Word in Language (24): English Course (3)

In the fourth and final part of this short course in English, we will look at word connections made by the addition of letters. Sometimes it is possible to make connections simply by adding a letter, and we have seen examples of these: SELF and FALSE or FLESH, for example, or GOD and GOLD. Here, I have simply added a letter (a, h, l) without making any other changes. But often it is necessary to apply the rules we have studied and make a change to the vowels, apply the seven phonetic pairs and b-v-w, change a letter according to the alphabet or its appearance. A good example is LAND and PLANT – we have added the letter p, but also applied the phonetic pair d-t. Or FLESH and FATHER – we have added the letter a, but also applied the alphabetical pair s-t. We may need to replace i and u with their corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, c with the two ways it is pronounced, k or s, or to double a letter.

These are the words we are going to look at. See if by adding the letter in brackets and making any other necessary changes, by maintaining or changing the order of the letters, you can arrive at the connections:

FISH   LINE   (+ a)   AIR   CROWN   WORK   (+ d)

FLIRT   PLOT   (+ e)   LOVER   (+ f)   FIRE   (+ g)

GRIST   DIE   EGO   (+ h)   GREEN   (+ i)   FIRE   (+ l)

SNARE   (+ o)   FIEND   (+ r)   EXIT   (+ s)

FISH   SEMEN   (+ t)   IDLE   (+ v)

The two most commonly added letters are h and e. The first letter, h, is the way we represent breath in the alphabet, so it is not entirely surprising that we should often find this letter has been added – we are simply adding breath to the word. Think of the example of TREE, which has a single trunk, but when it sprouts branches turns into THREE, becoming three in one (a good analogy for the Holy Trinity). Nor is it entirely surprising that the other commonly added letter should be e, since this is the most common letter in the English language. What strikes me is that the two letters together spell he, and that points us to Christ.

The other commonly added letters are all grammatical. The first of them is s, which we use in English to make the plural (car, cars) and to make the third person singular of the present tense (learn, learns). Again, what I find striking is that if we add s to he, we get she, and that points us to Mary, his Mother.

The next four most commonly added letters are the two most common phonetic pairs I have already mentioned, d-t and l-r. Again, they are grammatical. D and t are the way we pronounce the past tense in English – think of the past of learn, which can be spelled learned or learnt (think of the past of spell, which can be written spelled or spelt!). These letters are appended to the end of verbs in English to indicate that the action was in the past. Meanwhile, l and r are suffixes used to turn nouns into adjectives – think of words like normal and regular.

The other most commonly added letter is n. Again, it is grammatical because n is used to make the past participle of irregular verbs (see, seen). So letters that are used in grammar to make derivatives, words that derive from others, are also commonly added in the formation of word connections. The other letters are vowels: e in first place (we often find this letter at the end of words in English, lengthening the previous vowel – think of shin and shine or man and mane), but also i and a. This completes the list of most commonly added letters: h, e, s, d-t, l-r, n, i and a.

Let us look now at the examples. If we add a to FISH (and apply the alphabetical pair s-t), we get FAITH. This is a remarkable connection because the fish is an early symbol of Christianity. The letters of the word for ‘fish’ in Greek, ichthys, form an acronym, again in Greek, for ‘Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour’. The symbol is made up of two overlapping lines – two hands in prayer. The fish may also remind us of pivotal moments in Christ’s ministry: the feeding of the five thousand; the feeding of his disciples on the beach by the Sea of Tiberias at the end of John’s Gospel, when Christ asks Peter to feed his sheep, a reference to the formation of the Church.

Meanwhile, LINE gives us ALIEN. We create an alien by drawing a line between them and us. We draw a line when we make ourselves out to be authors. The line is also the ego in English – the pronoun I. When we draw a line, we are claiming property, but this is hard to do given that nothing begins with us and things pass through us. We are translators, not authors, but our urge to be authors (and to deny the existence of the real author of all things) leads in our world to inequality, the haves and have-nots, to war and suffering. Christ asks us to embrace the other, because the OTHER is God (THEOS in Greek). We are not saved alone, but in community (we pray for each other, and the saints pray for us).

With the addition of the letter d, from AIR, we get BIRD (alphabetical pair a-b). Well, a bird is intimately linked with the air, so it is logical that the two words should be connected.

From CROWN, we get GROUND (u-w, phonetic pair g-k). This is to show that opposites are connected. To us, with our limited vision, they may seem far apart – certainly if you are perched in the crown of a tree, the ground will appear far off – but the truth is they are connected. It matters what happens on the other side of the fence – this is why translation is so important, so that cultures can understand one another and interact – but all too often we are concerned primarily or exclusively with what is going on in our own patch. We are saved as a body. We find this connection between distant points in similar word connections: ROOF-FLOOR (addition of l), TOP-BOTTOM (phonetic pair b-p, addition of m). Word connections are often confirmed like this.

From WORK, we get WORLD (alphabetical pair k-l). The world is a place of work – if we do not work, nothing will grow (and you will see that WORK and GROW are the reverse of one another, phonetic pair g-k). But this work is not in vain. It has its reward. If we read WORK back to front and add the letter n, we get CROWN. If we apply ourselves to the virtues, which is hard work, if we persevere in the face of doubts (our own as much as anybody else’s), we will receive the crown of righteousness. We will not achieve anything in the world without work.

The next is a wonderful example, because FLIRT, if we add the letter e, gives TRIFLE. I have to confess that, when I was young, my brother James used to make the most delicious trifles, with fruit and sponge cake, cream and custard. Once finished, it would sit there, on the side in the kitchen, attracting people’s attention, saying, ‘Here I am! Come and eat me!’ My brother’s trifle is not the only thing to do this – to flirt, I mean – fruit does it as well to attract the attention of animals that will spread the plant’s seeds far and wide. That is why FRUIT and FLIRT are also connected (phonetic pair l-r, addition of u). All Nature is attracting attention – or hiding!

And what is the purpose of a PLOT? The purpose of a PLOT is to TOPPLE someone. I give these last two examples to show that word connections aren’t necessarily theological – they can be mundane, or political.

By the addition of the letter f, we find LOVER in FLOWER. Well, just as fruit flirts, so a flower is a potential lover for an insect. Flowers are designed to turn heads, and we find that the reverse of FLOWER is REVOLVE for this reason (phonetic pairs f-v and b-v-w).

By the addition of g, we find FIRE in GRIEF. Grief is a purifying experience. It reduces us to our bare minimum, without the trimmings (which don’t matter anymore, or even make us sick). We are left only with ourselves, and it doesn’t amount to much. And yet this increases our dependence on God. Our pride is wiped away at a stroke. The clearest eyes I ever saw – together with those of a monk on Mt Athos – were those of a husband at his wife’s funeral. He was holding the pain inside. Isn’t this to be a disciple? To hold the pain, albeit for a while, rather than to toss it aside. To participate, to take up some of the slack, to bear witness.

Through the addition of h, we can connect GRIST with CHRIST (phonetic pair g-k). Grist is corn that is to be ground. Can you imagine two millstones whirling in a dance, rotating one on top of the other, with nothing in between? Their activity will, in the end, prove pointless. If we rotate in a dance, with nothing in between, what are we really doing? We need the grist of Christ in our lives – not just thin air, but matter that we can hold on to. God is not only spirit. He came down to earth and assumed our human nature. Every Sunday, we can consume his most holy body. This gives us grist for the mill. And what word is in MILL in reverse? I’M. Christ takes us away from the selfishness of our own desires, he provides a purpose, something we can grind. He is the bread of life.

I said before that Nature also likes to hide – especially when it dies. When an animal is about to die, it often disappears. We don’t see it anymore. This is why DIE and HIDE are connected. When we DIE, we SHED our outer coating (alphabetical pair h-i, addition of s). DIE is like the TIDE (addition of t), which comes in and goes out, just like our breathing.

Again, with the addition of h, we find EGO in ECHO (phonetic pair g-k). Isn’t our ego an echo? Isn’t it just telling us what we want to hear? But this is a kind of blindness. We will never learn anything if all we listen to is our own voice. We have to hear the voice of the other. We open ourselves to what is alien, take part in its joys and sufferings.

Through the addition of i (y), we find that GREEN is in ENERGY. This is an incentive perhaps to look for green sources of energy. After all, GREEN is CLEAN (phonetic pairs g-k, l-r).

By the addition of that other letter that represents the ego, l, we find FIRE in RIFLE. This, for me, is very interesting. What does a rifle, which bears a striking resemblance to the ego, since it is a straight line, do? It fires and then it takes a man’s life. Can you believe that, in our urge to be authors and to lay claim to property, we have created a representation of our ego – the line – for the purpose of taking another man’s life? RIFLE: FIRE – LIFE. There is language to tell us.

Our reason tells us we have the right. We listen to our reason, we rely on it, often to justify the actions of the ego. Well, why shouldn’t I? After all… And there is the voice of our conscience to provide a counter-argument. Well, it isn’t exactly fair, especially if you look at it from the other’s point of view. Reason is comforting. Reason tells us we can have what we want. But REASON contains SNARE (addition of o) and can be found in TREASON (addition of t). Perhaps it will do us a bad turn in the end and we should rely on faith instead. SNARE is also in ANSWER (addition of w). An answer is also comforting, it closes the chapter (but never for long).

Jesus must have thought he had a friend in Judas. Or this is what casual onlookers must have surmised when they saw them together. FRIEND is a complicated word, however. Without the r, it spells FIEND, and certainly the devil entered Judas when he decided to betray his master. Is that a coincidence? Yes, of course it is. Everything is coincidence, things happening together. But as I said before, there are other connections to confirm it. Look at the first four letters of FRIEND and apply the phonetic pairs f-v and l-r. What word do you find? EVIL. And in the last four letters of FRIEND? DENY. Language knew long before it happened what would come to pass.

‘All the world’s a stage,’ wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It. EARTH is in THEATRE. When our role is done, we exit stage left or right – perhaps left to join the goats and right to join the sheep (Mt 25:31-46). That is why EXIT is in EXIST. At some juncture, we exit and exist – in terms of the theatre – no longer. Life is but a dream. The ancient Greeks referred to the boundary between the earth and the underworld as the river STYX. This word is also in EXIST.

What is it that a FISH can do better than any other living creature? It can dart about, it can move from side to side, suddenly change direction. It can SHIFT (addition of t). I find this a very visual connection. I think of the fish in the water suddenly disappearing, parallel becoming perpendicular.

At the beginning of life is the seed and the egg. Only if an egg is fertilized will it remain in the mother’s womb, will it stick to the side of the womb and gestate. This is because SEMEN acts as a CEMENT (addition of t). Cement is a kind of past tense. The introduction of the seed cements the egg to the womb, where it can develop.

The DEVIL makes work for IDLE hands (addition of v). We have come across several connections with DEVIL: EVIL, LIVED, DIFFER, WICKED, DEFILE, YIELD…

We have now studied all the rules for making word connections. In all likelihood, we will have to rearrange the letters, not read them in the same order (though there are a few connections where it is not necessary to rearrange the letters). We may replace the vowels i and u with their corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, c with the two ways it is pronounced (k/s). We may double a letter. We may change a vowelvowels flow – especially the front vowels a, e and i. We may change a consonant according to where it is pronounced in the mouth – the seven phonetic pairs, plus b-v-w. We may change a letter according to its position in the alphabet and its appearance (by turning it upside down, back to front, by extending it). And having done all of these things, we may add a letter, most commonly he, she.

