo and Bilbo, and eventually Sam, were given the grace to travel the Straight Road themselves, into the West.
I couldn't help thinking of this story last night, when we heard the reading from Luke 3:1-6 at an evening Mass in Broomall. John the Baptist cried out to a fallen race, our bent world, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
It's coming. Our redemption is near at hand! The time when all shall be made well again. When we can stop running in circles, back to the place we started, feeling alone, abandoned, and frustrated by sin; ours and the sin around us. Finally we can take that Straight Road that leads to the Blessed Realm. It is like that invisible bridge, and perhaps some we know are already on it. They seem to travel well over this bent world, with all of it's valleys and hills. The ship that can take us there is the Bark of Peter, the Church. And the water we sail upon is the river of grace that flows straight from God's own life. The source of this grace? He lies in a manger, in the humblest of places. So come, let us adore Him! And find our way back home!
Artwork: The Shores of Valinor by Ted Nasmith
On Tolkien's mythology: Catholic Imagination
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