Ukraine

I don’t think we’re particularly interested in the other person’s viewpoint. We like to listen to our own voice, to something that is familiar. If we had a real interest in the other person’s viewpoint, we would be avid readers of foreign literature in translation, but we’re not. Translated titles are supposed to make up only 3% of new publications in the U.S., according to the blog Three Percent. Attention paid to foreign titles in mainstream media is scarce. And translators put themselves at great risk in order to devote themselves to crossing that line between one culture and another.

It is an irony because the translator, who believes in intercultural understanding, is more or less forced to live on the land that separates cultures, in no man’s land. The translator is no man. They don’t exist. They don’t receive a salary, paid holidays, a pension. If they are paid (and there is often an expectation that they won’t be), they are often paid after the project is complete, begging the question, “How do they live while they are working?”

We prefer to hear our own voice and to believe that we are right. After all, what’s the alternative? The idea of believing that we are not right would so undermine us that we reject it out of hand. It cannot be. It is impossible. For us to hold on to our sanity, we have to be right.

There is now a crisis between Ukraine and Russia, a crisis that has been a long time in the making. Conflicts arise when people (because I don’t think anybody else does this) draw lines. When you draw a line, implying that you are an author, that something starts or ends with you (a false premise, we are translators, things pass through us), then you rely on two words to maintain the status quo (as you have established it): LAW and WAR. It is curious that these two words are obviously connected by the phonetic pair (pair of consonants pronounced in the same part of the mouth) l-r. The trouble is people don’t know their phonetic pairs, so they don’t see this.

I could give more examples. The reverse of LIVE is EVIL, one path open to us in this life – to do evil. But if we take the ego, “I” in English, and remove it from LIVE (that is, if we count down from “I” to “O”, from 1 to 0), we get LOVE, the other path open to us in this life. Live: evil-love. I study these connections in my book Seven Brief Lessons on Language.

The line that is the ego in English (I) is the same line that separates countries, properties, rich and poor, whatever social divide you care to think about. And where there is a line, there is conflict. Which is why the translator works so hard to engage with the other (OTHER, by the way, is connected to LOVE and THEOS), to cross that line, even though they know they cannot make a living.

I wrote an article at the time of the outbreak of the Covid pandemic about the connection between where the pandemic is said to have started, WUHAN, and the word HUMAN (turn the w upside down and rearrange the letters). Also, between COVID and VOICE (rearrange the letters and take a step in the alphabet, d-e). Human voice. Was Covid, a terrible disease causing pain and suffering in the world, meant somehow to bring us to our senses, to make us pay more attention to the vulnerable, to make us work together in the face of a common enemy? I don’t know, but the connections are there.

Now, this morning, looking at the word UKRAINE on my phone, I suddenly realized there was a very clear connection. It involves the similarity between a capital I and a lower case l. It can then be seen that UKRAINE with the letters rearranged spells NUCLEAR (c and k have the same pronunciation).

There is meaning in words, even though we don’t usually (choose to) see it. There is meaning in words, but, like all things spiritual, it is slightly hidden: a step in the alphabet (d-e), a phonetic pair (l-r), pairs of letters that are similar (i-l, m-w)… You just have to turn a corner.

Why is it that the word NUCLEAR can be found in UKRAINE? Is this a reference to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that affected not just Ukraine, but other countries as well? I certainly wouldn’t want to think that the current crisis between Ukraine and Russia could lead to nuclear war. Such an outcome would be unthinkable.

Another clear connection with UKRAINE relates to another phonetic pair: g-k. If we apply the phonetic pair g-k to the word UKRAINE, we will see that in the middle of the country is GRAIN. Two dangers have been highlighted during the conflict in Ukraine: the danger of damage to nuclear plants, and the danger to world food supplies if grain is not exported. It is interesting that both these words are found in the name of the country. And if we take away GRAIN, we are left with two letters: U-E, which could be a reference to the European Union (EU).