Language is encoded. It wishes to tell us about human life, why we are here, where we come from (the act of creation in the Garden of Eden), our current situation (a result of the Fall, where the ego holds sway, the line that produces aliens) and what we can do about it (repentance). I have given numerous examples to show that word connections are not isolated events, but part of a greater fabric in history, a thread floating in eternity, time is a thread floating in eternity. It is up to us what we do with the thread. We can discard it. We can use it to sew up a wound. We can tie it into a knot to remind us of something. We can add it to the tapestry, our own particular flash of colour. Life is a thread, a series of events taking us ever onwards, in a direction that will benefit us if we allow it. A water snake propelling us forwards. A hair in the eye that we must remove. The eye of a needle.

Thread is the breath that connects birth and death. All these words are connected. Our timeline is our breath. Our breath is our ‘to be continued’.

The eye of the needle, depending on the angle, can be enormous. Like the sun in the trees.

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

Word in Language (23): English Course (2)

In the first two parts of this short course in English, we have seen how word connections – connections that reveal the hidden meaning inside the words we use every day – can be made by keeping the letters in the same order, by rearranging the letters, by replacing the vowels i and u with the corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, by using the fact that the letter c can be pronounced either k or s, by making changes to the vowels according to where they are pronounced in the mouth (for example, a-e, e-i) and by making changes to the consonants, again according to where they are pronounced in the mouth (the seven phonetic pairs – especially d-t and l-r – and b-v-w).

We are now going to look at changes made to letters according to their position in the alphabet and according to their appearance. In the fourth and last part, we will look at the addition of letters. The important thing to remember is that we must continue to apply the rules we have learned – word connections often involve several changes, not just one, so we may have to change a vowel and take a step in the alphabet, or change a consonant and a letter according to its appearance. The most important changes are those made to the consonants – the seven phonetic pairs and b-v-w. Then come the changes made to letters according to the alphabet and their appearance. Vowels flow, they change easily (in some languages they are not even written down). We may need to double a letter. And we may understand i-j/y, u-w and c-k/s to be interchangeable.

Before we start looking at the alphabet and appearance, here are the words we are going to connect. I have put the changes you need to make in brackets, so have a go at making the word connections. You will need to shuffle the letters and to apply some of the rules we have already studied. There are ten words according to the alphabet:

BIRTH   (b-c)   COG   (c-d)   WORLD   (d-e)

LEFT   (f-g-h)   WICKED   (k-l)   LOSE   (l-m, r-s)   MUTUAL   (l-n)

GRAIN   (n-p-s)   ERROR   (r-s)   SHARE   (s-t)

and ten words according to appearance (which are written lowercase to make it easier to see the resemblance between the letters):

birth   (b-d)   cross (c-e)   free (f-t)

faith   hide   mouth   (h-n)   I’m sane (i-l)

alone   (l-t)   north   (n-u)   devil   (v-y)

The English alphabet has twenty-six letters. We have already looked at the letters that make up the alphabet. When we change letters according to their position in the alphabet, we take a step forwards or backwards, we turn the dial. It is as if the letters were on reels in a slot machine and they spin. We rotate them, sometimes one notch, sometimes more than one. We saw the examples of GOD and EGO (d-e), FATHER and GATHER (f-g), OTHER and THEOS (r-s). They are like the dates that appear in the little window of a watch. We may make several changes at once: JERUSALEM-JESUS AMEN (l-m, m-n, r-s). We may go in alternate directions, one letter forwards, the other back: MOTHER-HER SON (m-n, s-t). But it is clear to me that the letters in the alphabet are ordered in this way for a reason.

So if we apply the alphabetical pair b-c, we will find that BIRTH gives CHILD (also the phonetic pairs d-t, l-r). And this is true. Birth does give a child. I think of birth as an equation: 1 + 1 = 1. Two bodies come together to make one body. Three people in one. It’s quite a good analogy for the Holy Trinity, for how three can be one. If we apply the phonetic pair b-v-w and add final e, we will see that BIRTH is connected to THRIVE and WRITHE. It is also connected to BRIDE and TRIBE. The first three letters in reverse spell RIB, which is how the first woman was born. And RIB gives RIP (phonetic pair b-p) – the ability to give birth leads to our physical death, but it also gives us the opportunity to have children and to form the body of the Church.

If we apply the alphabetical pair c-d, we find that COG gives GOD. We are cogs in a machine designed by the Creator. Each one of us has his or her particular function. When we work together, everything goes smoothly. When we fight or think only of our own needs, the machine starts to malfunction. What is most remarkable for me, however, is how the Son of God, through whom the world was created – who was outside the world, therefore, as well as in it – deigned to become a cog in that machine so that we could find the way to salvation. God became a cog. He entered his own machine in order to fix it.

WORLD is connected to LOWER. This world is lower than heaven. According to the celestial hierarchy, there are another nine levels above us, rising to God and ending with the seraphim and the cherubim. So it is appropriate that WORLD is LOWER. This reminds me of another two word connections: HEATHEN-NETHER and HEAVEN-NEVER (you have to read the words in reverse). If we are pagan and do not believe in God, but only in the things of this world, we remain here below. Heaven is a kind of Never Never Land, outside time. There is a paradox here – the place it seems we are never going to reach lasts for ever.

We have seen other examples of paradox in Christianity. Opposites are connected. For example, LEFT and RIGHT (take two steps in the alphabet, f-g-h, change the vowel and apply the phonetic pair l-r). Everything is contained in God. Things that seem disconnected are not so far apart.

Remember the connections DIFFER-DEVIL and FATHER-GATHER? It is the devil who would make us differ, who would lead us into STRIFE (the contest to be FIRST). This is why GOD is GOOD and the DEVIL is EVIL (their etymological roots are different, but the words are practically the same). DEVIL is also connected to WICKED by the phonetic pair v-w and the alphabetical pair k-l (the c in wicked is just reinforcing the k).

And here’s another paradox. LOSE gives MORE (alphabetical pairs l-m, r-s). Christ enjoins us to lose our life for his sake, and we have seen how by denying the self and forming a cross – † (the I with a line drawn through it) – we also make a plus-sign. This is how we lose our life in order to find it.

MUTUAL gives AUTUMN. I find this a beautiful connection, but I cannot say quite why. There is something borrowed in autumn, something we must give back, a change taking place between the warmth of summer and the cold of winter. In autumn, the weather can be lovely, a kind of bonus summer – we call it an Indian summer. I have climbed to the Rila Lakes in Bulgaria with my wife and son in November! Autumn is like an extension that God offers us for free. It is also the season for harvesting, when we gather crops and fruit.

Crops are stored in the form of grain. We use GRAIN to make bread. We use the GRAPE to make wine (I have taken two steps in the alphabet, n-p, and changed the vowel, e-i). Bread and wine are the elements of the Eucharist, which are translated into the body and blood of Christ. How are they translated? By the descent of the Holy Spirit, by GRACE (another two steps in the alphabet, p-s; c corresponds to s). GRAIN-GRAPE-GRACE, the ‘materials’ we need to celebrate the Eucharist.

ERROR is connected to EROS (r-s). There is no doubt that eros can be used in error when it seeks to take pleasure at the cost of the other. This is one of the devil’s main strategies – to convince us that EXCESS in SEX, or alcohol, or drugs, is an affirmation of the self, an assertion of freedom, an act of independence, when all it is doing is destroying the self we are purporting to raise on a pedestal by linking it to the passions, by enslaving it, in short. Eros is when two people come together, openly, knowingly, in full possession of their faculties, and commit to each other. It is a private affair, in which God is present.

In SHARE we find HEART (s-t). We open ourselves to the other, share with them what we have. This is why both these words have HEAR in common. We hear the voice of the other, and not just our own selfish demands.

Let us turn now to word connections made by changing letters according to their appearance. For these connections, it is better to write the letters lowercase so their resemblance becomes more obvious. Letters can be turned upside down: f-t, m-w, n-u. Back to front: b-d. They can be continued: c-e, h-n, i-l, n-r, v-y. They can be crossed out: l-t. We have seen the examples ‘breath’ and ‘thread’ (b-d, breath is the thread that links birth and death), ‘hope’ and ‘open’ (h-n, hope keeps us open), ‘venom’ and ‘money’ (v-y, money acts as a poison).

We now find that ‘birth’ gives rise to a ‘third’ person (b-d). We have seen this is the case in the equation 1 + 1 = 1.

The word ‘cross’ can be likened to ‘eros’. This is not eros in error. This is the true meaning of eros, in which we are fully open, fully vulnerable before the other. Is there any way of being more open in a human body than on the cross, with your hands and feet nailed in place? Is this not what God asks of us, to become increasingly vulnerable, which paradoxically constitutes an ascent to heaven (Never Never Land). The answers (the certainties) seem to evaporate. They leave only one. That God is love. It is that LOVE that will make us WHOLE.

We want to be free and, in order to achieve this, we travel in all directions, we seek forms of entertainment, things that will occupy our attention, distract us from the futility of death, we search for ways to give our life meaning, to justify our existence. We think that ‘free’ means asserting our own will. This forms the basis of our modern society – the ability to do what we like (within reason). But freedom is not to do what we like, to go wherever we want. Freedom is to remain in one place. To go through the pain. To endure. And what better example of ‘free’ than a ‘tree’, which is rooted to the spot? We may pollute it, surround it with concrete, cut it down, but still it continues to give fruit, shade, warmth, oxygen! You may say that it has no choice, but I think that is exactly the point. It is our choice that kills us. Freedom is submission to God. Freedom is to bow our heads in worship. To reach down to the ground, so that God will lift us. This is why language – and life – are so paradoxical. The answers are not where we would find them. They are somewhere else (and not generally in our brains).

But ‘faith’ can grow ‘faint’ (h-n). Sometimes the journey seems long, unending, without purpose. This is where we must dig in and stay in one place. STAY provides YEAST (addition of e). STRAY doesn’t. Even the DEVOUT can DOUBT (b-v, addition of e). But when the wind blows and life seems most pointless, when we are at our most vulnerable (and the devil chooses that precise moment to attack us), we must stand firm. Like the tree.

Then we will find God. In the eye of the storm. The word ‘hide’ gives ‘find’ (h-n, alphabetical pair e-f). What is hidden comes to light. If we persevere. Word connections are often confirmed by other word connections. So it is with ‘hide’-‘find’. Compare SEEK and SEE (addition of k). Or SEARCH and REACH (addition of s). We find an answer, but it may not be immediate.

The ‘mouth’ is a ‘wound’ (two physical pairs, h-n and m-w, phonetic pair d-t). The mouth is like a wound in our body, a kind of gash. It can also wound others. As Christ says, ‘It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles’ (Mt 15:11). Note the connection between DEVIL and DEFILE (phonetic pair f-v).

Here is one of my favourite connections. The world thinks it is sane. It puts other people who don’t agree with its point of view in hospital. But ‘mental’ spells ‘I’m sane’ if we apply the alphabetical pair s-t and the physical pair i-l. There is a corresponding connection: ‘normal’ reads ‘I am wrong’ in reverse (physical pair i-l, addition of g and w). What is considered normal – making money at the expense of the other – may not be right. The one who is marginalized because of his opinions may actually be saner than we are. As a translator who lives on the margins, I begin to think that holding fast to your beliefs inevitably leads you to the margins; it is compromising on your beliefs that takes you to the centre, to a place by the fire. Christ was the most marginalized figure of them all (Mt 8:20, Mk 6:4).

