Heaven on Earth: A Fractured Myth

 Water swallowed the world.

One tiny boat, all that remained of life that trod the dirt, splashed through the monstrous waves. Noah steered toward nowhere. This one kind soul, the only person on the planet who gave more than he received, had barely escaped this cleansing of humanity, this rebooting of God’s creation. As rain streamed from the sky, Noah had rushed his family into the boat, herding together as many living creatures as he could find. He’d placed a “Save The Earth” sticker on the prow of his floating menagerie and huddled deep within to wait out the Flood.

At the same time, the upper class gods who sidestepped this catastrophe with their immortal tricks peered down upon Noah and his drowning mates from their cloud called Mount Olympus. Most laughed at the hapless humans. But a few claimed hearts larger than their regal egos and took pity on the misfortunate below. To atone for this tragic “act of god,” they held a contest to determine who could devise the finest gift for humankind. They plotted and schemed, and all sorts of gadgetry leapt from their brains. But in the end most of the gods withdrew, deferring to their geniuses: Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, and Poseidon, the god of the sea.

Poseidon raised his trident and thrust it into the floor of the heavenly palace. In a poof of smoke and a thunderous explosion, out popped the noble horse. The assembly gasped in admiration of the beautiful beast. And imagine the utilitarian value! This horse would revolutionize labor, agriculture, communication, travel and play. But the Oracle of Delphi, who saw through the veils of time, began to weep. Through her prophetic eyes the gods witnessed how man would transform the horse into a weapon of hostility. They watched the Calvary charge. They envisioned the chariots of war steamrollering defenseless villages. They cringed as humans went further and further, transforming their shiny, breathing steeds into shiny, gas-guzzling tanks and worse…

Back on Earth, forty days had passed for Noah and his tiny zoo. And things did not look—or smell—too good on the ark. Noah’s wife threatened divorce if he didn’t rescue her from the stinking boat. “But I saved your life,” Noah pleaded. “You call this a life,” his wife snarled as the chimps, orangutans and her own children squirted cow milk, goat milk and reindeer milk at one another to ward off ennui. Noah hung his head and removed a dove from its cage. He climbed outside in the rain and patted her fondly. “Go find us some land,” he said as he tossed the bird over the side.

The gods on Olympus hissed as Athena stood silent, offering neither gift nor distraction. How rude to mock us with her empty hands, they complained. Even Zeus, her father and most fervent admirer, shifted on his throne. He rose to declare Poseidon the winner when Athena opened her clenched right fist and smiled. The gods crowded close to catch a glimpse of her tiny offering. She nodded toward a small patch of land, barely visible above the surging waters. She inverted her palm and the seed tumbled toward the Earth.

The muddy soil swallowed the seed and, “Incredible,” the gods hooted, for in a flash a huge tree sprung skyward. The silvery leaves, twisty bark and gleaming gray fruit of the Olive Tree stole their breath. But it perplexed them too. Some dared to snicker. What is this compared to Poseidon’s swift and powerful horse? How will this, this tree, alleviate the plight of those silly creatures of Earth? Athena said nothing, pointing as a white dove flew over the ocean and landed in the tree. It rested on the highest branches, gazing toward the east, bathing in the rays of the morning Sun. Then the dove plucked a twig from the olive tree and soared again over the sprawling sea.

Noah paced the deck, scanning the bleak horizon. He began to cry. He missed the dove. He feared for the dove. She was a mother. She’d already hatched five little chicks during her stay on the ark. How would they survive? Noah stared through his tears and his heart missed more than a few beats. Something was there. Could it be? Is it my dove? And then Noah detected something else that nearly stopped his heart for good. “In her mouth [was] an olive-leaf, freshly plucked” (Genesis 8:11). Noah embraced the dove as she landed weary and triumphant on the bow. He yelled to his wife and handed her the gift from the sky. “See, my love,” Noah said. “This tree is our wish come true.”

Back on high, Athena explained her magnificent reasoning, and the jury awarded her a unanimous triumph. Her trophy, promised by the immortals that see through time, was a whole city, for a time the greatest city, a city in her honor, the city called Athens. But man’s prize, this Olive Tree, was far wondrous still: olives to eat, oils for lamps, cooking and anointing, leaves that generate oxygen, bark for healing, wood for warmth and all a haven for birds, insects and animals of all kinds. Most precious of all, Athena said, the olive is now and forever the sign of peace and prosperity—the eternal symbol of man’s unity with God and his neighbors both. Down below, Noah had won a great victory too. He managed to save life on Earth. He found peace with the flood, with the stench of the wild things, with his wife, with the One. And when the beauty of the rainbow draped across the bluing, merciful sky signaled a promise that humankind would never again endure such severe annihilation, he realized that he’d discovered The Tree of Life.

Wish Maker: Noah wished for dry land. In this myth, the dove represents his hope and imagination that soars above the confines of his watery emotions of fear and despair. Noah refused to relinquish his faith that his wish would come true someday. His undying optimism dispenses a vital lesson to anyone who opts to wish upon the Tree. In addition, this story illustrates one of this book’s most vital tenets: that all cultures, religions and metaphysical systems—everything from monotheism to paganism—employ assorted names and symbols to describe and glorify the same One divine force. It demonstrates how vastly different cultures, mythologies and religious texts intertwine to help us comprehend universal spiritual concepts such as the Tree of Life.