Monk in Cave at Night

A stone is a story. Here, we have a monk in his cave at night. We can see the moon in the darkened sky above him. His head is surrounded by a halo because of his asceticism, his wish to refrain the impulses of the ego and to bow down before God. And yet there are other figures in this remarkable drawing. There is a bust to the right of the monk. His left shoulder forms the mouth of a face, and there is another face below him. In the door of the cave is a large hound, a little whitish. It seems to occupy a lot of the space. It is difficult to discern whether the hound, which exceeds the monk in size, is evil or friendly, but see how the word “evil” is in the first four letters of “friend” (phonetic pairs f-v and l-r). To the left is a white staircase and what could be a potted plant. The complexity of this drawing is unusual.


Meanwhile, in language, we think of opposites as being unconnected, and yet we are told in the Gospel that we must lose our life in order to find it, or that the first will be last and the last, first. So there is an obvious paradox in language. This can be found in the connection between “fast” and “feast”. To fast, to deprive our body of the luxury of food, even if only for a short period, is to reap benefits in other ways, as the monk would no doubt be able to teach us. We might find a similar connection in the words “starve” and “harvest” (addition of h). Of course, we need food for nourishment and healing. Both “feast” and “starve” are connected with “breast”, a source of nourishment for babies. And if we take away the s, we will be able to extract the words “feed” and “bread” (change of vowels; phonetic pair d-t). St Maximus the Confessor is clear when he says that to overcome the passions – excess – we need love and self-mastery. So perhaps “fast” is to “feast” and “starve” to reap the benefits of holding back.

Cemetery with Angel and Bird

This is an extraordinary stone. We see here a cross in a field, with to the right a small church that also seems to have a cross on top of it. To the left of the cross in the field, there is a figure standing, surveying the cross, and to his left is a large rock, but what is astounding is the presence of two figures that dominate this landscape. First, in the middle of the stone, seemingly perched on a branch, there is a large bird, and above the bird is what looks like the figure of an angel. I cannot say whether they bode well or ill, but it seems to me that this is a scene of death, of the silence before resurrection, when we are not sure of the whereabouts of the soul, which has left the body, but we trust in this shining symbol, two pieces of wood attached crosswise and sturdily.


Meanwhile, in language, when we become aware of the presence of God, a seminal moment because it changes our perspective, we no longer rely solely on the I, on the self, but we count down from this letter to O, the letter of repentance, the letter of exclamation, of recognition, of the truth finally dawning. O can represent God, it is an eternal figure. This shift in our perspective is revealed in words such as “obey” and “joy”. They become exclamations: “O be I!” and “I O I!” (remember that j and y are the semi-consonants that correspond to the vowel i). Whereas before we were in debt (a word closely related to death by a shift in the alphabet, addition of breath), we find that “owe” now spells “O we!” and the debtor’s note has become a note of recognition of the other: “I O you!” The debt is lifted by the figure of Christ on the Cross. This is not some abstract religion, this is a person, united with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, whom we recognize when we see him: O (an open I).


The chalice, the cup of life. I have found a more elegant version, a cup beneath a tree, and one that is almost luminous. This is the cup that at the Orthodox liturgy contains the body and blood of Christ, which we receive – a fire in our belly – and then kiss the base. It is the cup of truth. There is no hiding behind this cup, it will reveal all things. Until we turn to Christ, it is as if we are living in the shadow of a scrap of metal. The world’s illusion is no more than that, a scrap of metal that goes rusty. Once it is removed, all our misconceptions are burned away by the light. I have chosen this cup because it is roughly made, ceramic or pewter, like the cup in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.


Meanwhile, in language, we can see that the system that prevails in our society, one of buying and selling, is a mere illusion, a scrap of metal that pollutes. The word “sell” gives “less” in reverse, and we have all experienced this. “Capital”, what we are supposed to gain and build up, gives “plastic”, the throw-away end product that threatens our oceans. “Economy”, that factor that is supposed to indicate the well-being of our countries and lives, simply spells “Money & Co.” And “money” in reverse reads “venom”. It can be a source of long-standing resentment. We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, not to make money out of them. This is how society should work. And for all the importance that we should give to the environment, ultimately it is the health of our souls that should come first. “Soul” spells “lose” in reverse; it is also close to “soil”, as we have seen. Interestingly enough, there is a verb “soil”, the first definition of which is “to pollute with sin”, but it has a second meaning – to absolve from sin, to “loose”, not “lose”. We must be careful with our language.

Entry into Jerusalem

While sitting on the beaches of the Greek island of Ithaca, we came across stones that seemed to have drawings on them, like this one. Here I see a figure riding a donkey, next to a rocky outcrop, with a cross in the sky. It seems to me to be a representation of the Entry into Jerusalem, a feast celebrated a week before Easter, on Palm Sunday, to commemorate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem a few days before his crucifixion and resurrection, when the people hailed him as the Son of God and laid palms in front of his path. He was riding a donkey. Is it possible that creation might somehow wish to reflect its Creator? Are these drawings here by chance, is it my imagination, or do simple beach stones contain a kind of language, signs that would tell us the story of creation?


Meanwhile, in language, I am struck by the word LIVE. The reverse of LIVE is EVIL, and this is certainly one choice open to us in this life. But if we imagine that the letter I, which represents the ego in English, is a number, 1, we can count down from 1 to 0, and turn LIVE into LOVE. This is the other choice open to us. LIVE-EVIL-LOVE.