Vision: Via Negativa – Treasures & Trash by Howard Hanger

September 14, 2016 |

Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.
Ray Bradbury, “Zen in the Art of Writing

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
– Jesus

 “Have you ever made an altar?” Katarina asked. “Like a personal altar?  I’ve been reading a book on ancient ritual and gotten intrigued by the power of sacred objects.”

Amanda Jane and Katarina had met on a small boat cruise years ago to the island of Sardinia where they had spent several days exploring the famous labyrinths and caves. After nearly a week together involving an oceanside villa, several sunset sailings, fabulous Italian fare and more than a few bottles of local red, the two had formed a vibrant and durable friendship.

When they met, Katarina had just gone through a heart-breaking divorce and Amanda Jane had provided just the right nectar of succor and stability to sweeten and support the healing process.  Now, many moons later, they still managed to reunite at just the right times; and were sitting on a porch swing in late summer, enjoying a lovely breeze, a garden of dancing dahlias and a little well-spiked lemonade.

“An altar?” Amanda Jane asked. “I have my own altar that I created awhile back. I keep it near my bed and change it fairly often.”

“What does it look like?” Katarina asked.

“Not much really. Simply a small stand I found in an antique shop. It has the requisite candles and some really sweet and calming incense I found in a hippie shop in Asheville, North Carolina.  But other than that, it is the home of objects which somehow connect with my soul.”

“Like what?”

“A doll from my childhood, a picture of my mother as a girl, a statue of the panther goddess from Heraklion.”


“She a gorgeous bare-breasted goddess with a panther – or sometimes an owl – on her head.  The original was found in Crete. She symbolizes female wisdom and power. I also have a little journal book in which I have written some of my favorite sayings of Jesus, Buddha, Mary Oliver and Rumi. It’s just stuff like that which, as I say, speaks to my soul. Why do you want an altar?”

“I’ve been trying to look at my life,” Katarina said, “and decide what’s the treasure and what’s the trash.  I get really confused sometimes. Over the years, I have treasured trash pretty often and have trashed some of my greatest treasures.  I don’t want to do that anymore. And somehow, I sense that having an altar of treasures might help me see myself more clearly.  Does that make sense?”

“It makes far more than sense,” Amanda Jane replied with a widening smile. “Sometimes, I wonder if recognizing treasures and trash for what they are, is not our primary vocation on this planet.  And along the way, I have noticed that one person’s treasure can be another person’s trash. And vice-versa.  So we can’t go by what the crowd says. Not that we ever should.”

Just then, a bird began a whirling warble from somewhere above their heads. They sat and sipped in smiling silence for the possibly improvised but clearly confident solo performance. When the brief recital ended and the unseen bird headed for her next gig, Katarina murmured, “That was a treasure.  Wish I could have that on my altar.”

Amanda Jane took her hand and said, “You, my dear, are a treasure to me; and I will be honored to help you create an altar; though it seems, you’re already doing pretty well sorting out treasures and trash –albeit, admittedly, we always need reminders.”  They finished their lemonade, picked a few dahlias, giggled as they put them in each others’ hair and gently skipped off arm-in-arm in a kind of bird-song dance.