I and Me

The line divides. The line is a wall or a tower. It defines. We use it to mark the borders between countries. To cross the line, you need permission, although nature will cross the line at will. This is a human invention. We use it to indicate private property and enact laws that will punish anyone who trespasses the line without permission. We use it in a sense to make ourselves out to be authors, as if the land, the products of the land, somehow belonged to us. We have misunderstood our role as translators. Our role is to take what is there and to transform it, hopefully for the better, to make it useful (to ourselves and others). But we cannot do anything without the earth and its gifts, as we cannot cook without ingredients. We are recipients.

But we do not like this idea, because it takes away our sense of control. We like to pretend that things begin with us, when they don’t, they pass through us. We cling to the line, because without the line there is a hole, we feel empty.

The ego in English is a line: I. And so is the number 1. We count up from 1 when we do business. We teach our children to do the same. We forget to count from 0. Once you start counting from 1, there is no end, there is no knowing where you will get to, so it produces a sense of uncertainty, not control. We feel the need to produce things (despite the obvious harm to the environment), to make a profit. We put ourselves in control, in the driver’s seat. We make ourselves the subject: I think, I do, I decide. But this is an illusion, or at least it doesn’t last.

A verb has a subject and an object. The subject carries out the action of the verb, the subject is in the driver’s seat (where we want to be). The object is acted on, the object is the recipient of the action. As we grow in the spiritual life (as we grow older), we begin to realize that perhaps our role is more to receive than to do. We receive help, we receive healing, we learn (we receive knowledge). We embrace that hole we avoided earlier, the circle (0), and find it actually makes us whole. Where is the difference between “hole” and “whole”? It is in the letter “w” at the beginning of the second word.

Language, like nature, wishes to tell us something. It is full of spiritual knowledge waiting to be seen, deciphered, harvested. A tree when it begins life is like the ego: a straight line (I). But it does not remain a straight line, otherwise it will be fruitless. So it branches out. It blossoms. And bears fruit. The tree is a lesson in what we have to do with the line, the ego, in our lives. It is an ego turning to God. The line (1) acquires branches and becomes 3 (think of a child’s drawing). This is why “tree” is in “three” (the only difference is breath, the letter “h”), because if it doesn’t branch out, it is not a tree, it is just a stick.

Nature and language wish to tell us something, but we are completely blind to this aspect. We think of nature and language as a tool to be used to our advantage (in short, to make money). But we are not here to make money, we are here to grow spiritually, so that we can prepare ourselves for the life to come. We are here to gain experience. Experience teaches us, it makes us more humble, it make us realize that not everything depends on us.

“I” is a subject. But God does not want us to remain as a straight line (we will not be able to bear fruit if we do). What is the object of “I”? If “I” is the nominative, then what is the accusative, the one who is acted upon, the one who receives? It is “me”.

I-ME. This is the same process undergone earlier by the tree. If we turn these words into numbers, we will see that “I” closely resembles 1, a straight line, but “ME” (written with capital letters) closely resembles two 3s (all I have to do is rotate the letters). When we cede control, when we accept that control was never really with us, when we allow ourselves to be acted upon, when we embrace the hole, the uncertainty, that is at the centre of human existence, then the process of spiritual growth can begin. Then we open ourselves to healing.

We become like the tree. We branch out.

This can be seen in other ways, too. What word sounds like “I”? “Eye”. An eye when it is closed is a straight line. What happens when we open our eyes? The eye becomes a circle. We count down. I-O. This process of opening the line is what God requires of us. We open our eyes and begin to see (“see” is in “eyes”). We open our ears and begin to hear (“ear” is in “hear”).

And it can be seen in language. Take the word “live”. In reverse, this word gives “evil”. That is what happens when we distort the purpose of human life and act selfishly. But if we count down and replace the “I” with “O”, we get “love”. It is the same with “sin” and “son”. Again, the line has been breached, we have accepted that not everything is under our control and have made ourselves receptive to healing (note that this takes an act of will on our part, it is not the response of an automaton, we have free will).

Now, in language, the consonants, the flesh of language, are divided into phonetic pairs according to where and how they are produced in the mouth. One such pair is “d-t”. These two consonants are produced in the same way, with the tongue against the front of the roof of the mouth. The only difference is that “d” is produced with voice, while “t” is voiceless. So they are a phonetic pair.

