In this fifteenth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the importance of names. “Name” is “man” in reverse with a final “e”, and we read in Genesis chapter 2 that God brought the creatures to Adam so that he could “name” them – in effect, so that he could translate them and choose the right word. God didn’t ask Adam to make the creatures because he is not an author – he cannot create out of nothing. He, and the rest of humankind, are translators. So “name” is central to man’s role in this world. What can the names of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary tell us about their roles? And what meaning can we find in the names of people like Strauss and Grant Gustin, and countries like Ukraine?
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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.
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 IA 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.