But alone we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). We need the Cross to make sense of our existence. Cross out the I in ‘alone’ and you get ‘atone’, which is what Christ did: lead us back to the Father, the source of life.

We have seen how opposites are connected: LEFT and RIGHT. Let us take another two directions: ‘north’ and ‘south’ (n-u, alphabetical pair r-s). They also are connected. God is everywhere; there is nowhere he is not. This is why his name, Alpha and Omega, is left over in the other two points of the compass: EAST and WEST. These two words share the letters est. What is left over is AW (the Greek letter omega is written w).

But the ‘devil’ would have us stray. Abandon our post. Succumb to the difficulties. Seek amusement, satisfaction, elsewhere. The devil does not want us to withstand the pressure. He wants us to fracture. He wants us to ‘yield’ (v-y).

We have now seen all the ways of changing letters:

i-j/y, u-w, c-k/s;

– vowels (u-o-a-e-i);

– consonants (seven phonetic pairs, especially d-t and l-r, plus b-v-w);

– alphabet (d-e, f-g, r-s, s-t);

– appearance (b-d, h-n, i-l, m-w).

But not all words that are connected contain the same number of letters. We now come to the richest source of word connections – the addition of letters. We continue to apply the rules we have studied (phonetics, alphabet, appearance), but also add letters.

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

Word in Language (22): English Course (1)

In the previous article we looked at word connections made between words containing the same letters, be they in the same or a different order. We will now look at word connections made by changing the vowels and the consonants according to phonetics (how the sounds are produced in the mouth).

The easiest changes to make to letters are to the vowels because they are like water, they flow. Voice passes through the mouth and is not obstructed by the flesh, the lips or tongue. We sing. When a doctor examines our throat, we go ‘Aaaah!’. Air passing through the mouth, with or without voice added to it, that is obstructed by the flesh, the lips or tongue, forms the consonants. They are the building blocks of language, so to speak. The difference between vowels and consonants is that with consonants the passage of air is cut off (by pursing the lips, by lifting the tongue) and then released like a projectile, with greater force.

Vowels are not produced in the mouth in the same order as they appear in the alphabet: a, e, i, o and u. From the back of the mouth (the throat, where language originates) to the front of the mouth, they appear in the following order: u, o, a, e and i. Note that the ego – the I – situates itself right at the front! So we have back vowels (u and o), a central vowel (a) and front vowels (e and i). We also have close/high vowels (u and i) and open/low vowels (o, a and e). The way the vowels are produced in the mouth forms a V-shape:

u                                        i

o                    e

a

It is very common, therefore, to make a word connection by changing a to e (we saw the example of EARTH in reverse being THREE). This is perhaps the most common vowel change, but also common are e-i (MEET and TIME) and e-o (ENEMY and MONEY). We also studied the progression of human life from the A of Creation to the I of the Fall to the O of repentance – AIO – and how this is present in language, both between and inside words.

When the passage of air (with or without the addition of voice) is obstructed by the flesh (the lips or tongue), we form the consonants. There are seven pairs of consonants and they are very important when it comes to making word connections. These are pairs of consonants pronounced in a similar part of the mouth, and very often one of them is voiced (has voice added to it) and the other is voiceless. You can feel which consonants are voiced by placing your hand on your throat as you pronounce them and feeling the vibration of the vocal cords. The seven phonetic pairs are:

b-p     d-t     f-v     g-k     l-r     m-n     s-z

There are also seven complex consonantal sounds made by the combination of one of these letters with the letters h or g: gh, for example, as in bridge, kh as in church, ng as in song. Unfortunately symbols are used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent these complex consonantal sounds, which disguise their relationship with the seven phonetic pairs, but we are not going to worry about them at the moment.

I add an eighth phonetic pair: b-v-w. This is because these letters are pronounced very close together, as we can see in languages such as Modern Greek (where b is pronounced v), Spanish (v is pronounced b), Latin (v is pronounced w) and German (w is pronounced v). This enables me, through v, to connect f with b/w.

Have a go at making connections with the following words by applying a vowel change:

DEAF   DRAMA   FAITH   (a-e)

SEED   (e-i)   NINE   STRIKE   (i-o)

or one of the phonetic pairs:

BABEL   TABLE   (b-p)   DREAM   (d-t)

DIFFER   (f-v, l-r)   ANGLE   (g-k)

HEAL   SOUL   TEMPLE   (l-r)

MISS   TEMPER   TEMPLATE   (m-n)

EROS   (s-z)   BLESS   BREAST   (b-v-w)

These are my answers.

DEAF in reverse reads FEED. I find this remarkable. It is as if, within our limitations, we are called upon to help each other. It reminds me of Christ on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias telling Peter to ‘feed my sheep’ (Jn 21:17). Christ knows our weakness – our excess of pride in our youth, our physical weakness in old age – but still he expects and wants us to minister to his sheep, to provide help to those in need. A similar connection can be found between BLIND and BUILD (physical pair n-u).

In the previous article we found confirmation for Shakespeare’s saying ‘All the world’s a stage’ in the connection EARTH-THEATRE. There is another saying – ‘Life is but a dream’ – which forms the title of a play by one of Spain’s most famous dramatists, Calderón de la Barca, Life Is a Dream (La vida es sueño). Again, we can find confirmation in the connection DRAMA-DREAM. Both of these analogies – life as a play, life as a dream – seem to refer to our limited understanding of life as we know it, human beings on a planet spinning through space. As I have said before, I believe that the world is a spiritual womb on which we are placed to grow spiritually. Our individual physical birth (from our mother’s womb) is followed by a collective spiritual birth (from the earth), which forms the body of the Church. When we are born in this world, we are not yet ready for the latter (spiritual) birth – we need time to grow. The mistake we make is in thinking that this world is self-enclosed – is all there is, a kind of free for all – when it represents an opportunity to grow.

FAITH in reverse reads THIEF. We may be afraid of having our faith stolen, but I think this connection refers to the faith shown by the Penitent Thief next to Christ on the Cross, a passage that appears in Luke 23:39-43. The Good or Penitent Thief believes in Christ and asks him to remember him in his kingdom. Christ replies, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ So in a sense the Good or Penitent Thief is the first person to be saved – because he showed faith, because he believed.

But some of us seem to have a problem with the concept of resurrection, of rising from the dead. I don’t know why. There is a perfect example of such a resurrection right in front of our eyes, and that is SEED, which DIES in the ground only to resurrect in spring.

EARTH is planet number THREE in order of increasing distance from the Sun, but in our solar system there are said to be NINE planets in total (forgive me, I am of a certain age, and Pluto for me is and will remain a planet) with the Sun at the centre, which represents the number NONE. I have reiterated that I think we should teach our children in school to count from zero, 0, not from 1 – not to start with the ego (I), but with the eternal figure of God (O). This would then form the basis of all their thinking – not to view life in terms of the individual, but in terms of the Other, of the collective. We really have to get past the idea of money, of all exchange coming with a price tag, as if the things with which we bartered were our creation. They are not. They simply pass through our hands because we are translators. This is why single-digit numbers are not 1-10 (as we teach our children to count in school, or as we learn a foreign language) but 0-9. This is reflected by the Sun and the number of the planets.

In a similar way, we do not launch a pre-emptive STRIKE against our enemy (this attitude is again based on the idea that things belong to us and we have to fight over them). Rather we show love to our neighbour. We count down from the ego (I) to God (O), as we did with LIVE-LOVE and SIN-SON, and turn the aggressive STRIKE into the more tender and appropriate STROKE.

Language is telling us how to live our lives. It also confirms what we read in the Bible, which should not surprise us because Christ is the Word – we would expect language to confirm his message.

There are two moments of discord in the Book of Genesis. The first is the Fall – represented by the APPLE – in which man separated himself from God (though I have given a more positive interpretation of the Fall as the way we could have children and form the body of the Church). The second is the Tower of BABEL, where man was separated from man by not being able to understand the other’s language (at this point, the role of the translator came into force, but we are all translators because nothing begins with us). It is remarkable that these two moments of dissension are connected by the phonetic pair b-p.

Word connections can be quite mundane. At a party, we might eat standing up, holding a plate in our hands. At a campsite, we might eat on a stool, balancing a plate on our legs. But the normal thing is to be seated at a TABLE and for the PLATE to be on the table in front of us. That is why a table is such a basic piece of furniture – it is for eating at. A chair is for sitting on, a desk for writing at, a window for looking through (a book for reading!).

But if life is a dream, as the saying goes, then all this MATTER we hold in our hands (isn’t matter made up of atoms flying about, with plenty of space?) could also be considered a DREAM. Certainly we will have to leave it behind when we depart from this planet, we cannot take it with us – only our good deeds.

I talked about the world as the womb of the Church. The FATHER would GATHER us together (alphabetical pair f-g). He would bring us together in love. What would the DEVIL have us do? He would have us DIFFER. Here we have to apply two phonetic pairs: f-v and l-r.

The most perfect example of an ANGLE I can think of is that formed by the ANKLE. Word connections can be very visual, and this is one example (compare LICE-RICE and NAIL-RAIN – phonetic pair l-r – are they not visually alike?).

In order to HEAL, we must HEAR (the Word of God). Here are another two examples of language confirming the stories of the New Testament. At the Presentation in the Temple, Simeon says to Mary, ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Lk 2:35). SOUL is connected to SORROW (the letter r has been doubled, the u turned into its corresponding semi-vowel, w). We feel sorrow in our souls at the state of the world, the poverty and suffering; we also feel sorrow at our own corruption (our propensity to lust, greed, anger). Sorrow is a word that is intimately linked with soul (and the voice of our conscience). Of course, it is also in SWORD, and SWORD contains WORD. Words can be cutting. Saints are depicted with swords – they protect themselves with the Word of God. Paul says as much in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph 6:17, my italics). Word connections are rarely isolated, and we will find confirmation for WORD-SWORD in the connections ARROW-WORD (addition of a/d) and SPEAK-SPEAR (alphabetical pair k-l, phonetic pair l-r).

Similarly, when Christ enters the temple and drives out the moneylenders, accusing them of turning his Father’s house into a den of thieves, we see an example of righteous anger. We find confirmation of this New Testament story (the cleansing of the Temple, Mt 21:12-7) in the connection TEMPLE-TEMPER. The chief priests and scribes, however, show a different kind of anger. They are angry with him for healing on the Sabbath, for doing ‘amazing things’ (Mt 21:15).

Christ is without sin. He has no need to repent. But our own anger can all too often be self-motivated. We are angry because our boundary lines have been crossed, our comfort zone has been invaded. For this kind of TEMPER, we need to REPENT – and there is the word to tell us.

The word ‘sin’ in Greek is hamartia, which means to miss the mark. We are not aiming as we should, we are not pointing in the right direction. Our gaze has been misdirected, most often towards the things of this world (and owning them). This is why SIN in reverse reads MISS (the s has been doubled). It also reads NICE (c-k/s, addition of e). Sin can seem nice. It can seem an act of freedom. This is the devil’s greatest trick – to make us think we are having fun, we are asserting ourselves, while all the time we are in fact destroying our existence, becoming spiritually dead. Anything that is centred on the self is not from God. It should be centred on him and, through him, on our neighbour.