And what happens when we add this phonetic pair to “see” and “hear”, the result of opening our eyes and ears? We get “seed” and “heart”. So a seed is planted in the earth of our heart, in the soil of our soul.

On this Good Friday in the Orthodox calendar, when Christ himself counted down (I-O) by going to the Cross, I would like to suggest that while we think of language and nature as being at our service (which they are, but not to be exploited), their real purpose is to teach us. They are not tools to make money, they are tools for learning. We become like the tree and branch out (1-3). Away from the line that divides us. Or we count down (I-O). Proof of this can be seen in the landscape that surrounds us, in the language we use every day and in the Christian understanding of the Trinity (3 in One).

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


Theological English (9): Connections – Appearance

In this tenth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the shape of letters in the alphabet and how this can be used to make word connections. Just as the order of letters was borrowed in part from Egyptian hieroglyphs, so the shape of some of our capital letters was taken from here. This video focuses on the similarity between lower-case letters, which can be turned back to front, upside down, or continued. This enables us to make connections between birth and death, the Old and New Testaments, opposites such as “north” and “south” or “east” and “west”, and love and money. Language is full of information, words carry spiritual meaning, we only have to have “eyes” to “see” it.

To access all the videos in this course, use the drop-down menu “Theological English (Video Course)” above. The videos can be watched on Vimeo and YouTube.


Theological English (1): Away from the Line – AIO

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.

To access all the videos in this course, use the drop-down menu “Theological English (Video Course)” above. The videos can be watched on Vimeo and YouTube.



The Cross is a universal symbol. It is to be found everywhere, even in the constellations. It is in effect two intersecting lines, people interlacing arms in order to gee someone up – that is, a Cross provides support, it is a foundation, unlike a single line (a wall, a tower), which can easily be broken. A Cross was used in Roman times as a shameful means of putting someone to death. I imagine it is agonizing. The person on the Cross is at their most vulnerable, all parts exposed, arms outstretched. There is nowhere to hide. For God made man, it is the ultimate act of giving, nothing held back. For us, it is the denial of the ego, of our selfish impulses, because the Cross represents the ego (I) with a line drawn through it: †. It also represents, however, a plus-sign: +. This is what Christ meant by his seemingly paradoxical statement: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Jesus tells us to “deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow him” (Matthew 16:24). We curb our passions, don’t give in to anger or lust, don’t try to avoid suffering. We endure, albeit only for a moment, and find our sight has been cleansed, our spiritual eye (I) has been opened (O). We count down, from 1 to 0. The Cross is a doorway, a signal of intent. Push a little, and it opens. Reveals the light. Like a child’s fist.

These are Crosses I have come across in my everyday life, in Bulgaria and other countries, on holiday or while performing an errand. I hope these photographs will serve to remind us of the presence of God in our daily lives.

Jonathan Dunne

Word in Language (2): Alpha and Omega

There is the story of a desert monk who was told by his elder to plant a stick in the ground and to water it until it grew leaves. This is an example of monastic obedience (obedience means you do not ask the question ‘why?’), and this is what we must do to our ego – water it until it grows leaves.


We live in the era of the ego, after the Fall (when we acquired carnal knowledge in order to have children, in order to give birth to the body of the Church). That is, in the era of the I. It is remarkable that in English the ego is a line: I. LINE, by a step in the alphabet (l-m), is connected to MINE – we like to lay claim to things in this world, to draw a line and say ‘this is mine’.


I think we are in this life to learn to move away from the ego (which paradoxically enough leads us to affirm the self, who we really are – this is one of many paradoxes in Christianity). How do you move away from the I?


As I see it, there are three ways of moving away from the I. The first is to make reference to a third point, to understand that in our relations with others it is never a two-way process, there is always a third person present. This is why the best kind of conversation is prayer, because instead of two people talking to each other, two people turn to face in the same direction and address themselves in communion to that third person, whom we name God. Prayer is conversation with a common purpose – it doesn’t have to be in church.


When you make reference to a third point, as if when crossing a river you remember the source, then you have a triangle: Δ. And a triangle is close to the letter A (in effect, the letter A is a triangle on stilts).


So that is one way of moving away from the I: Δ > A.


