A Far Green Country

PIPPIN: “I didn’t think it would end this way.” 

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take... The grey rain curtain of this world pulls back and all turns to silver glass...and then you see it...”

PIPPIN: “What? Gandalf…see what?”

GANDALF: “White shores. And beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

PIPPIN: (relieved) “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.”

GANDALF: (smiling) “No. No it doesn’t.”

(The Return of the King, film version)

The siege of the White City of Gondor is well underway. For many long, weary hours Gandalf has marshaled the troops of Gondor against the siege, but all has proved an exercise in futility - there is no strength in Gondor to match the tens of thousands of enemy soldiers that have poured across the River and swarmed the Pelennor Fields. The relentless tide surges against the beleaguered city: the gates are breached, the lower levels of the city fall to the Enemy, the last defense is pulled back toward the citadel of Ecthelion.

There is a moment of respite, a brief chance for Gandalf to catch his breath and ponder the fate of Middle Earth. Beside him sits the young Hobbit who has endeared himself through many misadventures to the old wizard. The expression on Pippin's face tells it all, and he utters the sad words of an unfulfilled life:

“I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Didn't think it would end what way? Alone? Separated from home and all he held dear? No chance to hold his loved ones one last time and say a proper goodbye? Or more generally, was he referring to the "story" itself: he never thought that hate would ultimately triumph? That the Dark Lord would eventually destroy all the good that was left in the world?

Have you ever spoken words like this? Or made subtle agreements that life isn’t turning out the way you thought it would? That you had to say "good-bye" too soon...or didn't get to at all? That your chances to become the man or woman you wanted to be are gone beyond recall? That you’ll never accomplish all the things you wanted to, or thought you would?

“I didn’t think it would end this way.”

And then there's Gandalf. Sitting peacefully beside Pippin, with no hint of fear, despair, or sorrow. Responding to Pippin’s questioning statement, he speaks - not with hope - but with complete authority and calm certainty. His eyes gleam as he looks back into the distant reaches of his memory to a time before he had been clothed in human form, before he had become the one we know as 'Gandalf'.

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.”

Death holds no fear for Gandalf. He knows. He has seen what awaits.

Granted, Gandalf has a clear advantage over us. According to Tolkien's myth, Gandalf walked in the twilight along those White Shores that kiss the Far Green Country of the Blessed Realm long before the first sunrise, long before the Race of Man awoke.

On the other hand, that was a few thousand years ago now. He's certainly seen a lot of hard life since then, and there's been plenty to dim and darken his memory of such a Place.

But all inequal comparisons aside, the question for us really is just how real is our Heaven? How often do we think about what awaits? How often do we allow our imagination to sweep us away to Eternal Shores, to the new Earth, to sitting around a campfire with your loved ones and the great heroes of the faith? To the limitless time you will have to do all the things you ever dreamed of doing? To become exactly the person you’ve always wanted to be? To the time when you will be Free indeed, to the time when you will taste at last the complete and utter relief of Holiness? To the time when the best part of the story finally begins? To the happily-ever-after that seems far too good to be true?

“The grey rain curtain of this world pulls back and all turns to silver glass...and then you see it: White shores, and beyond, a Far Green Country under a swift sunrise!”

What do you see when the curtain is pulled back? Nothing distinct really? Just a dim sense that it is going to be better than ceasing to exist, and better than that Other Place?

Why is that okay with us? How is it that we, the products of such an extremely goal-driven society, don't seem to spend much time considering our ultimate destination? It's like hopping on a 747 without asking where the plane is bound...and even going so far as to try to convince yourself that there is no destination: that the plane will just keep circling up there at thirty-eight thousand feet forever and ever. Yes, life is a Journey, we agree. But every Journey must be going somewhere. It really is an oversight with no logical explanation. (Of course there is an explanation - but we don't want to hear it: we're not really sure Heaven is real, no matter what our religion has told us)

Gandalf's calm assurance revolutionizes Pippin's attitude toward their dire situation. Death, if that is what awaits them, may be painful, and it may be full of sorrow and parting and loss...but only for a time. It will not be the end.

You do know it's okay to spend a good bit of your time envisioning it, dreaming about it, living your life with one eye always looking toward it, don't you?

It's not escapism.

It's Reality.

And It's coming.

The glorious Reward that awaits His faithful followers is getting closer every day. But you must focus on it, keep it before your mind's eye as a daily exercise, or in times of despair when all hope seems lost you will be deceived into thinking the end is here.

The end isn’t here. In fact, there is no end for followers of the King! And that is what always gives hope to those on the Warrior’s Path.

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

With longing for the White Shores,