I have said that the world is a spiritual womb, a nursery, in which the body of the Church is being formed. It is a kind of template – and in the word TEMPLATE we find PLANET (repetition of e and t). In fact, this is one of those strings of word connections that occur sometimes:

AM/AN – MAN – LAND – PLANT – PLANET – TEMPLATE

AM (God) created a countable noun, a separate being, AN – that is to say, he created A MAN (a combination of AM and the indefinite article AN). MAN is a LAND animal (l-m, addition of d). We use the LAND to PLANT things – food for us to eat, trees for us to breathe, flowers to make the world a prettier place. Without every kind of PLANT, our PLANET would be unrecognizable (and very barren). Our PLANET is a TEMPLATE, a trial run, a testing ground, not our final destination.

Language turns somersaults, whispers secrets in our ears. Can you hear me? Will you pay any attention?

The only word connection I have for s-z is EROS-ZERO, which I take to be a confirmation of the saying in 1 John 4:8, ‘God is love’.

I am now going to move on to the eighth phonetic pair (which isn’t really a pair at all): b-v-w. This pair enables me, through v, to connect f-b/w.

I have done down the SELF. I have connected it to FLESH in reverse (it goes the way of all flesh), to FALSE and SLAVE (its passions deceive us, its demands enslave us). But I have shown another way, how SELF can be connected to SERVE, if we will only change our direction. And here is a remarkable connection, because SELF can also be connected to BLESS. God blesses us, he doesn’t bless some abstract notion, he blesses each one of us, calling us to greater things (the deaf to feed, the blind to build!). The self, if properly directed, is a blessing because it will direct us towards him. We cannot know the Father without our self. We cannot form part of the body of the Church without being our self. MIRACLE is to RECLAIM that self from the deceptions of the devil, from the lust and anger, from the water of the well that never fills, and to fill it with living water, the water that never runs out, Christ himself. This is a blessing. BLESS-SELF.

There are three forms of nourishment in this world, and they are connected: BREAD-BREATH-BREAST. A baby without their mother’s milk, without drinking from the BREAST, will STARVE. But STARVE is contained in HARVEST, just as FAST is in FEAST (and so we come back to BREAST):

FAST – FEAST – BREAST – STARVE – HARVEST

Another string of word connections. There is paradox in Christianity, in the CRIME there is MERCY. We are given this time to come to our senses. Time is a gash in the side of eternity.

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

Word in Language (21): English Course (0)

In this and the next three articles I am going to look at the rules for making word connections. In this article we will look at connections between words that have the same letters, be they in the same order or in a different order. We have seen examples of these, how HUMAN is a combination of HU and MAN, for example, or LISTEN has the same letters as SILENT, but the letters have been rearranged. We have also seen contractions (I’LL-ILL, WE’LL-WELL). In this section I include words that sound the same (for example, EYE and I), also changes that involve the semi-vowels (i-j/y, u-w), the letter c (pronounced k or s) and the letters ph (pronounced f). Sometimes it is necessary to double a letter, as in the example BELIEVE-BELLY EVE, which we saw in the previous article.

I worked out these word connections simply by taking a pencil and writing down the words on a piece of paper, jumbling up the letters to see what I could find. When the words have the same letters in the same order, we need to divide them at some point to find a deeper meaning. Others are homophones (they sound the same, although they are spelt differently). We may change the letters if they are i, u, c and ph, as I mentioned above, or double a letter. You may like to have a go before looking at the connections I made, so here are the words we are going to look at that involve keeping the letters in the same order. See what you can find:

APART   PASSION

HEEL   SOLE   (homophones)

PHARISEE (f-ph)

And here are the words that involve the same letters, but in a different order. Again, see what connections you can find, bearing in mind the semi-vowels i-j/y, u-w, the correspondence c-k/s and f-ph and the doubling of a letter:

ANGEL   DOGMA   DUNE   HADES   MIRACLE   NOSTALGIA

CRIME   GUIDE   (i-j/y)

ANGER   BAA   BE   EARTH   GERM   POISED   SUMMER   (double letter)

Words contain meaning. This may or may not be the meaning that we give them. They have something to tell us about human life, about God, about the purpose of our existence on earth and our ultimate destination. They are encoded. Just as the body has DNA, so words have DNA. We need to put them under the microscope and to see what we can find. In this sense, language is like the human body or the environment. They reveal things on closer inspection, we discover wonders if only we pay attention. Unfortunately we spend much of our time thinking that words, like the human body, like the environment, have been put there for our use and we are far too busy to consider that they may have a meaning of their own, a message they wish to transmit, a testimony they wish to give. This is a sign of our spiritual blindness. We are born into this world physically blind, but we soon overcome this. Our spiritual blindness remains, however, and it is some time before it begins to go away. This usually coincides with a spiritual experience. We become aware of another level to existence. It isn’t just what we can see with our physical eyes, it isn’t just two- or three-dimensional. There is another level, one we hadn’t been aware of before, and this conditions our behaviour. We start to repent of our previous behaviour, when we took what was there for our own benefit and enjoyment, without a thought for the consequences. The other takes on a new importance, we understand that they are intrinsic to our salvation and deserving of our respect, they are not put there for our benefit or enjoyment, just as language, the body and the environment are not purely utilitarian things for me to exploit, for me to express my opinion, for me to get what I want. We are in a relationship, and it is that relationship with the other that will save us. Difficulties are inevitable, because the world doesn’t necessarily see things the same way we do. Some still believe we are here to make money, to make a profit, to make ourselves as comfortable as can be. For some, this existence is all there is, and their aim is to extract as much as possible. The philosophy ‘live for the day’ – carpe diem – can easily lead in this direction. But the world is a spiritual womb. We are here to learn, to grow spiritually, and this necessarily involves some suffering. We are to receive the good times joyfully, but to endure any difficulties that come our way patiently. This engenders a sense of humility. This planet wasn’t put here for my sole enjoyment and it doesn’t revolve around me, much as we may resent this. We are here to learn to love, to turn the EGO to GOD, to count down from LIVE/EVIL to LOVE, to fulfil our potential and become the person we are meant to be. The world is a spiritual nursery. And death is perhaps not the end – that is only our perspective – rather it is a second birth, a spiritual birth, when we are forced out of the spiritual womb we have been in for three score years and ten into new surroundings. Death, for me, real death, is separation from God, not the end of our physical existence on earth, which is a tunnel, an opening, a new beginning, just as the exit from our mother’s womb was.

So we may take ourselves APART, but we are still A PART. What I do influences others, and what others do influences me. This is surely obvious at the time of the Coronavirus, with which I started writing these articles. LOCAL is GLOBAL – literally, because the two words are connected by the alphabetical pair b-c, addition of g. PASSION leads to spiritual death – PASS I ON. If I indulge the passions, I will come to a spiritual dead-end and then I will have a choice: either I perform a U-turn (repentance) or I insist upon my actions (spiritual death).

Life is a pilgrimage. We are here to learn. This involves walking, placing our weight first on our HEEL and then forwards on to our SOLE. What is the outcome of this process? That we HEAL our SOUL. For this, we need help – the action of the Holy Spirit; participation in the sacraments of the Church, most notably confession and communion – we must be careful not to think we can achieve this on our own. This was the attitude of the PHARISEE: FAR I SEE. They believed more in themselves than in God, sought recognition, strict adherence to a set of rules, even if these rules were not life-giving.

But what are we to believe? The Church has held seven Ecumenical Councils to write a Creed, to decide what people must believe. This is important – to establish the tenets of faith (for example, that Christ has two natures, divine and human), as a way of averting heresy (the suggestion that Christ might be anything less than fully both, a man adopted by God or God who took on the appearance of being human). But the word DOGMA itself, if we read it in reverse, says AM GOD. A simple statement that reminds us of the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush: I AM WHO I AM (Ex 3:14).

We are sensitive, sentient creatures. We have feelings. A slight breeze, and goose pimples arise on our flesh. We are naked. Look around and see where nature seems most naked, and you might come up with DUNE, the letters of which rearranged spell NUDE. Is there any part of nature that is so bare, so open to the wind?

In Greek mythology, HADES is the place where a SHADE goes. It is the place of spiritual death, of insubstantial beings who have insisted on the road of the passions. HADES is also connected to DEATH by a step in the alphabet (s-t). It is very close to EARTH (same vowels, phonetic pair d-t, alphabetical pair r-s). We must be careful. We can find ourselves in this state of spiritual death while still on earth. The important thing is how we react. And this is where a MIRACLE is performed. We look for signs and wonders. But we are surrounded by signs and wonders every day – our own existence, the existence of others, the world we inhabit, the breath of wind, the taste of food, a sudden realization, a moment of mutual recognition, the moment when a dog on a lead freezes, his body freezes, but his ears flap in the wind, young people in the stadium – a time capsule – play football against the backdrop of a mountain on which the observatory is a golf tee. How many moments are there like this in every day – the crunch of bread, the return of someone, sitting down on a sofa to watch a film that will transport us, the sip of hot tea, the sheer beauty of a newly opened rose? The true MIRACLE, for me, is when we RECLAIM ourselves, we defeat the enemy, we snatch ourselves back from the grip of sin, we present ourselves to our Creator, we dedicate ourselves to him. We don’t look back because, if we were to return to the GARDEN OF EDEN, we would only be in DANGER OF NEED again. Looking back is not the answer. This is why NOSTALGIA spells LOST AGAIN.

We have a GUIDE in Jesus Christ. He is our Saviour. He is our friend, the one who looks at me every morning, I look at him. But at the Last Judgement, when he comes again, he will be our JUDGE. These two words are connected (i-j). We mustn’t lose hope, however, because in the CRIME itself there is MERCY. All we have to do is repent of our sins and confess them to a priest. This is what we are here for, to make spiritual progress – not to make money, not to amass possessions, but to amass spiritual wealth, the virtues. ANGER won’t serve us, bearing a grudge against our enemy; if we are not careful, our ANGER will turn to GANGRENE (I have doubled the three middle letters). ANGER is also clearly connected to CANCER (phonetic pair g-k/c).

ANGER is also connected to ANGEL (there is righteous anger and it is possible to change, just as someone with a STAIN can become a SAINT). At the Second Coming, Christ will send out each ANGEL to GLEAN the field, to gather in the weeds and the wheat (we read about this in the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13). WEED and WHEAT are connected (phonetic pair d-t, addition of h), but it is interesting that only wheat has ears. This is why Christ ends the explanation of this parable with the words, ‘Let anyone with ears listen.’

We must hope to be counted among the sheep (Mt 25:32-3). What sound does a sheep make? BAA. And what other word involves these letters? ABBA. When we are sheep in the sense that Christ speaks about them, then we form part of the Father’s flock (abba is the Aramaic word for ‘father’). But it is always possible to make a mistake, to veer off in the wrong direction. If we add the letter that represents the ego in English, I, to ‘baa’, we get ‘Baal’, the name of a false god. Even here, though, even when we make a mistake, it is possible to find help if we acknowledge our need – as in the CRIME, there is MERCY, as when instead of calling upon God, AM, we say I’M, but can always add an initial h, a small puff of wind, and say HIM, so with BAAL, if we apply the phonetic pair b-p and add the letter h again, we can make the change to ALPHA and begin again.

AM-I’M-HIM. BAA-BAAL-ALPHA. CRIME-MERCY. The world is our chance to offer repentance, to fall down and get to our feet, every day if necessary, so long as our wish is to improve, to acquire the virtues, to learn to love not just our neighbour, but our enemy as ourself. Truly to love. Without a hint of lust, of self-interest, of what is in it for me. Is it so difficult? ‘All the world’s a stage,’ wrote Shakespeare in his play As You Like It. Well, if we double the letters, we will see the EARTH is a THEATRE, thereby confirming Shakespeare’s words. We are on the stage for a while, in the womb of the theatre (don’t forget the world was created by separating the waters from the waters, Gen 1:6, it is a kind of womb), but at some point the lights will go up and we will have to leave.

