By Rev. Tyler Heston, Minister to Youth
We should really start a book club for the church staff. Soon after Catherine shared an article that mentioned The Overstory by Richard Powers, six of us were reading (or had already read) the book. The novel weaves the story of various people from across the globe into a single story with the life of trees at the center. It is an amazing read with its incredible storytelling, poetic prose, and scientific savviness. Already, it is challenging me to re-think how I ponder time and the progress of life.
At one point, Powers says that “people have no idea what time is. They think it’s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead. They can’t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already died.” Throughout the novel, Powers’ storytelling serves as a reminder of this truth: time is slowly wrapping around itself, holding our lives within the enormous mass of the whole. After one of the more tragic moments in the story, one of the main characters looks up and into a large tree, realizing that, to this tree, each moment, joyful or tragic, is “so insignificant, so transitory, [and] will be written into its rings and prayed over by branches that wave their semaphores against the bluest of midwestern winter skies.”
Powers is not the first one to suggest that time is an accumulation of repetitive rings. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrestled with this same reality. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever… What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:2-4, 9) With initial anxiety and trepidation, the writer of Ecclesiastes returns over and over to this incorrigible fact: that time is always wrapping around itself. We are small, and the same fate befalls us all. “For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 2:16) Yet, the author hits a tipping point near the end and realizes that this repetition is not a bad thing, but must be accepted and rejoiced. The end of Ecclesiastes urges the reader to rejoice in the pleasures of life, from merry moments with friends to the treasured relationships with the ones you love, and to remember that life is worth living, even when it is but one ring in the endless trunk of time.
How do you mark the pace of your life? What reminds you of your humble place in the universe? What floods your life with meaning in the face of the enormity of it all? Whether you are celebrating your daughter’s sporting team’s victory or struggling with sickness keeping you home from work on an important day; whether you are celebrating the new life of a family member’s new baby or mourning the unexpected loss of a friend— wherever you find yourself amidst the highs and lows wrapped up into each of our lives— may you find peace and freedom within the rings of time. May we remember that we are held in place within the harmony of God’s eternity, and that despite the enormity of it all, the rings of our lives are irreplaceable parts of the trees of existence, each an important moment in the story God is telling in the infinite cosmos.