We need to consider the other. We need to hear the human voice, the voice of the other. And that involves not judging people on the basis of our own criteria and actually trying to get to know them, to understand their motives. That hasn’t happened very much between Ukraine, Russia and the West. Perhaps now would be a good time to start. To see what we have in common instead of spitting at each other over the fence. And to hire a translator who will enable us to hear what the other is saying.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

I AM

There is a very important distinction in grammar between countable and uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns are generally concepts, things that have no boundaries, that cannot be circumscribed (a line cannot be drawn around them). Examples would be ‘love’ and ‘righteousness’. Countable nouns are nouns that can have a line drawn around them, they can be separated in our imagination from the rest of the environment. These nouns – and this is very important – are preceded by the indefinite article a or an. Examples would be ‘a house’, ‘a car’, ‘a person’. Compare the concept of ‘light’ with the countable noun ‘a light’. ‘Light’ is what fills the sky. ‘A light’ would be a single bulb – that is, it can have a line drawn around it and be contained.

When God created man in chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis, what he did was create a countable noun – a being separate from him (with its own free will). Of course, ‘man’ (here it is uncountable, it is not preceded by the indefinite article) is contained within God, he can never be quite separate, but ‘a man’ is allowed his own free will to make decisions, to believe in God or not, to love or hate, to react with kindness or anger…

The name that God reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, for me the most important verse in the Old Testament, is ‘I AM WHO I AM’ or simply ‘I AM’. Most of us would say ‘I am Jonathan’, ‘I am Rebecca’, etc. But God says only, ‘I AM’. There is no need for him to add a name because he is everything. Now in the study of speech sounds (called phonetics, the study of where speech sounds are produced in the mouth), the consonants, the hard sounds, so to speak, are divided into seven pairs, one of which is m-n. These two sounds are produced close to each other in the mouth.

If we apply this pair to the name of God without the personal pronoun, AM, we get an, the indefinite article. We can understand that from God came an individual human being, a countable noun. And if we put these two words one after the other, we get AM an – which is to say that God created a man.

The letter a is the first letter in the alphabet, it comes at the beginning, and so it is the letter I most associate with the act of creation (described in chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis). What was the name of the first man? Adam. If we turn Adam around, we see that he was made (I have allowed fluidity to the final vowel so that a becomes e).

Adam’s partner was Eve. Here the dominant vowel is e. We are progressing in the alphabet. Eve resembles another word very closely: eye. Now we are drawing close to the vowel i because eye and i sound the same.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they didn’t heed God’s command, they turned away from AM and said I’m, they made this progression from the vowel a to i.

The reverse of man is name, and that indeed was man’s purpose in Genesis, chapter 2, when God brought him the creatures to name (not to make). Name, with the letters rearranged, spells mean (by naming the creatures, he gave them meaning) and amen (Adam agreed with God’s plan for him). In the Fall, however, together with Eve, he took the fruit and said not amen anymore, but mine. Again, he replaced the vowel a with the vowel i.

We live now in the era of the i. This is the vowel that is used to represent the ego in English: I. In the system we have at the moment, it is every man for himself. Yes, we may receive some help, but basically every person has his or her own money, his or her own address, and has to struggle, more or less successfully, to make ends meet.

Where do we go now that we have succumbed to the wishes of the ego, of the I? Well, if we treat the ego (I) as a number (1), there are two ways we can go – upwards (2) or downwards (0). We can start to count (the objects around us, all of which are countable nouns – this is how we package and sell them) or we can make the much shorter journey to zero (a word, by the way, that is very close to eros).

The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use in English, counts up. The last letter of the Latin alphabet is Z, so in effect it counts from I to Z (1 to 2). This would reflect a more rational, self-reliant way of thinking, a view that treats the world as a way of making money.

