“First there was nothing. Then there was everything.” — The Overstory, by Richard Powers
On Sunday, September 15th, The Chicago Tribune had a column by Mary Schmich. It was entitled, “6 great books to read right now.” One of the books listed was The Overstory. Schmich referred to writer Ann Patchett who said, The Overstory, is “…the best novel ever written about trees, and really one of the best novels, period.” It was a book I had recently read and the inspiration for this Pondering. I commend it to you.
Powers begins his book with the above quote, referring to trees. I’ve taken it a step further and suggest that it also describes a story. All stories begin with a germ of potential, a seed inspiration, whether it be a classic like Romeo and Juliet, Powers’ The Overstory, TV series, even you and me. In the beginning, for us there is not much of anything. We are birthed tiny, fragile, with nothing; no teeth, no clothes, no history but an egg and a sperm that has become an egg, a possibility with life and the Creator’s touch. At first, our story is simple, nothing but feelings and sounds, and responses from an autonomic nervous system that shape the story which is slow to evolve. Day after day things begin to change and develop. Ever so slowly, the story starts to take shape. This, our individual story, will resemble no other. Nothing becomes something and creation continues, weaving itself into and around our world, forming something/someone unlike anything/one else, and we begin branching ourselves into the world about us.
The familiar phrase “Once upon a time” is the way many books for children begin. It’s a code for a person to settle in and begin to be enchanted, to be taken to new places, see things not yet known, understand life in a new way. We each began “Once upon a time.”
Once upon a time becomes our enchanting time. It is through stories that we learn, grow, laugh, even understand ourselves and the world we live in better, and ever become more developed stories ourselves. Powers’ book is about trees, about their history of more than 4 billion years, their essential nature to us and the air we breathe, their bewitching power, about more than I can fit in a Pondering article. He reminds us that there’s as much below ground in their roots in the earth as above, that their Overstory is our story too. Not once upon a time, but we are rooted “In the beginning when God created the heaven and earth, out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant in the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). Powers reminds us that a tree is intimately connected with creation, and that it was part of a tree, the cross, which held our Savior, Jesus, for his death, readying him for resurrection.
Powers continues his opening with the words, then, “the air is raining messages.” Powers book is about trees and their connection with you and me, about their raining messages; not just leaves, nuts, fruit, breezes, sounds, shade, and homes for living creatures. As we grow, I think Powers is right, suddenly we are aware that everything/stories are everywhere and each one of us can be a messenger too.
May I remind you that as each tree begins from a tiny seed, like the mustard seed story in the Bible, and grows to majestic heights, we, too, have been created as children of God, as first almost nothing, and then filled with everything we need, gifts that we are given for the opportunity to rain down upon others, scattering those gifts as profusely as leaves and nuts. From nothing at first, we have everything. We are given the gift of life, here and in eternity.
To God be the glory. Amen.