This is why BE in reverse reads EBB. Like the tide. Like our breathing. It is part of life. Things come and go. We must beware of those that would do us harm, especially at this time of the Coronavirus, when a GERM would MERGE with us. Spiritually speaking, we must try to avoid these germs, to wash them off with the water of renewal.

It is like when we watch television. An EPISODE is left POISED to keep our interest.

It is like when, after nature has had the chance to REWIND during WINTER (phonetic pair d-t), we RESUME in SUMMER.

Language would teach us. It is full of information. We just have to have EYES to SEE, an EAR to HEAR, so that a SEED can be planted in the EARTH of our HEART. It’s not difficult. Not really. Every day has its moments of beauty.

In the next article, we will look at word connections made by changing the vowels and the consonants – the water and flesh of language – according to phonetics, to where they are pronounced in the mouth.

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

Word in Language (20): Believe

I have always been confused whether we are supposed to receive a sign and then believe, or to believe and then receive a sign as a result of our belief, a confirmation, as it were. That is, does God open the doors of our senses to the other world, we perceive the other world and therefore believe, or does he open the doors of our senses as a result of our belief? Is it possible to believe something (or someone) you have never seen?

What set me on the journey of faith was an experience I had in 2001 on the island of Procida in the Bay of Naples, Italy. I asked for a sign and I got one. So in a way my belief was a result of the sign I received. But that sign came about because I asked for it, so I was predisposed, I had realized the limitations of my self, my need for the other, I had pulled down the walls of my self-sufficiency, thrown open the gates, invited God in. Is this, therefore, the procession of faith: an understanding of our own limitations leads to a call to God, which leads to a response on his part, which leads to faith on ours?

BELIEVE itself is a very interesting word. It spells VEILED in reverse (remember the physical pair, pair of letters that look alike, b-d, one of which is a mirror image of the other). Well, the mysteries are veiled, aren’t they? We don’t see them at once, but they reveal themselves to us gradually, in response to the level of our faith and repentance.

But BELIEVE contains another word: if we take a step in the alphabet (b-c) and apply the phonetic pair l-r, we get RECEIVE. Christ said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life’ (Mk 10:29-30). So when we believe, when we follow Christ, we are to receive a hundredfold – the blessings of the spiritual life – with persecution – the world no longer recognizes us as one of its own because we have switched allegiance – and the ultimate goal is eternal life.

John the Evangelist has a lot to say about belief and eternal life in his Gospel. It is clear that the precondition for eternal life is that we believe. In fact, belief is the work of God – not to build mansions, not to perform impossible feats, not to exert ourselves strenuously, but simply to believe! The crowd has witnessed the feeding of the five thousand on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Christ’s disciples have returned to Capernaum in the only boat available. Christ did not leave with them, and yet when they wake up, they see that he is not there. They take some boats that have come from Tiberias and travel to the other side, only to find that Christ is already there, having walked on the water. How has he got there? Christ says they have come looking for him because they had their fill of loaves the previous day and it is this that motivates them. He endeavours to redirect their aspirations and when they ask, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’, he comes out with a strikingly simple statement: ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (Jn 6:29) – that is, that you believe in me. Well, that’s not much to do, is it?

But the crowd immediately asks for a sign: ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?’ There we go again, the need for a sign to trigger our belief.

The first chapters of John’s Gospel are full of people like us looking for signs. In chapter 1, Nathanael believes because Christ saw him under the fig tree. In chapter 2, in Jerusalem, ‘many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing’ (Jn 2:23). In chapter 4, Jesus says to the royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum and to those with him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe’ (Jn 4:48), though to his credit the royal official believes before he has actually witnessed the miracle. When Christ says, ‘Go; your son will live’, crucially he believes the word that Christ has spoken, even though he has yet to receive confirmation of the healing. The Church Fathers are always telling us when we ask for something – from God or the saints – we must ask with faith in our hearts, in the belief that what we ask for, if it is for our salvation, will come to pass. It’s no use asking half-heartedly. Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures, and for the royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum, this was an extreme situation. So he believed. With all his heart. This is all Christ asks of us. As a result of the healing (a sign or wonder), it then says that the royal official ‘himself believed, along with his whole household’ (Jn 4:53). Belief leads to healing, which in turn leads to more generalized belief.

In chapter 6, ‘a large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick’ (Jn 6:2). Again, a sign triggers belief. After the feeding of the five thousand, ‘when the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world”’ (Jn 6:14). A sign leads to belief. Even Christ’s disciples, after the miracle of the transformation of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, then believed: ‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him’ (Jn 2:11).

So it seems that we are only persuaded as a result of signs, an accusation Christ was often levelling at the Pharisees. But what does he say we are to do? I think he understands our weakness and accepts that we need to see a sign in order to believe. But, when it comes down to it, what we are to do is to believe his testimony. He does not testify on his own behalf – this point is reiterated several times in the first chapters of John’s Gospel – but rather he testifies to his Father, and it is his Father – together with John the Baptist in chapter 1, the Samaritan woman in chapter 4 and the scriptures in chapter 5 – who testify to him. There is a wonderful altruism here. We are to believe him because he does not testify to himself, but to the other, and this we can take as a confirmation of what he is saying.

The point is heavily emphasised. Just perform a search of the words ‘testify’ and ‘testimony’ in the early chapters of John’s Gospel. You might also perform a search of the word ‘believe’. These are probably the most important words, together with ‘water’, ‘bread’ and ‘eternal life’.

It is belief that leads to eternal life:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (Jn 3:14)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. (Jn 3:36)

Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. (Jn 5:24)

Those who hear will live. (Jn 5:25)

This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life. (Jn 6:40)

Whoever believes has eternal life. (Jn 6:47)

It would be difficult to make the point more emphatically. But there are two other things that will lead us in the direction of eternal life: WATER and BREAD. These two words are, of course, connected if we apply the phonetic pairs d-t and b-v-w. BREAD is one of three words that refer to nourishment, all beginning with the same letters: BREAD, BREAST and BREATH. They are all connected by the phonetic pair d-t, addition of s or h. And WATER is a short step from WORD (phonetic pair d-t, change of vowels, all of which are open).

We come across the first in the wonderful story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman is very striking. She has had five husbands for a start. She also has a pithy way about her, asking Christ (the Creator of the universe!) how he thinks he is going to manage to pull up some water from the well where they meet near the city of Sychar if he doesn’t have a bucket! This is the man who created the universe, through whom the world was brought into being, and all she can do is affirm that he doesn’t have a bucket and he must think he is clever or something if he thinks he’ll get some water out of the hole without one.

Christ observes (as always), enjoys the humour (as always) and then comes straight to the point: ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ (Jn 4:13-4). He refers to this as ‘living water’ (Jn 4:10).

The ‘living bread’ comes in chapter 6. Remember that rousing hymn ‘Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer’, in which the words ‘bread of heaven’ are repeated? The crowd who witnessed the feeding of the five thousand and followed Jesus across the lake have made reference to the manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness. Now that was a pretty impressive sign, wasn’t it? How about something similar? They want a corresponding sign without realizing (like Pilate when he asked Christ, ‘What is truth?’) that the sign (truth) is standing in front of them. To which Christ replies, ‘I am the bread of life.’ That bread is his flesh, the sign is himself, the body of Christ that we receive in communion. He doesn’t magic manna out of thin air. No, this is different. We partake of his body and by ingesting his body, which thus becomes part of us, we become part of his body. He goes on, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever’ (Jn 6:51). There we have it once more – eternal life.

So eternal life is to believe in Christ. But it seems that not even his brothers believed in him, as John reports at the beginning of chapter 7. The time for the Festival of the Booths in Jerusalem is approaching, and they think he should make himself known. Jesus says his time has not yet come, but after they have gone to the festival, he goes anyway, in secret. He testifies to his Father. He performs signs. The chief priests and the Pharisees send the temple police to arrest him! The crowd is divided (as always). When he says he won’t be with them for much longer, they wonder if he is planning to travel among the Greeks – to go on an excursion! It gets to the last day of the festival, and by now (after seven chapters of signs and testimony), Christ is becoming weary.

And he does something uncharacteristic. He cries out. He shouts. He is at the end of his tether. He desperately wants them to get the point, to stop squabbling, to stop trying to kill or arrest him. And he cries out some of the most remarkable verses in the whole of the New Testament:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (Jn 7:37-8)

The actual word in Greek for ‘heart’ is ‘belly’ (κοιλίας). And I wonder if the mention of ‘living’ reminds you of the creation story? After the Fall, what did Adam, the one who had been given the task of naming the creatures (that is, of translating), decide to call his wife? ‘Eve, because she was the mother of all who live’ (Gen 3:20). A footnote in the NRSV version of the Bible informs us that in Hebrew Eve resembles the word for living (Ḥawwāh/ḥāyâ).

And what do we get if we put ‘belly’ (translated as ‘heart’) and ‘Eve’ (which resembles the word for living) together? BELIEVE. The word BELIEVE confirms the truth of what Christ is saying.

I have already explained that, for me, the Fall happened so that we could have children, so that we could participate in the act of creation, and in this way form the body of the Church. I think God wanted us to participate in this action, even though he knew that sexual maturity would lead to our physical death, a barrier we must cross in order to enter eternal life (did I just see ENTER in ETERNAL?). This is where we are now, in the spiritual womb of the world, out of which the collective body of the Church is being born, in the same way as the body of an individual is born out of their mother’s womb. We are to be born twice, and this is the point we are missing. We are not there yet. We have been born physically (out of our mothers’ wombs), but now we must be born spiritually. That is the point of all the suffering, confusion, mistakes, misunderstandings – we are pointing in the wrong direction until we point towards Christ. There the needle will stop turning and become fixed.

BELIEVE contains other words: for example, I, BE and LIVE. It is also extremely close to BIBLE.

The message is there. All that we need to know is in the Bible, where Christ testifies to his Father.

And because he testifies to another – his Father – though he could equally testify to himself (Jn 8:14), we can accept that what he is saying is true. All we have to do is believe him.

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

Word in Language (19): The First and the Last

There is paradox in Christianity, and I begin to think that paradox is a sign of truth. Truth is paradoxical. The main tenet of the Christian faith is that Christ died and rose again. That is fairly paradoxical, and I believe it to be true. But I have always found his injunction to lose our life for his sake in order to find it rather paradoxical as well. How on earth can you lose your life and find it? It doesn’t make sense. And yet everything that Christ says or does makes sense in the long run, even if we don’t understand it at once. We saw that the way you lose your life is to deny the ego – that is, to draw a line through the I – which gives the sign of the cross: †. The cross, as I like to say, is a deleted I, an I with a line drawn through it. But it is also a plus-sign: +. So while we may seem to lose our life by denying our selfish impulses, we actually end up receiving a hundredfold in this world – our eyes are opened, our spiritual senses are honed – and eternal life. We lose our life for Christ’s sake and find it. What he offers us is true self-discovery, we become not a creature who is driven by his passions, who is in effect controlled by what he thought was the world’s pleasures, and through repentance we rediscover our true selves, we are freed of our addiction, our bodies and lives are infused with light, we are prepared to become gods – gods by grace, by adoption. This is what is meant by losing our life in order to find it.