As an aside here, I would like to ask why it is we teach our children the basic skills of writing and counting. Is it not in a sense to record what is in the world by writing down what there is and counting it? Are we not instilling this rationalistic way of thinking in our children from the very start (not to mention the huge emphasis placed in school on marks)?

The Greek alphabet, on the contrary, counts down. The last letter of the Greek alphabet is omega, which we can write O (it is a long o; there is also a short o in Greek, omicron). Greek is the language of the Gospel, so this would reflect a God-oriented way of thinking.

The other way of writing omega is W (this is how it is written lower case in Greek). If we put the three vowels I have talked about – the A of creation, the I of the Fall and the O of spiritual enlightenment/repentance/recognition – together, we get AIO. If we use the Greek way of writing omega, we get AIW.

Now what is very interesting is that this progression of spiritual growth that puts God (0) at the centre of the picture is found in the name of God himself: I AM. All I have to do is turn the W upside down. God is indicating to us the path that we should follow – we should turn to him.

What is the most famous aspect of the Old Testament, of the Jewish Bible? It is the law – Moses received the Ten Commandments when he met with God on Mt Sinai; the Jews are famous for their rules and regulations (Jesus is often criticized for healing on the Sabbath); and indeed Christ, in the New Testament, says that he has come to fulfil, not to abolish, the Old Testament law (‘not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished’, Matthew 5:18).

The word law contains the same progression, AIW, and is clearly related to the name of God in Exodus, I AM.

What of the New Testament then? Is there any indication in language to support the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (who he says he is)?

In John 14:6, Jesus says to Thomas, who has asked how they are to find the way to heaven, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

Here we find the third word that is related to the progression AIW: I AM – law – way. The letter y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i, they are often interchangeable. Note that Jesus says, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ We could rewrite this, ‘No I comes to the Father except through me.’ That is, each individual I must pass through him.

And so we find that the whole purpose of the spiritual journey in this life (AIW) is found in the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (I AM), is found in the law that Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfil, and is found in Jesus himself, who is the way.

There are many other confirmations in language that Jesus is the Son of God. Let us take the word Messiah, which is a combination of the name of God, I AM, and she (the Virgin Mary). I have written about these confirmations in my book Stones Of Ithaca.

But there is one other confirmation that Jesus is who he says he is that I would like to include here. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him and declares, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who will be sacrificed on the Cross to atone for our sins. He will take our sins upon his sinless self. He will take the blame for our sins (lamb and blame are clearly connected, as are words like balm and psalm).

But let us look a little more closely at the word lamb (the last letter of which is silent). Again we see the name of God, I AM, in the first three letters.

The whole of the Bible can be reduced schematically to: I AM – law – way/lamb. Here we find a spiritual map, so to speak, an indication of the road we must take, which passes not through counting the objects around us and dealing in them (often to the detriment of the environment and of our fellow man), but in placing God at the centre of our lives and acknowledging him.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

ONE

It is remarkable that the number 1 is a straight line. We teach our children to count from the number 1 upwards, and when we learn a foreign language, we do the same. But the line separates, it forms a barrier. It is also unstable. A wall can come crashing down, a tower topples.

What is also remarkable is that the ego in English – I – is also a straight line and very similar in appearance to the number 1. So when we teach our children to count from 1 upwards, we are in effect teaching them to start with the ego. This conditions all our thinking. We start with ourselves, instead of starting with the other.

We should actually start with the number 0. 0 stands for the Other. It also stands for God, since 0 represents infinity and is unending (it goes round and round). We might even see that the word G O D is made up of three zeros, one after the other, and this will be important when it comes to understanding the word ONE.

Christianity is full of paradox. Christ says, for example, that we must lose our life in order to find it. This is paradoxical – how can you possibly lose your life and find it? I have discussed this in another article. Another paradox is that the first will be last, and the last first. Again, it seems paradoxical, and I have talked about this paradox here.

Well, one of the biggest paradoxes in Christianity is the concept of the Holy Trinity – that God is three in one. How can that be? Surely, he is either three or one. How can he be both?

