How to name this land?

There are two paths, said early mystical writers, the via positiva and the via negativa, the way of light and the way of darkness. Affirmative theology, the way of light, is an understanding of the divine nature as it is exposed in the intelligible orders of being; one declares, tracking the divinity in ekstasis, that the source of being is good, intelligent, beautiful and so on. In negative theology, however, they said, a richer knowledge of the divine nature comes, the intimate knowledge of human ecstasy, a no-knowledge […] This theology is a path of disorientation, muting and appetite ending in conjunction with being’s apex. On it, all names for the divinity are rejected as inadequate: God is not good if by this one would constrain the divine in images of human beneficence, not just if one has in mind mere human justice. God is supra-goodness, beauty beyond beauty, No-thing. Some of the same cancellations occur as one edges toward the brome grass head, the porcupine faced at the foot of the drive in grey false dawn, in their unknowable otherness […]

I walk in the hills in winter. A sharptail grouse explodes from drift-fold where she’s hidden from the cold, her faeces bunched around her. I am going into the hills where the deer in February browse juniper. Lost place, the original grass cover has never been broken. The snow would come to mid-thigh if I stepped from my snowshoes. The ground is blank except for some fox or coyote tracks; once, last winter, I saw an ermine out this way. I walk through heavy poplar, each grove rhizoming from the first tree of the bush, ghost wood, smelling like stale bread when you cut through it. I come over the rise and there are the deer, standing in the pits they’ve hoofed into the snow to get at juniper tips. They do not see me. I look beyond them, further south, more poplar bush, hills, an old fence line, willow in the hollows, still: nothing. How to name this land? It’s a skellig, black rock in the Atlantic. It’s a half-scraped hide. What does it speak in memory? What titles to give it in praise-singing? Language again and again springs at the essence, reaching for clarity, the exact fit between the look of the slow hills, occultly breathing and their feel, then denies each time what it comes up with.


The thisness of the nearest doe bent over the juniper, her transfixing oddness, is the littling of language, mortification of the desire for clarity, yet an occasion of the love which is one shape of contemplative attention.

— Tim Lilburn,  Living in the World as if It Were Home

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