Sarah Coles

Via Negativa


Leaves lie on the grass, the patio, the steps and path, and huddle by the dustbins and the corners of the porch.  Crisp at first. then torn and dull, and slimy.  Mrs Leader from the fence below comes complaining our birch tree is taking their sun and its leaves are rotting her decking.  Tough!  It was there before her house was built.  But it’s grown, can’t we lop it?  No.  She speaks of the dangers of birches, and of their fumes (never heard this one before).  She is flying to her house in Portugal tomorrow, and will be back in April with a tree surgeon (tree butcher) to cut the branches overhanging her garden.  I think, he’ll find it hard without access to our garden. 

The sky is dull, it’s rolls of dirty cotton wool.  It’s cold.  It rains.  Lifeless stalks of lilies, alliums, crisscross what were flower beds.  The leaves of the variegated dogwood, for months a pale focal altar at the end of my garden, have fallen, revealing angles of the housing estate below.   

John Taverner has died.  He was younger than me.  On  the radio they have a recording, where he spoke about the Via Negativa.   I felt inspired.  The positive in the negative, in pain, loss, depression, the ills of aging, the winter of life, all that.  Everything we may impatiently reject or, dimly understand.  Theologically, the Via Negativa is finding God through denial: God is not this, is not that, until in the end God is nowhere and everywhere.  

In the garden winter is our Via Negativa.   It’s silence after the noise.  The clarity when everything goes and only the persistent hum of the essential stays.  I can see nothing between the bare branches, just a dull whiteness.  After the heavy green screen of summer it’s empty.  It is like that Jain depiction of God, where a plain sheet of brass is cut through with the shape of a meditating figure; first you see the outline of the figure and then through it and beyond it to endless emptiness and, curiously, fulfilment  It’s time to see beyond, spatially and temporally.



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