Again, language will give us the answer, because language contains information about the meaning of life, about God, ourselves, existence, the world, the creation, the Fall, etc.

It will be easier to understand if we write it in the following way: three in ONE. The Holy Trinity is made up of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Three persons, but one essence. The Son is begotten of the Father before all ages. The Spirit proceeds from the Father (and not from the Son, as is recited in the Creed in Western Churches, a later addition).

Three in ONE. Three distinct persons, but one essence. Let us imagine that God the Father is 1, God the Son is 2 and God the Holy Spirit is 3.

We will add these numbers as subscripts to the number 0 or O. So God the Father is O1, which means that he is ‘no one’. The only thing here is that in chemistry the subscript 1 is not normally written down, so we would say simply that God the Father is O.

There is confirmation for this in the Greek language, where the word for ‘God’ is theos. If we omit the final s (as happens in the vocative and is very common in spoken Greek), this can be read the O.

God the Son is O2, which happens to be the chemical formula for oxygen (the air we breathe). And God the Holy Spirit is O3, the chemical formula for ozone, the protective layer that surrounds the planet on which we live.

Now all this information – God the Father as O, God the Son as O2 and God the Holy Spirit as O3 – can be found in the number ONE, because the one number that the number ONE does not contain is itself (1). ONE contains the numbers O, 2 (on its side) and 3 (back to front). It does not contain 1 because in chemistry the subscript 1 is not written down and because there is no selfish impulse in God, there is only love.

Three in ONE. It turns out that this concept of the Holy Trinity is literally true. That is the information about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is contained in the word itself.

There are other connections. For example, if we combine the Son (O2) and the Holy Spirit (O3), we find that they are present in MOON (the 2 is on its side again, the 3 is on its front). This reminds us of the obvious similarity in sound between Son and Sun, so it would seem that God is the air we breathe, he is the light we see by during the day and he is the reflection of that light in the night, so that we even see in the darkness.

And if we remember that the word for ‘Spirit’ in Greek is pneuma – that is ‘wind’ – and that the letter that represents breath in the alphabet is h, then if we combine the Son (O2) and the Holy Spirit (this time written as H), we find that they make up the chemical formula for water: H2O. This means that we drink God as well.

God is all around us. He is ‘everywhere present’. He is even in the language we speak. Since we are translators, there is nothing in this world that is of our own making. All the materials we use were here when we arrived – we transform them into something else, we translate them, just as we translate the air we breathe and the food we eat.

But we have to open our eyes to see him. Eye sounds the same as I. We breathe life into the line and make a circle: O. We open our spiritual eye. When we teach our children to count from 1, we are making life much more difficult for them, because once you start counting from 1, there is no end, you will never reach the answer, when all you had to do was count down to 0.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Ownership

We have been placed on this earth, we’re not really sure how, except to say that we emerged from our mother’s womb after a gestation period of nine months. When we emerged, having survived in water, we took a breath of fresh air and thus became suitable for the environment we now inhabit. Once we had breathed in, we could breathe out and we joined all the other creatures in translating the environment around us.

It is important that we understand this concept of translating the environment around us. We generally look down on translation. It is second best to the original. It contains mistakes and isn’t as good as reading the original text. The translator’s name is hidden, eclipsed. When we need a translator, that person is essential, but we soon forget about them afterwards. Perhaps because the translator takes control away from us, we cannot access the original language ourselves and so we must rely on the other.

But translation goes further than this. The person who sits down and writes the original text is also translating – translating their experiences, the stories they have heard, the knowledge they have acquired, the words they have learned, their understanding of conversations. And they translate all of that on to a piece of paper. The way they write it one day will not be the same if they write it on another day, so the text is susceptible to their mood on that day and the environment around them (any disturbances). Creativity is a fragile thing.

