Unexpected Theological Richness in a Picture Book That Deserves to be Better Known

When I first read Mick Inkpen’s picture book, Nothing, my kids were still too young for it–it’s a bit text-heavy–but I was immediately captivated by it, and have returned to it again and again to read to myself.

It is charming and witty, earnest and playful. It is beautifully–beautifully–illustrated.

It is also, unexpectedly, a deeply theological meditation on identity, community, renewal, and hope.

“The little thing in the attic at Number 47 had forgotten all about daylight. It had been squashed in the dark for so long that it could remember very little of anything. […] So long had it been there, even its own name was lost. ‘I wonder who I am,’ it thought. But it could not remember.”

GraemesCard 2Through a series of events, ‘Nothing,’ as the little creature begins to call himself, manages to escape from the attic and out onto the roof:

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 2.27.38 PM“How do you think you would feel if you had been squashed in the dark for years and years. And then you squeezed through a tiny hole to find yourself under the big starry sky? Well, there are no words for that kind of feeling, so I won’t try to tell you how Nothing felt, except to say that he sat on the roof staring up at the moon and stars for a very long time.”

Through a series of events, Nothing finds himself in the lap of the old grandfather to whom he had once belonged. He remembers his name. He is restored to the being he was meant to be, and, in fact, always was, even if he himself had forgotten.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 2.30.59 PMScreen shot 2013-11-04 at 2.38.02 PM“And this, with the help of a good wash, some scraps of material, a needle and some thread is how he became Little Toby once more.”

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 2.40.11 PMScreen shot 2013-11-04 at 2.40.28 PM“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” (Rev. 21:5)

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

{While Nothing appears to be out of print in the USA; many used copies are available here.}

The Newest Fad Diet VS. The Vegetable Volunteers

Well, WOW. I would not have guessed that yesterday’s post about a wacky fad diet would’ve garnered so many page views. But it did, and I can’t help but wonder why. I rather hope it is because people are looking for a reason not to follow the latest “should & ought” from the newest guru. Nearly every day, it seems, someone tells me of some new approach to eating or not-eating or exercising or not-exercising and all I can say is this:

If I were still in the grip of disordered thinking and behavior surrounding food and body, the Internet would be a living hell. HCG diet! “The Plan”! “Paleo”! The Primal Urge Diet! HELP!

And yet? And yet–there is this:

My compost pile. An occasionally smelly, sometimes-ugly, always buggy home to the biggest, juiciest worms on the North Fork. The place where the scraps from our table become the food for next year’s food. Nothing goes to waste here. It takes care of two big problems:

What to do with trash?


How to fertilize the garden?

in one easy move. In this pile go the eggshells, coffee grounds, burned slices of toast, and forgotten leftovers. Here’s where I put the custard that didn’t come together quite right, the bread that went stale, and the yogurt that got moldy.

Here, everything, even the most putrid, vile stuff, is reborn into something new: dark, rich soil that feeds the garden and brings forth new life. And so it goes on.

And sometimes, there are unexpected graces:

This pretty little butternut squash grew from a forgotten seed discarded in the compost pile last autumn. There that little seed rested all winter until, come spring, it grew into a plant that bore another beautiful fruit.

In this ugly, forgotten corner of the garden (where the compost pile was located previously) a number of vegetables “volunteered”–they sprang forth from scattered seeds and persevered to bring something beautiful and edible and life-giving.

Oh, these little events–“random” butternut squashes, potatoes, and tomatoes growing from compost piles–don’t get much press, I know. But to me, they point beyond themselves to a story that’s much, much greater: it’s the story of beauty from ashes, a promise that somehow, the crazy, smelly, wasted and mixed-up bits and pieces of this world can be transformed, redeemed, into something that’s at once totally different from and organically connected to what’s come before.

Yes, indeed. There are glimpses of grace within and among and emerging from the confusing bits and pieces of this life, and they are worth holding onto.