In this sixth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne continues looking at connections between words in the English language, again using the same letters, but this time changing their order, rearranging the letters. Once we rearrange the letters, sometimes reading the words back to front, we can no longer claim that the connection is because of etymology, the evolution of words over time, with us as the cause of their development. Spiritual meaning is hidden, so in order to discover this meaning we must be willing to make slight changes to the words – changes, however, that always follow a fixed set of rules (phonetics, alphabet, appearance).
We are in the habit of seeing the world as being full of objects. We view these objects externally to ourselves and consider that they may or may not come into our possession. If they do come into our possession, we may try to sell them and make a profit. This is more or less the stage our civilization has reached, which is not very far. Politicians, the ones responsible for governing us as a society, only ever talk about the state of the economy, this is the sine qua non of political discourse, they never inquire after our (or their own) spiritual well-being.
If we insist on viewing the world like this, as put there for our satisfaction, for trade, then we are in danger of missing out on a large part of what is before us. The world is not full of objects, it is full of subjects with which we have the opportunity to enter into a relationship of love, but this involves our regarding people and even things as subjects with their own purpose (which is not to satisfy me).
I could say even language fits into this way of seeing things. We consider language as a tool, a succession of words with which to convey our meaning, make ourselves understood, we never consider that the words may have their own meaning that they wish to convey, they may not be ‘ours’, so to speak, but have a deeper purpose. Let me give an example: ‘dogma’ is what the Church believes, but if you look at the word in reverse, if you turn it around, then you will see that the word itself spells ‘am God’. Perhaps this is the dogma that we need. To believe that God exists, to believe in him. I often think this is all Christ wanted – us to believe in him – hence his frustration on the last day of the Festival of Booths, when he cried out, quoting Scripture, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). Believe = belly + Eve (see my article ‘Word in Language (20): Believe’).
Words have a life of their own, but we are loath to see it, we are much keener to get to the core of the message we are trying to get across, so that we can be understood, so that we can get whatever it is we want. Words are fragments of the Word – that is Christ – they are put there for our benefit, for us to use in a good (read ‘loving’) way. If every word we spoke was spoken in love, placing the other before ourselves, what a different world this would be!
And yet we view the world as being full of objects. This is what happened to a lot of Turner’s paintings. Critics viewed them as objects. Take the example of the painting Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth:
The display caption from the Tate Gallery’s website reads simply, ‘The small ship, being overpowered by water and wind, can be seen as a symbol of human’s efforts to overcome the forces of nature.’ The catalogue entry says, ‘The picture may recall a particularly bad storm in January 1842 though it has not been possible to tie down the exact incident.’ There is then a lot of conjecture as to the name of the ship (possibly Ariel), whether Turner really had himself tied to a mast for four hours in order to be able to depict the storm more faithfully. One critic is not convinced and describes the storm as nothing but a mass of ‘soapsuds and whitewash’. Another seems to think Turner has thrown at the painting whatever he could find in the kitchen cupboard: cream, chocolate, egg yolk, currant jelly… It is possible to focus on the painting as an external object and to discuss its merits and failings, its historical circumstances, more or less endlessly.
But just as the word ‘dogma’ can be turned around to reveal its spiritual meaning, so the painting can be turned around to show another meaning:
This is the work being carried out by the Bulgarian poet Tsvetanka Elenkova, who is writing a series of poems that look at the spiritual meaning of Turner’s paintings. This meaning is important. It is right in front of our eyes, but more often than not we fail to see it.
So the poet discerns a face in the painting – the two eyes, the arched nose, the furrowed brow. And at the base of the nose, covering the mouth, a figure in black, arms outstretched – Christ on the Cross – with another figure in front, which she takes to be Christ holding a child. On either side of the Cross, the ginger hair of the man whose face we can see (God the Father), and where the white is, at the top, if we zoom in, the profile of a face with an open mouth and a long nose, wearing a cap (the captain who was reluctant to leave his ship).
If you rely on reason, you will not see these things. It is a question of faith, of believing, as Christ indicated to us at the Festival of Booths. Our world is lacking this spiritual vision. We continue to insist on counting what comes in and what goes out in order to make a profit from things we barely see. Even in cultural circles, such as literature and art, this spiritual vision is often not welcome. But it underlies everything before us, it expresses the essence of things. Not for a moment do I suppose that Turner was aware of this face in the painting when positioned vertically, this was the Spirit working through him. But ‘authors’ are translators, you see, they are prone to give meaning.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com
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:
HEEL SOLE (homophones)
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