And while they are doing this, they are translating the air by breathing, translating the food they had for breakfast that morning, translating (making sense of) any conversations they may overhear. Everything in this world is translation because nothing begins or ends with us.

The same might be said of our thoughts. Do they truly originate with us? Or are they placed in our minds to see what we will make of them, how we will react? I believe that the only thing that is ours, strictly speaking, is our reaction, how we choose to react – whether we choose in a given moment to show love or hatred. This also is translation because our reaction, our choice of words or deeds, is like choosing the words with which to represent a text in another language. Again, it will not be exactly the same on one day as the next.

Air passes through us. Food passes through us. Even life passes through us – the life we receive from our parents and pass on to our children, precisely because we are not the authors of life. Even trade, the desire to make money, involves things passing through our hands. They do not begin with us, we do not come up with the raw materials, more often than not it is the earth that does that. We change them in some way (a process that normally involves packaging) and pass them on, fixing a price as we do so.

But we would prefer to think of ourselves as authors. We lay claim. We say this piece of land, this object, this product is mine – because I paid for it, because I got here first. Once we draw the line and say something is mine, we open ourselves to conflict, because it is a false assumption. We don’t own the land we live on, someone else made it, and it wasn’t us. We don’t own what the earth produces, we certainly didn’t invent the seed that gave rise to the crop.

If you fail to recognize the other, then what the world contains, even other people, are fair game, you might think, a potential source of profit. But this is a corrupted way of thinking. We should use what is placed at our disposal for the good of others, not to make a profit.

This claiming ownership is really making ourselves out to be the source of what is around us, and only God can do that, the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus, chapter 3, and sent him to free the Israelites from bondage to the Egyptians. When Moses asks, naturally enough, on whose authority he is to do this, who he is to say has sent him, God replies, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ This is the name of the one who sent you.

In Greek, this phrase is translated ‘ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν’, literally ‘I am the being’, and the last part of this phrase – ‘ὁ ὤν’, ‘the being’ – is included in icons of Christ Pantocrator, since in Orthodox tradition it is the pre-incarnate Christ who appears in the Old Testament. The letters are written in capitals: O WN.

Not only do these three letters spell three words in English – own, won and now – not only do they spell a number if we rotate one of the letters – ONE – they make clear, as all of language does, who the author is, who is the one that can lay claim to ownership. The rest of us are just passing through.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Meekness

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ This is the third of the Beatitudes that Jesus teaches his disciples in Matthew, chapter 5. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’

I have just been on the island of Thassos in the north of the Aegean in Greece. A rich and beautiful island with what is reputed to be the best marble in the world. There is an old Roman quarry in the settlement of Alyki in the south of the island. The land is fertile, pomegranates abound, as well as millenarian olive trees that produce an olive oil that is thick and tasty. Of course, being Greece, there is plenty of tourism, with attractive, isolated beaches catering to the needs of those who come here for a rest.

But what struck me this time was the abundance of animal life. On our first day, swimming off the beach of Trypiti round to a gap in the rock that leads to a small harbour, I spotted a flash of blue with a tawny underside. Could it be a kingfisher fishing by the sea? That is certainly what it seemed. I hadn’t seen one since I was a child and visited the RSPB reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk. Two days later, I saw the same flash of blue while swimming off the beach of Atspas – the same or another kingfisher. Off the same beach, we spotted dolphins, circumflex accents dipping in and out of the ocean. Cormorants stood like statues on the rocks, keeping an eye out for fish or simply gazing at the view. Others skimmed the waves in low flight, these ones certainly fishing, competing with the ferries that to and froed in the distance.

There were plenty of goats, some sheep, cats filling the gaps in balconies, dogs being taken out by their owners, there are no pavements, so they walk in the road. One night, we came across a hedgehog, all pins and needles, it curled into a ball. Later, when I went to search for it again, it had disappeared, motored off into the night at surprising speed.

