In this sixteenth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the progression from the A of creation to the I of the Fall to the O of repentance/realization, which was the subject of the second video. Having already seen how this progression AIO can be found between words such as “what”, “why” and “who/how”, he examines to what extent this progression can be found inside words. When we draw a line through the selfish demands of the ego (I) and form a cross (†), which is also a plus-sign (+), A+O, we get the name of God in the Book of Revelation at the end of the Bible: Alpha and Omega. This in turn gives “and” (A ’N’ O) and its reverse “DNA”. When we use the Greek letter omega (“w”), we get “man” (A ’N’ W). So the idea expressed by Christ of denying the self, taking up our cross and following him is at the heart of language and in our very genes.
Having looked at the line, which represents the ego in English (I) and the number 1, in this second video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the three ways of moving away from the line – the triangle, the cross and the circle. Truth is paradoxical, so while a cross represents suffering, it is also a plus-sign. This is the meaning of Christ’s injunction to lose our life in order to find it.
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
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
Ideally, human life, like the Greek alphabet, should be a progression from the letter A to the letter I to the letter O: AIO.
A represents the act of creation described in chapters 1-2 of the Book of Genesis, in the beginning, when God created the world. It is the first letter of both the Greek and Latin alphabets, so it represents the first act in the history of time, the first thing we have to write about.
We already saw that the name God reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 is AM (in this word we see both the A and the O – the latter written W, like the Greek letter omega – because God stands outside time, of which he is the beginning and the end). AM created AN, the indefinite article, the article that is used for countable nouns, for nouns that we can see and draw a line around, that we can separate from ourselves and give free will. AM and AN combine to give A MAN, whose name was Adam.
ADAM also contains the name of God in Exodus 3:14 – AM – as well as both ways of writing the final letter of the Greek alphabet: O/W (D closely resembles O, M is an upturned W). It is as if the new Adam is already present in the old. These two ways of writing the last letter of the Greek alphabet, O/W, can be used to describe the Holy Trinity: O3, or 3 in One. Adam is not a chance name assigned to the first human, it has the imprint of God stamped all over it.
ADAM in reverse reads MADE, just as EARTH in reverse reads THREE (because it was created on day three and is the third planet in order of increasing distance from the Sun). Adam was made by God, who shaped him from the dust of the ground and breathed the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life, into him.
Adam’s task was not to create all the creatures, it was to name them – that is, to translate – and we see this purpose accorded to Adam in the reverse of MAN, which is NAME (with addition of final e, very common in word connections).
Now NAME, if we rearrange the letters, spells MEAN and AMEN. When we name someone or something, we give them meaning. We acquiesce in the process of God’s creation, we accept our role in the same, and say AMEN.
But, in chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were tempted to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. See how EVE is already taking us away from the letter A and towards the letter I. If we apply the physical pair (pair of letters that look alike) v-y to EVE, we get EYE, and EYE sounds the same as the letter I (which, if we rotate it by ninety degrees, represents a closed eye).
We can see this progression away from the letter A towards the letter I in the name of the garden where Adam and Eve lived, EDEN, which is connected to ADAM by the phonetic pair m-n and the pair of vowels a-e.
With the Fall, described in chapter 3 of Genesis, we have turned our attention away from God and towards ourselves. The Fall corresponds to time. It is the era we live in, the timeline drawn by a teacher of English on a whiteboard, the letter I, when despite being surrounded by all of God’s goodness – the earth and all it contains – we think we can do very well without him (despite the fact we could not even breathe without him).
So, instead of calling on God, AM, we start to say I’M. Instead of saying AMEN to God’s commandments, we lay claim to our surroundings and say MINE. We have made the progression from A to I. This means that, while our physical eyes may be open, our spiritual eyes are closed: I.
Put three of these Is together, and you get the word ‘ill’, a triple ego if you like. We are spiritually sick because we have detached ourselves from the source of all goodness, the Holy Trinity. If you don’t believe me, look at what happens if we make the progression from A to I to I: we get the word ‘ail’. But God in his ineffable mercy always offers us a way out, because if we add breath to the start of this word and slightly alter the vowels, ‘ail’ gives rise to ‘heal’.
We saw in the article Alpha and Omega that one of the ways to escape the ego, I, is to treat it as a number, 1, and to count down to 0. This can be likened to opening our spiritual eyes: I to O. We turn our hearts to God in repentance, we realize we cannot live without him, or at least our life is ultimately without meaning if we do not live in, for and with him. This is the purpose of human life – to realize our need. There is nothing wrong with this. We sink to the bottom of the overturned pyramid, to use St Sophrony of Essex’s image, we descend into the hell of uncertainty and emerge the other side, strengthened and joyful.
Now, instead of saying I’M, we say OM, but I do not mean the mantra, I mean the Holy Trinity: O3. We redirect our sight away from ourselves to the centre of all being.
We saw in the article Chemistry that God the Father can be written O1, or no one. OM is connected to NO by the phonetic pair m-n, and ONE is NO in reverse with the addition of final e. So when we turn away from the I with all its hereditary fears and selfish demands, instead of saying I’M, we call on NO ONE, as we were meant to do because we are human.
The name of God is spread throughout language – language is insisting, albeit unobtrusively, that salvation for ourselves lies in calling upon God, but it must be a question of free will, a freely taken decision. We are given all the time in the world to make this step.