We have seen how the ego in English, I, resembles the number 1 and how we teach our children to count up from the number 1, thereby putting the ego first. This is a mistake, we should teach them to count from 0, the eternal figure that represents God, because this will give them a base they can rely on, a rock on which they can build their lives rather than being swept along by whatever whim may take them. This is one of the ways of moving away from the ego – we make reference to a third point and create a triangle, which resembles the letter A; we draw a line through the ego, which makes a cross, but also a plus-sign; and we turn the ego into a number, 1, and count down to 0, the letter O. The three actions together give us A+O, or the name of God in the Book of Revelation, Alpha and Omega, and that name is present in the middle conjunction, ‘and’ or AND (A ’N’ O). That path is mapped out for us in the name of God. This is why Christ tells us that he is the way. He is literally the way, as the name Alpha and Omega indicates.

We make the progression from the A of Creation to the I of the Fall to the O of redemption: AIO.

We have seen how the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is three in ONE. The Father is no one (O1) – except that in chemistry the subscript 1 is not written down – the Son is oxygen (O2) and the Holy Spirit is ozone (O3): three in ONE. The only number ONE does not contain is itself: 1. It contains 0, 2 (the N on its side) and 3 (the E back to front). And just as we count down from 1 to 0 – from I to O – so we can take a step back in the alphabet and ‘count down’ from the EGO to GOD (alphabetical pair d-e). The two processes are parallel. We turn away from the selfish demands of the ego, we repent of our selfish (actually self-destructive) impulses and embrace the source of life.

What we haven’t seen so far is the ordinal: ‘first’. What can FIRST tell us? I wonder if you can see anything. I am struck by the correlation between FIRST and FIGHT. You might say they have nothing in common, but that is not quite true. The words share three letters – f, i and t – while the other two letters – r and s, g and h – are alphabetical pairs.

But that is not the clearest connection. If we remove the r, we see that FIRST contains FIST. In reverse, it spells STRIFE with the addition of final e (very common in word connections). So when we put ourselves first, we encounter strife, we get involved in fisticuffs, on an individual level and on the world stage.

This is why Christ teaches us not to put ourselves first. He tells us he came ‘not to be served but to serve’ (Mt 20:28). And in reference to the kingdom of heaven – and the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which immediately precedes this passage – he explains that ‘many who are first will be last, and the last will be first’ (Mt 19:30).

Another paradox. How is it possible for the first to be last, and the last first? Again, surely that doesn’t make sense. Either you’re first or you’re not. I would like to explain how I believe these two words to be connected, and also how the cycle of conflict and suffering has to be broken in order for us to enter eternal life.

FIRST is clearly connected to THIRST (physical pair f-t, addition of h). That which is first in this life – the young, the newborn – always has a strong thirst. A strong thirst for its mother’s milk, a strong thirst for discovery, a strong thirst to leave its mark. Youth and thirst are closely related, and if you don’t believe me, just go to a pub on a Friday night.

But there is something else that makes us thirst, and that is salt. If you eat salt, you become very thirsty. This should remind us of Christ telling his disciples that they are ‘the salt of the earth’ (Mt 5:13). They are what gives life its taste. But salt can be painful – in a wound, for example. It can also be curative – remember washing your mouth out with salt water in order to heal a sore? This is what we, Christ’s disciples, have to be in this world. We have to give taste, to resist falsehood, to heal wounds.

But salt is also used to preserve meat. It is used to make things last, to make them endure, and this is why SALT and LAST contain the same letters.

So we have gone from FIRST to THIRST to SALT to LAST. But having done this, having endured persecution in this world, having become the salt of the earth with all of life’s blessings, but also its problems, how do we avoid a return back to the beginning? This is very important. It is the same with the Garden of Eden. Our aim in life is not to return to the GARDEN OF EDEN, where we will simply be in DANGER OF NEED once again. We become like children in our innocence, purity and trust in order to prepare ourselves for the kingdom of heaven, but we do not become like children in our ignorance and adopt some kind of infantile stance, so that we are like helpless babies. Having acquired knowledge, having eaten of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the whole point, I think, is to use that knowledge to grow, to become better people, not to fall into the same traps again. We are in this world – this spiritual nursery – to learn.

So how do we prevent this return to the ferocious thirst of youth? How do we avoid getting sucked up into the fight involved in competition, a concept that is exalted in the West, but always struck me as fundamentally absurd. I never saw Christ compete. I saw him heal, help, resurrect, teach, give hope. I never saw him compete, put himself first. And yet competition is the ethos of the way we school our children and, as a result, it forms the ethos of our Western society, that is how civilized we have become, despite the fact the race to be first causes us to damage the environment we live in and sometimes to harm other people. Wealth implies poverty only if you put a price on things. Wealth can be made available to everybody if you do not put a price on things – as God does (he gives us the air we breathe), as the earth does (it gives us the food we eat).

I will tell you how you break this cycle of conflict and suffering. Having become the salt of the earth, having endured persecution, you take the word ‘last’ and you make a simple adjustment. Can you see it? You take out the a, the beginning of all things, the Creation, the Garden of Eden, the going back to the beginning, you leave that all behind, you give your whole life up for God. This reminds me of a time I was in London, at the end of my tether, and I knelt down in front of my desk and offered God my life. I didn’t want it for myself anymore. I never actually thought he would hear me, but he did.

You take out the a. And what happens when you remove the a from ‘last’? You get ‘lst’. But ‘lst’ is not ‘first’, and this means that the connection to ‘thirst’ is broken. This is the difference that Christ wished to teach the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:4-26). If you drink of the water of the well (this world), you will be thirsty again. It doesn’t last. But if you drink of the living water that Christ offers, you will never be thirsty because you are no longer ‘first’, but ‘lst’.

Everything the world gives you will tire you in the end, and you will have to go back for more. This is what the capitalist model is built on – the need to go back for more. You will never be replenished, or only for a couple of hours. That kind of life, with pit stops at every turn, is not going to be a very good fit for eternity. You need something that is going to last a little longer, that is going to sustain you, and Christ offers precisely that: ‘a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ (Jn 4:14).

The first – those who have put themselves first – will be last in the age to come, and the last – the poor in spirit, those who have been persecuted – will be lst. This is why the description of his disciples as ‘the salt of the earth’ directly follows on from the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, because it is only through salt/last that the chain is broken and the kingdom of heaven becomes ours.

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

Word in Language (18): Mary, Mother of God

It is a remarkable thing that the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, I AM, contains the progression of human life, AIO, which is also the progression of the Greek alphabet, if we write the last letter, omega, in the Greek way: AIW. You may remember that the letter A refers to the act of Creation described in the first two chapters of Genesis; the letter I, which represents the ego in the English language, refers to the Fall, when we turned away from God and began to rely on ourselves; and the letter O is the letter of repentance, of recognition, when we turn the ego, I, into a number, 1, and count down to O.

 

All of this is contained in the simple statement/name I AM. Note that God does not say, ‘I am God. Thus you shall say to the Israelites…’ He does not use a predicate, something after the ‘I am’, in the way that you and I would. ‘Hello, I am Jonathan.’ If I stood in a room and said, ‘Hello, I am,’ people would think I was strange. They expect a name to follow the enunciation ‘I am’. But in God’s case, it is enough for him to say simply, ‘I am.’ He is in all, and all things come from him. He is the Author of all things, the origin, the source. We are translators, because things pass through us, nothing begins with us – life, food, oxygen, thoughts… What belongs to us is our reaction, our free will, how we choose to respond to the things, the people, we meet on our road. We give them meaning and take away meaning from our encounter. This is why we are translators, because this is the process of translation.

 

In the act of Creation, AM created a separate object, a countable noun, AN. The indefinite article, a/an, is used for things that can have a line drawn around them: a book, a room. It is used for things that we can visualize and, in order to visualize them, we have to be able to separate them from ourselves. We cannot do this with concepts such as love and righteousness, so when we talk about concepts we do not used the indefinite article. We use it only for things that are separate from ourselves. Why does the indefinite article, therefore, refer to the creature that God created in the beginning? Because he made that creature separate from himself – he endowed it with free will. It is not a machine, remotely controlled. It may make its own decisions. That is why it is a countable noun, because it is separate from God. God did not want hangers-on, he wanted true, living, breathing human beings who would love him of their own accord.

 

If we combine the name of God, AM, and the indefinite article, AN, we get A MAN, and the name of that man was ADAM (which contains the name of God, AM). So while we are separate, we do bear God’s imprint. After all, we are made in his image and likeness and, to quote St Augustine, ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in You’.

 

Christ came to fulfil the Old Testament law and prophets, to make the law personal, relevant to you and me, and there are numerous words that show this connection, but let us take the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM, and see how this relates to Christ. It relates in four ways. The first is that it gives us the words ‘law’ and ‘way’. For ‘law’, we apply the physical pairs, pairs of letters that look alike, i-l and m-w, that is we replace the capital I with a lower-case l and turn the M upside down. For ‘way’, we again turn the M upside down and replace the vowel i with its corresponding semi-vowel y.

 

Christ says as much in John 14:6: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (my italics). Language confirms this because the two words – ‘I am’ and ‘way’ – are connected.

 

But we also find the name of God from Exodus 3:14 in a common appellation of Christ, first given to him by John the Baptist in John 1:29: Lamb. ‘I am’ is found in ‘lamb’. Again, language seems to confirm his provenance.

 

In Revelation 22:13, towards the end of the Bible, Christ cries, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ We will see how ‘first’ and ‘last’ might be connected in the next article, but the name Alpha and Omega, or A+O, contains the three ways of escaping the ego (I): to make reference to a third point and form a triangle (Δ), to delete the I and form a cross (†) or to treat the I as a number and count down (0). These three symbols, Δ†0, spell the name spoken in the Book of Revelation, Alpha and Omega (A+O), and are referenced already in the name of God in Exodus, I AM, which contains that same progression, AIW (only the I has not been deleted).

 

And finally this name of God in Exodus is translated into Greek as O WN, the three letters found in the halo of icons of Christ, because according to Orthodox tradition it is Christ who appears to Moses at the burning bush. O WN, if we rotate the second letter, gives us ONE, a reference to the Holy Trinity, because it contains the chemical symbols for all three persons: the Father (O1, no one), the Son (O2, oxygen) and the Holy Spirit (O3, ozone), only in chemistry the subscript 1 is not normally written down: ONE (the 2 has toppled over, the 3 is back to front).

 

So we see a strong connection between Christ – the way, the Lamb, the Alpha and the Omega, O WN – and the name of God in Exodus, I AM. We have also seen how AM and SON combine in the word RANSOM if we omit the initial r. The word RANSOM seems to confirm what Christ says in Matthew 20:28 about coming to serve and to give his life a ransom for many – that life was the life of the SON and it was given on the Cross, in accordance with the pre-eternal design of the Holy Trinity.

 

Now I would like to see if there is any indication in the English language not only to affirm that Christ is the Son of God, as we saw in the previous article, but also to point to Mary as his Mother. Perhaps you have already seen the link.

 

When we discussed the progression AIO inside words, we saw that it is contained in common appellations of the Virgin Mary: ‘lady’ and ‘maid’. It is also in the word AID, and in Orthodox prayers we often ask the Virgin Mary to ‘come to our AID’. But I would like to see if there is a connection between Mary and I AM, as there was between Christ and I AM.