The second way is to draw a line through the I, to delete it. This is the meaning of the Gospel message to lose our life in order to find it. It is the opposite of what this world tells us to do – to keep our life, to prolong it as long as possible and to make it as comfortable as possible. It is not that we seek our death, far from it, but we lay down our life for the other, we make sacrifices for the other, we actually gain salvation through the other. When we draw a line through the I, of course the symbol we get is the Cross: †. The Cross is an I with a line drawn through it.


So how can we lose our life in order to find it? Surely this doesn’t make sense. Is Christ telling me to throw my life away and then to go and find it again? Well, in a way, yes, because as a desert father, Abba Alonius, once said, ‘If I had not destroyed myself completely, I should not have been able to rebuild and shape myself again’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward, Cistercian Publications, 1984, p. 35).


But I think the true meaning of the Gospel message is this: a Cross is also a plus-sign, +. So when we lose our life (the Cross, †), we actually find it (the plus-sign, +). I would go so far as to say we only find it when we lose it.


This is the second way of moving away from the I: † > +.


And the third way of moving away from the I is to see it as a number – 1 – and then to count down to 0. The ego, the I, is actually a spiritual eye that is closed. You will see this if you cock your head like a bird. It is an eye on its side, and it is closed. This is why ‘I’ and ‘eye’ sound the same.


We must open our spiritual eyes (our spiritual Is), and then, when we open the letter I, we get O.


This is the third way of moving away from the I: 0 > O.


If we put these three ways of moving away from the I together, we get:


A + O


Now this is a remarkable fact, because when we move away from the ego, we are actually calling on God, Alpha and Omega. This is our purpose in life: to shift our focus of attention from ourselves to God, and language wishes to confirm this.


But what is truly remarkable for me is that the name Alpha and Omega is contained in the middle conjunction: ‘and’. We will see it better if we write it with capital letters: AND. AND is A ’N’ O (we have the shortened form of the conjunction, ’n’, as in rock ’n’ roll), and in reverse it reads DNA. It is in our DNA to turn to God – it is he who will make us whole.


We see this same choice between following our own inclinations and bowing down before another in the connection between EGO and GOD. They are only a step in the alphabet (d-e) apart. It reminds me of Christ’s injunction that we cannot serve God and mammon (or, in word-connection terms, we cannot serve GOD and GOLD – what letter does GOLD contain that GOD does not? The letter l, which equates to the ego).


So it seems that the SELF must go the way of all FLESH (SELF in reverse, with the addition of h). The SELF in terms of self-seeking, privately harboured ambitions, is FALSE (addition of a), it makes us a SLAVE (phonetic pair f-v). When we enter the world, when we respond to its call, I think we find at some point that what we had taken to be freedom – the ability to do whatever we liked – has in fact enslaved us, has turned us into a slave. Like the Prodigal Son, we come to our senses and seek another path, one that will truly free us and bring us to fulfilment. It is a common misconception that freedom equates to the ability to do what we like (within reason). This is the tenet of democracy. But the Church is not democratic – it is not ruled by people, although it may consist of them. It is hierarchical, and the head of the Church is Christ.


What do we do with the SELF when we come to this realization? There is a simple answer in terms of language, but again you must know your phonetic pairs: f-v and l-r. Then you can turn SELF into SERVE (repetition of e).


Or, as with the connection between GOD and GOLD, you remove the ego from SLAVE. Again, we will see this better if we use lower-case letters – ‘slave’. What happens when you remove the I from ‘slave’? What word do you get?


Language, like the desert elder who sent his disciple off to plant a stick in the ground, or Abba Alonius, who realized that you have to break the ego down in order to rebuild it, is clearly showing us in these examples that we have a choice between becoming enslaved to the impulses of the ego (and there are plenty of substances lying in wait to help us with this task) and turning to God.


It is all a question of opening our spiritual Is – or having them opened for us.


The semi-vowel y corresponds to the vowel i (that is the line, I). When we turn to God in repentance, when we lay our ego on the altar of obedience, we OBEY. I think we reach a point, having made our choice, where we actually decide we don’t really want our free will (there is a parallel here with marriage, where we become one body – and see what fruit that bears).


I am not talking about subjection to a tyrant. I am talking about Christ. With Christ (yes, it is difficult sometimes), I want what he wants, not what I want, because I know it will lead to better things. It will lead to life in all its fullness. And at that point I am capable of declaring, not OBEY, but O, BE I! (the exclamation mark shows that I have opened my eyes; a question mark does the same, it just takes longer to get there).


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