One of our favourites was the donkey in the next-door garden, a beautiful animal with a grey-brown coat, a dark brown line marking the transition from its head to its body. It would serenade us in the morning and evening with a series of sharp inbreaths and loud outbursts. It had gentle eyes, oceans in themselves, ears that swivelled delightfully (and not always in the same direction) and yellow teeth it liked to bare in front of us. After several days, I got the impression it really was greeting us when we got up in the morning and returned from the beach in the late afternoon.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ I have the impression that animals know when you believe in God, they react differently, they see you no longer as a threat, but as a possible friend. They notice you, and you notice them. You view the world differently, it is no longer there for the taking, as it is so often treated, when we view ourselves as authors and draw lines. We are just passing through, after all, and we begin to delight in the simple things of life, which are the most important. It is as if the animals realize we have (finally!) come to our senses. They are waiting for us to realize. Perhaps they have never lost their spiritual sight, as we have, but they must endure whatever we might throw at them while waiting for us to repent, to change our attitude, to see things (to see them) in a different light. Then they come to us, they share with us, they communicate with us.

So, for me, ‘blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’ is exactly true. When we are meek, we believe. When we are proud or stubborn, we refuse to believe and rely on science (which is only the study of God’s creation and what we have learned about it), on what we can prove. This is the problem with belief. Belief gives sight, belief changes the way you view things, but how can you believe if you haven’t seen God or had an experience? There’s the conundrum. Belief gives sight, but sight gives belief.

I always remember Apostle Peter walking on the water. While he believes, he walks towards Christ; only when he hesitates, when he doubts, does he begin to sink, to lose his equilibrium. God just wants us to believe. Nothing else. And to those who believe – to the meek – is given the whole world.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Time

Time is a line drawn by teachers of English on a whiteboard, with the points past, present and future marked by crosses. It is a line in a vast expanse of white, which can only exist because of the whiteboard. If there is nowhere to draw the line, then time cannot exist. We cannot just draw it in the air. Or we can if we use a sparkler. But it won’t last very long.

Time is a kind of zip. An Orion’s Belt drawn in chalk on a blackboard that is expanding space. Three points: past, present and future. Have, do and will. I have lived in London for ten years. Do you like London? I will come with you. Three auxiliary verbs that reflect our attitude to this world: to have (possessions), to do (activity) and to will (what we want). The only way to enter the line, to burrow inside it, to live in the moment, without regret for the past (nostalgia, which spells lost again), without fear for the future, is be. What are you doing? I am listening to music.

Time is a window of opportunity opened for us to take part in creation. It is a soap bubble floating in the air. It cannot last for ever, at some point it will pop. We saw in the previous article that if we are to take part in creation, if we are to be co-creators with God, if we are to have our own children, then the reproductive maturity that enables us to do this comes with age. To be left to age for ever really would be a punishment, so when we acquired carnal knowledge of the other and were expelled from the Garden of Eden, a clock was set in motion. Now we had a ‘life’, a finite period of time, three score years and ten, enough to grow up, reach sexual maturity, have children, raise them and then grow old. We are not authors, so we cannot breathe the breath of life into an inanimate object. We can, however, translate life. We receive it from our parents and pass it on. We are translators in everything we do, from having children, to breathing, to eating, to communicating. Nothing begins with us. We arrive mid-conversation, take part in the conversation and then leave.

But in this process we acquire meaning. We learn things. This is what time gives us. And note that time is clearly connected to line, there is a jump in the alphabet (m-n) and an l with a line drawn through it to make a cross: t. So that is what a cross is – a line that has been deleted, an ego that has been rejected.

Because with time came sin, and again you will see that these words are connected. Imagine letters are like reels in a slot machine: s becomes t and m becomes n, with the addition of final e. Sin-time. In time, we have children. But we also abuse this ability. We do not care for the other as we should. We try to take possession. We remain in permanent activity. Our lives are considered useless if we do not produce. Have, do and will. These auxiliaries dictate our lives, tell us how we should lead them. And what about be?