 

It is remarkable that I AM is contained in MARY if we replace the vowel i with its corresponding semi-vowel y and add the letter r. The name MARY contains the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM, and that is surely a coincidence. Not only that, but if we again add the letter r, we get the word MARRY:

 

I AM – MARY – MARRY

 

Christ came into the world, became incarnate, as a result of the action of the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father, and through the wish and obedience of the Virgin Mary. She could have said no. God relied on her willing cooperation, the free will we talked about earlier in relation to countable nouns. But after the initial surprise (how is that to be if I have not known a man?), when it was explained to her by the Archangel Gabriel, she bowed to God’s will, she acquiesced, and the ‘marriage’ took place. This led to the Incarnation, Christ becoming fully human, and ultimately to our salvation (if Christ became fully human, it was so that we could become fully divine, a process known in Orthodoxy as theosis – we become gods by adoption).

 

All this connection, all this lineage, is contained in the name of the Virgin MARY: the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM, the human progression from A (Creation) to I (the Fall) to O or W (the act of repentance, the moment when our hearts comprehend that of ourselves we are not enough, on our own we can do nothing, we do not avail – we become aware of our own limitations, and it is curious for me that AWARE contains AM and the second person singular of the verb ‘to be’, ARE: AWARE conjugates the verb ‘to be’).

 

Language is a wonder. Whoever would have said that AWARE conjugates the verb ‘to be’? There is more on this, the different parts of the verb ‘to be’, perhaps I will write about it in the future.

 

So MARY contains the name of God in Exodus, I AM, and if we double the letter r, we get MARRY, which is how the Incarnation took place.

 

Is that all there is? Well, no. A very important word to describe Christ is the Messiah. He is the long-awaited Messiah, the one that would come to earth and atone for our sins, make everything right again, give us a way to return to God, but a different way, not the way we have come through sin, the Fall, this is not a return to the GARDEN OF EDEN, where once again we would be in DANGER OF NEED. We do not go back to the first letter of the alphabet, A, because what would be the point of that? It would only all start again – the Fall, repentance… No, we must break the circle, so we progress on to the letter O, not back to the letter A, we progress to the end of the alphabet.

 

Can you find the name of God in Exodus, I AM, inside the word MESSIAH? It is there. And what word can you spell with the remaining letters, bearing in mind that letters may be doubled?

 

M   E   S   S   I   A   H

 

The word is SHE.

 

MESSIAH is a combination of I AM and SHE. It is as if the Messiah would only come when God, I AM, combined with a certain woman, the Virgin Mary. This event took place in history, and Christ was born.

 

I will provide one more example. You remember at the end of the previous article we saw that, if we do some dance-steps in the alphabet, if we put our best foot forward, then JERUSALEM can be turned into JESUS AMEN. All we have to do is apply three alphabetical pairs: l-m, m-n and r-s. Something similar can be done with the word MOTHER, but this time we must take one step forward and one step back: m-n and s-t.

 

What two words can be found in MOTHER? To whom does the Mother point in icons of her with Christ? She points to HER SON. I would say that this is what the MOTHER achieved through her obedience: the life, death and resurrection of HER SON, which were not isolated incidents that have no bearing on us. They changed the course of history. By his life on earth and his descent into hell, Christ brought the possibility of salvation to all human persons, wherever they might be. But this was only possible by the consent, purity and experience of the Virgin Mary. Without her, there would be no salvation, and the road – the way to I AM – would be closed.

 

It’s amazing what you will find in three letters.

 

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

Word in Language (17): Christ the Son of God

After the bread that is destined to become the body of Christ during the Orthodox Liturgy has been cut from the loaves that have been baked for this purpose, the bread that is left over from the loaves is divided into small pieces, blessed by the priest and distributed to the people after the service. This bread is known as antidoron in Greek, meaning ‘instead of the gift’. It is used by those who have received communion to help wash down any remaining traces of the body and blood of Christ, so that they do not remain in the mouth, and is received by those who have not received communion as a substitute – ‘instead of the gift’. One of the subdeacon’s duties is to cut this bread into small pieces so that it can be distributed by the priest.

 

I serve as a subdeacon in the Orthodox Church, and I often think of this unconsecrated bread as being similar to words, cut from the body of Christ and waiting to be sanctified or not by their use. That is, the words we bandy about in conversation or in writing are small fragments of the Word of God and contain the potential to be used in a sanctifying way, if our intentions are good and our mind is set on God.

 

It is as if the priest is distributing words to the people, who will then leave the church and go out into the street and use those words in what is hopefully a beneficial way. It is only an image.

 

But I would like to suggest that words, just like the environment, bear the imprint of the Creator and refer to him. My book Stones Of Ithaca contains numerous examples of stones from the beaches of the Greek island of Ithaca that seem to depict Christian symbols and scenes. Language is the same, and why should we be surprised? Isn’t Christ the Word of God, the Logos? Isn’t it logical, therefore, that he should be present in words? Or that words should speak of him?

 

I would like to suggest that this is so and we can find proof in language that Christ is the Son of God (and that Mary is his Mother). God is one essence and three hypostases (that is, three persons) – three in ONE. I would like to show how language confirms Christ as the Son.

 

Let us start with the progression that we saw in the previous two articles, AIO, the progression of the Greek alphabet and of human life. A represents the Creation (described in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis); I represents the Fall (described in the third chapter of Genesis), the era we live in; and O represents repentance, becoming aware of our sins and turning back to God, the aim of our life on earth.

 

In the Book of Revelation, at the other end of the Bible, Christ describes himself as ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev 22:13). This is one of his names – Alpha and Omega – and can be written A+O. Now it is curious that the three ways of escaping from the selfish demands of the ego, of moving away from the line that represents the ego in English (I), involve:

 

– making reference to a third point, God, and forming a triangle (Δ);

– deleting the I and forming a cross (†);

– treating the letter I as a number (1) in order to count down to zero (0).

 

That is, A+O. Christ’s own name, revealed in the Book of Revelation, indicates to us the path that we must follow. I don’t think any human could have invented this; it must be something contained in language itself.

 

We saw that A+O is found in the middle conjunction, ‘and’, because if we write ‘and’ using capital letters, we get AND or A ’N’ O. The reverse of AND is DNA, which implies that it is in our make-up to make this progression and to turn to God, away from the ego. Note how GOD and EGO are only a step apart in the alphabet (alphabetical pair d-e).

 

If we apply this progression AIO to the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, AM, we find that AM becomes I’M becomes OM. I take this last word to be a reference to the Holy Trinity: O3, or three in One. But one of the ways of making word connections is by the addition of letters, and one of the most commonly added letters is h. So another way of moving away from the self-centred demands of the ego that we find in I’M is, instead of making the progression AIO, simply to add h to I’M, which gives us HIM. I understand this to be a reference to Christ. He takes us out of ourselves – actually, in many ways it is the reverse movement: he returns us to ourselves. We turn to HIM and in the act of worship we sing a HYMN (the coincidence between these two homophones HIM and HYMN is found also in LORD and LAUD).

 

In Matthew 20:28, Christ says to his disciples that the Son of Man – Christ himself – came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a RANSOM for many’. Again, I think we can find proof for this in language, because if we ignore the first letter of RANSOM (r), we find that the rest of the word contains the name of God in Exodus, AM, and SON. Of course, the letters are jumbled up; spiritual knowledge is always hidden in some way. But it is not difficult to make out. I think the word RANSOM wishes to confirm what the Word is saying, and to confirm who he is: the Son of God.

 

We find another connection to the name of God in Exodus in John 14:6, where Christ says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ If we write the name of God in Exodus I AM and turn the letter M upside down, we will see a clear similarity between I AM and ‘law’ – the law of the Old Testament, which found its spiritual fulfilment in Christ – and between I AM and ‘way’ (y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i): I AM – law – way. Language confirms what Christ is saying. This is why he goes on in the same verse to say, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ He is the way to I AM.

 

We find further proof of this connection between the name of God in Exodus and Christ in the appellation that John the Baptist gives Christ when he sees him approach in John 1:29: Lamb. The word ‘lamb’ (and note that the final letter, b, is silent) contains ‘I am’.

 

So in ‘way’ and ‘lamb’ we find two clear indications that Christ is the Son of God. Again, I would point out that no human could have invented these words so that they would reproduce the name of God in Exodus, I AM. This has to have come from God, to be ingrained in language, just as we saw AM in the name given to the first human, ADAM (both words contain the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet: AO, or AW if we write omega according to Greek usage).

 

In Orthodox tradition, all appearances of God in the Old Testament are by the Logos, so it is Christ who interacts with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eve and it is Christ who appears to Moses at the burning bush. For this reason, the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus – O WN – is included in icons of Christ, in the beams of the Cross inside the halo around his head. Search for an icon of Christ Pantocrator, and you will see what I mean.

 

O WN actually means ‘the being’. That is how the name of God, AM/I AM, is translated into Greek. O WN spells three words in English – OWN, WON and NOW – and it is easy to see the relevance of these words to Christ: he claims us as his own; he has won; he is with us now (Emmanuel).

 

By rotating the W, we can connect O WN to the number ONE, and I think this is because in his Incarnation, becoming visible to us, Christ represents – follows the will of – the Holy Trinity, three in ONE.

 

We have seen how these three letters O WN can be written O WH, which spells the question words WHO and HOW. Christ is the answer to both these questions, which we can only ask when we have made the progression AIO. That is, we have gone from asking WHAT in Creation (What is this creature? What should I call it?) to asking WHY (Why should I do this? Why should I believe you?) in the Fall to asking WHO/HOW in a state of repentance. We count down from the ego and realize that the answer we should be seeking is a person, and if you want a person to be the answer to the question you are asking, then the correct question is WHO? This was Pontius Pilate’s mistake when he was standing in front of that very person and asked him, ‘What is truth?’ Truth, he failed to understand, is not a thing, it is a person. The irony of this situation is staggering.

 

Now WHO sounds the same as HU, which is the root in Sanskrit of our word ‘God’. To show that Christ is the Son of God, the fulfilment of the Old Testament law and prophets, we see that WHO (O WH) is a progression from WHY, which contains the letters of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton: YHWH. And finally if we combine WHO with another name of God in the Old Testament, EL, we find that the two names together spell WHOLE. With the coming of Christ in human form, his birth, teaching, crucifixion, descent into hell and resurrection, we are made WHOLE. We are given that possibility, for our broken form, human nature, to receive wholeness, to return to God. That possibility was not available to us under the Old Law.

 

In the addition of letters, one of the most commonly added letters is h. Remembering the correlation in phonetics and in the alphabet between v and w, we will then see that WHOLE contains LOVE. It is love that makes us whole, that enables us to enter into relationship. Relationship is intrinsic to the Holy Trinity (there are three persons), and so it is intrinsic to us as well, because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26).

 

LOVE, by the addition of the same letter h, can be found in OTHER (phonetic pair l-r, alphabetical pair t-v). Love necessarily involves the other, unless all you are going to do is love yourself. I don’t think we are meant to do this. True love – true healing – involves relationship. I am healed by others, by letting them into my life and by revealing myself to them. I have a family, I was lost without them, but that same love – that same self-affirmation (as opposed to the self-destruction brought about by sin) – can be found with a complete stranger if our gaze is at once directed towards each other and towards him (the third point I talked about with reference to the triangle). OTHER is connected to the Greek word for ‘God’, THEOS (alphabetical pair r-s), and this is the meaning of Christ’s saying, ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40), but we have lost this meaning. Very often we see our neighbour as a threat to our peace, we turn away from them or eyeball them with aggression. Our lives are separate – we have no common reference. It is a common reference that brings peace.

 

And LOVE is connected with another word in language, which again goes some way to proving that Christ is God. If we apply the phonetic pairs l-r and v-w and the alphabetical pair d-e to LOVE, we find WORD. We read in 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love’ – Christ is the Word, and WORD is connected to LOVE, which seems to confirm this.