Instead of saying MINE, we say NEMO, which is the Latin word for NO ONE, or OMEN, a sign for the future, perhaps.
We make the progression from A to I to O, the progression of human life, which involves committing a mistake (or many mistakes) and then owning up to it.
AM – I’M – OM/O3/NO ONE
AMEN/MEAN/NAME – MINE – NEMO/OMEN
Now perhaps I have just made this all up. Well, not exactly. We also saw this same progression from A to I to O (AIO) in the question words WHAT – WHY – WHO.
‘What?’ is the question word of Creation: what is this creature? What will you call it?
‘Why?’ is the mantra of modern society, of the Fall: why should I do this? Why should I believe you? (‘Why?’ simply indicates a lack of obedience.)
The real and only valid question is ‘Who?’ (or ‘How?’, it makes no difference), and the answer is Jesus Christ. We see this progression in the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH, which corresponds to WHY, and in the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus 3:14, O WN (or O WH), found in icons of Christ Pantocrator, which spells WHO and HOW. We have made the progression, we have gone from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law, to the law in human form.
WHAT – WHY – WHO/HOW
Another example. The name of God in Exodus 3:14 is I AM, which gives us ‘law’ if we apply the physical pairs i-l and m-w (one letter is an extension or a reversal of the other). We associate LAW with the Old Testament, a set of rules which must be blindly followed, even to the detriment of people (for example, not healing on the Sabbath). This LAW, as we all know, can be a WALL. It protects us, but it also stands as an obstacle, especially when it is the letter of the law – and not the spirit – that is being applied.
If we make the progression from A to I, from LAW we get WILL: we apply our own will. We don’t obey the commandments to love the Lord our God with all our being and to love our neighbour as ourself. We seek our own will, we place ourselves – our profit, our comfort, our status – above the other and pursue our own self-interest. We have gone from the PROPHETS of the Old Testament to an obsession with PROFITS, as if the purpose of human life was solely to make money. It is not. The purpose of human life is to turn to God and, in God’s love, to show concern for our neighbour. That is to restore God’s image in us, to become properly human. We see many examples of this transformation in our everyday lives.
The Church Fathers, including St Sophrony, are always talking about God’s self-emptying (or kenotic) love. We imitate this love, taking ourselves – the I – out of the equation, opening our arms, making space for the other. We humble ourselves (St Sophrony goes so far as to speak of self-hatred). And what is the position of humility? It is LOW. We give space to the other, we ALLOW them. Instead of saying WILL, we say WON’T.
LAW/WALL – WILL – LOW/ALLOW/WON’T
Language is clearly indicating to us the path of repentance for those who wish to follow the example of Christ. I don’t know how to make it any clearer than this, but I will give just a few more examples. Note that all these examples of the progression AIO are between words. There are also examples of the same progression inside words, and we will see some of those in the next article.
Here is one of my favourite examples. In the Garden of Eden, there was no competition: DRAW. The ethos of our modern society, with its competition and counting up from the number 1, is to WIN. But Christ came along and told us to LOSE our life for his sake in order to gain it (Mt 10:39). Look at the vowels, and you will see the progression of repentance.
DRAW – WIN – LOSE
Losing, as we have seen, can be a frightening experience because it looks as if we are condemning ourselves to self-extinction, but I have likened this to the process of translation, where in order for a text to appear in another language, it must first disappear in the mind of the translator. This, for me, is what death is. It is a matter of having faith in the Translator.
Another favourite example. The SWAN may be taken as a symbol of purity. Certainly, it is very white. On the contrary, SWINE are a symbol of filth, the filth the Prodigal Son found himself literally rolling in when he was reduced to feeding his neighbour’s swine after he had wasted his father’s inheritance. What word will take us to the O of repentance? It is said that no one flake is ever the same. It falls out of the sky and alights on our nose. When we step in it, it soon becomes slush, or it can become frozen and cause us to slip, but newly fallen it transforms the landscape, turning it white again, forming a blanket under which Nature has a chance to rewind. I am talking about SNOW, of course.
SWAN – SWINE – SNOW
And one last example. The creature I most associate with the depths of history is WHALE, this creature that swims the world’s oceans and seems to have been doing so ever since the beginning of time. It is a creature I associate with the Creation, primordial and wise. What word do I get if I make the progression from A to I? WHILE, which corresponds to the process of time, time which has been spread out like a carpet for us to walk on while we make up our minds. And if I count down from the ego and make the progression from I to O? I become WHOLE, a combination of the Old Testament name of God, El, and O WH.
WHALE – WHILE – WHOLE
We already saw other examples of the progression from the I of the Fall to the O of redemption: LIVE-LOVE, SIN-SON and CHRIST-CROSS.
Language is urging us not to count up, not to make out that we are the owners of everything in existence. We are not. We are here to act as vehicles of love, to become sons, children of God, to lose our life for Christ’s sake on the Cross in order that we might receive everlasting joy in the resurrection.
Language confirms this. The Greek alphabet does the same, it provides the example. We may associate this with Eastern spirituality (for me, that is Orthodoxy) or with kenotic love and spontaneity, which doesn’t count the cost. There is another example, however, and I’m afraid it is provided by the Latin alphabet, which may be taken to signify a greater reliance on reason. Reason always counts the cost.
And that is because the Latin alphabet, instead of counting down from I to O, as the Greek alphabet does, counts up: from I to Z. This means that you have taken everything that was created, A, and used it for yourself.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com