When we push aside the demands of the ego (a word that is in stark opposition to God), it is as if we turned the ego, the line (I), into a number (1) and counted down to O. We take the I of sin and turn it into son. In a similar way, we turn live into love (and not into its reverse, which is evil). We do this by removing the ego and then we see that time contains a cross (), I and me.

So time († I me) is not just the chance to have children, something we can only do with another person and which will cause us to age, it is also the opportunity to grow spiritually, to realize our need, to meet God and not to deny him.

Church Fathers say that Jesus Christ is waiting in our heart. He calls to us and, when we have grown tired of the things of this world, external objects that can be classified and counted (which is what much of our activity is about), we heed his call. We turn away from our possessions, from the incentive to own, which is nothing less than the attempt to make ourselves the source of life, and approach the heart with our mind. After knocking for a long time – because we must learn to desist from the passions, what caused us to sin in the first place – we are allowed to go in. We call on him – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ – and enter. Our mind meets itself for the first time, and becomes aware of the presence of someone far greater.

So time is a bottomless pocket. A door handle. A bubble God blew in the air. Here today, gone tomorrow. A place where we can learn the true value of love, who is the only one that matters.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Monet’s lily pond

The Fall

For centuries now, the Church has been taking a dim view of the Fall, the moment in human history when Adam and Eve, the first man and his helpmate, created from one of his ribs, were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s never quite clear what was so bad about eating of this fruit, only that God had forbidden it (although presumably he knew perfectly well what was going to happen, how the two partners would be tempted by the serpent – nothing bad will happen to you, it certainly looks tasty – and would eat anyway).

I say the moment in human history, although it could be said to be the moment that began human history, when the clock started ticking, because up until then the two partners enjoyed eternal life, whereas now, once expelled from Paradise, they would be subject to death and corruption. I always think we still enjoy eternal life, we are eternal still, it’s just that eternity is hidden behind time and we must pass through a gate to get there. But it doesn’t take away the fact our soul (and our body at the general resurrection) are already eternal. We die in order that I be.

Why does the Church take such a dim view of this moment? Yes, as human beings, we are subject to the passions. We get angry, we do unkind things, we are arrogant, lustful, greedy. We treat others as objects. We want things for ourselves, to acquire worldly wealth (I say worldly, because there is clearly no way we can take it with us when we die), property. We aspire to a comfortable life, everything just so, everything in its place, no demands on our attention, except to enjoy ourselves.

And yet it never quite works out like that. Things go wrong. There are provocations, lines that need to be crossed. The car or the dishwasher breaks down and has to be repaired. We get ill. Things are not perfect. They are not perfect in order to teach us a little humility.

But it could be said that the very quality that got us expelled from Paradise – our rebelliousness – is often what keeps us going, the refusal to give up, the insistence on our hopes and dreams, our resistance in the face of life’s disappointments. Rebelliousness isn’t entirely a bad quality.

I am a little tired of the Church’s interpretation of the Fall, to be honest. I would like to give another interpretation, which I go into in greater detail here. The Fall represents sexual knowledge, the serpent is the man’s penis and the apple is the woman’s breast. Adam and Eve acquired carnal knowledge (at the man’s instigation, note), and for this reason they had to be expelled from the Garden of Eden (whose letters rearranged spell danger of need). Because once you become sexually mature, the process of dying begins. In ‘The Consequences of Man’s Fall’, Metropolitan John Zizioulas puts it like this: ‘In beings with organs – especially mammals – the ageing cycle begins from the moment that the organism reaches the point of reproductive maturity.’

I don’t think God was being cruel. He wanted us to be co-creators, but we are not like him, we cannot create ex nihilo (out of nothing), we are translators, we use what already exists and make something out of it. We are not authors. Only God is this. So when we create another being, we cannot just mould a body out of clay and insert the breath of life into it. We are not the originators of life, as God is.