 

In the beginning, God the Father created the world through the Son on the basis of the Holy Spirit. Again, we will find confirmation in language because WORLD is a combination of LORD and WORD. We find WORD not only in LOVE, but in the WORLD we inhabit. We also find him in the SUN that illuminates our lives and enables us to grow crops, that is to survive, because there is a clear correlation between SON and SUN. It is the Son who enables us to eat. I am not saying that the Sun is Christ himself, but there is clearly a connection between the two words, which implies a scientific connection as well.

 

We find confirmation of this connection SON-SUN if we apply the phonetic pair b-p to LAMB, which gives us LAMP. Christ says as much in John 8:12: ‘I am the light of the world.’ Language confirms it. His name confirms it, because CHRIST contains LIGHT (phonetic pairs g-k and l-r, addition of s).

 

He also enables us to breathe. When we discussed the Trinity as three in ONE, we saw that God the Father is no one (O1), God the Son is oxygen (O2) and God the Holy Spirit is ozone (O3). The Holy Spirit is commonly likened to a wind (a word, by the way, that contains the first four numbers – 0, 1, 2 and 3 – if we rotate two of the letters in WIND) – that is, breath, which is represented in language by the letter h. If we combine this letter for the Holy Spirit, H, and the chemical symbol for oxygen, O2, we get water: H2O. Christ also enables us to drink.

 

The two chemical symbols combined, O2 and O3, can be found in MOON (again, we need to rotate the letters to get the numbers 2 and 3), so it seems that Christ reflects his own light and enables us to see at night.

 

Language, and the environment that surrounds us, are permeated by Christ. Look around you, and you will see a million crosses. The Cross is like a stile – it enables us to cross over to the other side, to escape our own isolation, to walk over the line, to make a bridge that will carry us where we want to go. Language will help us. Once we enlist its support, it will provide the content of our prayers – at least until we no longer need words. Language, in this sense, is repetitive. It can be boring, but we are rubbing away the hard outer casing of our hearts, so that we can enter there and find God’s kingdom.

 

In the end, perhaps the name alone will suffice, coupled with an expression of assent. There is one city in the world that is claimed by the Abrahamic religions: Jerusalem. It was here that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection took place, and it was not far from here, in Bethlehem, that he was born. This is where Christ taught in the temple when he was only a child and sweated tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.

 

Take the word JERUSALEM and apply the alphabetical pairs l-m, m-n and r-s. That is, take the letters l, m and r in JERUSALEM and advance one step in the alphabet. What two words do you get? This, for me, is proof that Christ is who he says he is.

 

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

Word in Language (16): AIO (1)

In the previous article, we looked at the progression of human life – which is also the progression of the Greek alphabet – from A to I to O. A represents the letter of Creation, when AM created AN, a countable noun, a separate being, one that can have free will – that is to say, A MAN – whose name was ADAM. I is the letter of the Fall, of the era we live in, in which we are subject to our selfish impulses and seem to view one another as a source of profit instead of someone we should serve. I am reminded of two monks who tried to have an argument. One said, ‘Let’s quarrel.’ The other replied, ‘OK then.’ The first took hold of an object and declared, ‘This object is mine. I am going to take it.’ The other rejoined, ‘Please do,’ and that was the end of the argument. When we cede our will to another’s, there is no cause for a quarrel. O is the letter of repentance – we count down from the ego, I, to God, O, or to put it another way we open our spiritual eyes (our spiritual Is) and see that we ourselves are limited, the world is not going to fill us (or it is only going to do so temporarily) and the source of true life is God. This change of vision can be the result of a spiritual experience. In my case, it was, but this was after I had got down on my knees and called to God (if he truly existed) for assistance. I had realized my limits, but God did not invade my privacy, he waited for me to call him. I do think we have to take the first step. This happened when I was thirty-three and, without my knowing, it was Maundy Thursday when I called, and Easter Sunday when God answered.

 

All the examples I gave in the previous article of the progression AIO were between words: for example, AM-I’M-OM (NO ONE) or AMEN-MINE-NEMO/OMEN. I would like now to look at examples of this progression inside words, but I would like first to sound a note of warning. In all my study of word connections, which has occupied the last sixteen years, this is where my knowledge is most limited. I only see ‘through a glass, darkly’. I perceive that this progression exists inside words in the English language, but it is much wider than I am able to comprehend, and I think there is more to it. I shall try simply to make my case, and the reader will come to their own conclusions.

 

First of all, we must consider the alternatives. Inside words, the I of AIO may be written in the form of the corresponding semi-vowels j and y, or as lower-case l (which to all intents and purposes is identical to capital I):

 

I: j, y, l

 

Secondly, we have already seen the close resemblance between the capital letters O, D and G (the word GOD can thus be said to comprise three circles). We have also replaced the O of AIO with the corresponding Greek letter W (which is how lower-case omega is written in Greek), so we could expect to find the letter O written using these other letters:

 

O: d, g, w

 

Starting with AIO, then, we see the progression AIO in words like AID and DAY. The former reminds me of Orthodox prayers to the Virgin Mary, in which we ask her to ‘come to our aid’. The latter reminds me of the creation of the Day in the first chapter of Genesis, when God said, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen 1:3-5). It was as if he laid down the progression AIO right at the very beginning.

 

But there is a very curious example, which is IAO, an early Greek form of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH. This early Greek form of the name Yahweh clearly contains the progression AIO.

 

If we repeat one of the letters, we find it in GLAD. This reminds me of the first verse of Psalm 122, ‘I was glad when they said unto me’, set so wonderfully to music by Sir Hubert Parry. Again if we repeat a letter, we will find the progression in LADY and, with the Greek way of writing omega, in MAID, two common appellations for the Virgin Mary.

 

It is in OAK, that most majestic of trees, if we take a step in the alphabet (k-l), and might also be found in trees like ELM and WILLOW (in the first, the Greek letter W  has been rotated to produce E and M; all three letters closely resemble the number 3) without the presence of A.

 

We can find it in the name of key figures in the Old Testament such as King DAVID (addition of v), who wrote the psalms, and in the name of contemporary saints such as PAISIOS (addition of p and s), perhaps the most beloved contemporary Greek saint, who has been compared to St Anthony of Egypt (it is in ANTHONY as well, but we will get to that in a moment).

 

If I replace O with W (AIW), then the most obvious example is the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM. This name contains the progression from A to I to O (W), and so do the key words that are connected to it: LAW and WAY, the law being that of the Old Testament and ‘way’ referring to Christ, the law in person, who said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6).

 

The name ‘I am’ is found in ‘lamb’ (John the Baptist famously called Christ the Lamb of God, and this is confirmed by language), but it is also found in words like ‘lame’ (what we are without God), ‘male’ (the creation of Adam) and ‘mammal’ (the creation of animals). The LAMB took upon himself the BLAME for our sins and acted like a BALM. He opened his PALM (phonetic pair b-p) in an act of self-giving, and I think this is why the crowds outside Jerusalem laid palms on the road when he came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. PALM is in PSALM (addition of s), during the reciting of which we place ourselves in God’s hands.

 

Do you begin to see how AIO (AIW) is present everywhere? It is in another Sanskrit word, MAYA (derived from the Sanskrit word MA, meaning ‘create’), which is defined in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the power by which the universe becomes manifest’. It is in words that relate to other religions: DALAI LAMA, the Tibetan spiritual leader, or how about the Easter Island statues, which are known as MOAI and are erected on platforms called AHU (here we must take a step in the alphabet, h-i, and swap one back vowel for another, o-u)? It is also in Greek mythology – for example, the god APOLLO (addition of p) – and in Eastern practices such as YOGA and AIKIDO. What I have found is that it is much more prevalent than we might think, but I cannot say exactly why this is.

 

Let us now draw a line through the I and make a cross: †. The cross is best represented in the alphabet by the letter ‘t’ (also by ‘f’, ‘r’ and ‘x’):

 

†: t, f, r, x

 

If we delete the ego in the progression AIO, which is what we are called to do when we turn to God in repentance – Sophrony’s ‘love to the point of self-hatred’ – we now have A†O. This progression is clearly found in the word TAO, ‘the absolute being or principle underlying the universe; ultimate reality’ according to the SOED. It is also found in PLATO (addition of p), the most famous ancient philosopher, and also, I might say, in ARISTOTLE. These two thinkers are well known for their philosophical systems, and most modern philosophy is based on what they wrote. So again it seems to me that certain key names or words contain this progression.

 

Let us now keep the cross and substitute O with W: A†W. Now it becomes really interesting because these three symbols are clearly present in ATOM, once thought to be the ultimate particle of matter (oh, and MATTER clearly contains the same progression). ATOM is connected to ATONE (again the same progression, here we have applied the phonetic pair m-n with the addition of final e), so the atonement brought about by Christ’s voluntary sacrifice on the Cross was obviously meant to affect our very being. It is language that confirms this.

 

We find the same progression with the cross, A†W, in WAIT, which is connected to FAITH by the phonetic pair f-v/w, addition of h. There is a lesson here, and it seems to me to be saying we must wait and have faith, even when we are suffering, even when the odds appear to be stacked against us, even when we can scarcely breathe or cannot see the wood for the trees. Wait, have faith.

 

We have one more step to make. Having introduced the cross in place of the letter I, we must now complete the paradox and replace the cross with a plus-sign: A+O (the meaning of Christ’s injunction to lose our life for his sake in order to find it). A plus-sign is best represented in the alphabet by the letter ‘n’ (think of rock ’n’ roll) and we have seen that this letter is closely associated with ‘h’:

 

+: n, h

 

A+O represents the three ways of escaping the ego and spells Alpha and Omega. Indeed it is contained in the middle conjunction – AND (A ’N’ O) – the reverse of which is DNA, so as with ATOM this progression seems to form part of our make-up. Replacing O with W, we find it in AMINO ACID, the building block of protein. Just as these compounds were discovered by placing samples under microscopes, so we can place language under the microscope and unveil its make-up, its message to us.

 

I will give just a few more examples. How about the Hebrew name of God ADONAI? Or the only righteous man found on earth before the Flood, NOAH? They contain the same progression, A+O. It is also in HALO, an indication that someone has followed this blessed path of repentance (isn’t it also in PATH?). It is in SAINT – without the O, but with the plus-sign and the cross following the I in quick succession, as if the word SAINT was mapping out the path for us to follow.

 

It is in the names of two places intimately connected with Orthodoxy: ATHOS in Greece, the spiritual heartland of Orthodoxy, and IONA in Scotland, from where the Irish monk AIDAN set out to evangelize Northumbria under King OSWALD. All these names clearly contain the progression AIO.

 

And now we come to the last connection. We have taken the progression AIO, replaced the O with the Greek letter W – AIW – deleted the I and formed a cross – A†O (A†W) – and finally turned the cross into a plus-sign: A+O (A+W).

 

If we replace the plus-sign in this final progression with the corresponding letter in the alphabet, ‘n’ – A ’N’ W – what word do we get? To whom is this message in language addressed? For whom was the world created? Who is it that was made in the image and likeness of God? Who is it that is endowed with reason, so that he might observe the destruction wrought by the Fall, wrought by his own selfish impulses, his wish to accommodate himself? Who is it that is called – by Christ! – to restore his own image by the grace of God and to become a god by adoption (isn’t AIO in that word as well)?

 

It is MAN, the fruit of this progression, who contains the progression in himself.

 

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