What we can do, however, is give of ourselves (as Adam did in the creation of Eve, when a rib was taken from him). And in this way we can have children. The difference is it is not a clone army, like in Star Wars, they are our very own children, with their own personalities and identities. And we can only have children with another person, we cannot produce children on our own.

The alternative would be a heaven containing only two people, Adam and Eve, or as many as God created from our ribs, without our conscious, active participation.

God gave us the opportunity to knowingly come together and fill the Church ourselves, one generation after another. That is exactly what we are doing. Filling the Church, giving life in the only way we can, through translation. The Fall – so long as it is followed by repentance, an acceptance of our need – may not turn out to be such a bad thing.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

Mercy, And Not Sacrifice

The icons shine. When you give them even cursory attention, they shine. Icons are in the habit of gathering dust. They are bought in a moment of illumination and love, affixed to the wall, and there they stay for months and years on end, gathering dust. It is difficult to clean them all. Sometimes they are too many. Sometimes the edges are rough, you cannot run a cloth over them. Sometimes they are simply affixed to the wall too firmly or they are stuck.

And yet they respond to even a superficial dusting. Just a quick wipe, they seem to gleam, to appreciate the attention, to speak of another world where all is light. They beckon you onwards. ‘Keep going,’ they seem to say, ‘the race is not so long, it will be over soon.’ It is like when you have an illness, you feel terrible for a few days, but then when you get better, the life surges back into your veins, you are grateful simply to be alive, you almost cannot believe it. I wonder if this short cycle of illnesses like colds and flus isn’t a preparation for what death will be like, a feeling awful, followed by a rush of gladness and disbelief, of joy and gratitude when the weight is lifted. Having shed the stones of the illness that irked your feet, you will rise again, but this time your feet won’t touch the ground.

Simple things. The eye of the lamb on a mug. The resurrected cactus in its new ceramic pot. We ignore most of the things most of the time. Most of them become covered in dust for our sight. We see only what we want to see, or are capable of seeing, which isn’t much. How much do we notice the street we are walking along, when we are immersed in our thoughts? How much do we notice our neighbour’s need or put ourselves in their shoes, try to perceive the world as they do? I’m not sure we really see each other. We get glimpses, but most of the time it’s a cardboard cut-out, a presentation.

My father was just in a restaurant in Folkestone. He couldn’t position himself under the table properly, so that he could eat. An anonymous stranger sitting behind him got to his feet and slid my father’s chair closer to the table, carried out his purpose for him. My father was surprised, taken aback, mumbled thanks. Again, at the end of the meal, they exchanged a few words. He was so touched by this simple act of kindness that he felt the need to communicate it to me a few days later. An act of simple kindness.

I have been reading St Matthew’s Gospel in Greek. It is known that this Gospel was aimed primarily at the Jews (it is the only Gospel that was originally written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek) and it was concerned with presenting the life of Jesus as fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, the words of prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, who it seemed foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Spirit worked through them. There are many verses in St Matthew’s Gospel that are printed in bold, quotes from the Old Testament, but the only one that I am aware is repeated is when Christ says to those around him, ‘Go and learn what it means, “I want mercy and not sacrifice”’ (Mt 9:13, 12:7).

God wants mercy, not sacrifice. What does this mean? Is it possible that in this spiritual training ground that is the world God has his finger on the pulse of everything, he knows what we need and sends what is best for us, all he requires from us is not great sacrifice, but simple acts of kindness? We think we need to control events around us, we think only we will be able to find the resources that we need to enable ourselves and our families to survive, but is it possible that God has already arranged these things – the sacrifice – after all, he knows every blade of grass, every hair on your head, and what he needs from us is not the big picture, not the creation of the world (he brought the creatures to Adam to name, not to create), only that we open our eyes a little, that we notice our neighbour, that we blow away the dust?

Mercy, and not sacrifice. When you believe, the world catches fire.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com