In this eleventh video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne starts to look at word connections between words that do not have the same number of letters, where it is necessary to add one or two letters. If we do not want to be like Narcissus and only to hear our own voice, we must open our spiritual eyes and ears. This will lead to a seed being planted in our heart. The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbour: love – other – theos. It is “love” that makes us “whole” (without the initial “w”, a letter that resembles the number “3” and can be taken to refer to the Holy Trinity, all we have is a “hole”). There is a second video on this theme: “Addition of Letters (1)”.
In this first video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the line, which represents the ego in English (I) and the number 1. Countable nouns are nouns that can have a line drawn around them – a book, a car, a tree. They are accompanied by the indefinite article, a/an. When God made man, he in effect made a countable noun – he drew a line around us and gave us free will. We do the same with products of the earth – we draw a line around them in the form of packaging – but we do this not to give things free will, but to trade in them, to sell them to each other. We appropriate for ourselves the role of author (things begin with us), when in fact we are translators (things pass through us).
The Uncreated Light is a very important doctrine in Eastern Orthodoxy that was first formulated by St Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth century, but is intimately connected with the writings of earlier figures such as Gregory of Nyssa (The Life of Moses) and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (The Celestial Hierarchy). It is defined on Wikipedia as ‘the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion’. The Wikipedia article goes on, ‘a completely purified saint who has attained divine union experiences the vision of divine radiance that is the same “light” that was manifested to Jesus’ disciples on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration’.
So Orthodox theology has it that, through a process of purification, a person can experience this light of God in this present life. There was a controversy about this in the fourteenth century, involving Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabria. The latter contended that it was not possible to know God in this way, God is unknowable, but Gregory Palamas made an important distinction between the essence and the energies of God. That is, the essence of God cannot be known by his creatures, even in the next life, but we can participate in his energies, he is communicable to us through his energies, which we can experience in this life.
To experience this divine light, we have to leave behind the world of concepts. We tend to view the world as being full of objects – that is, we rely on our physical sight – and we rely also on our powers of reasoning. We observe and draw conclusions. But at some point we must leave the world of concepts behind in order to progress on our spiritual journey. The website The Ascetic Experience explains it like this: ‘When the intellect has transcended intelligible realities and the concepts mixed with images that pertain to them, and in a godly and devout manner has rejected all things, then it will stand before God deaf and speechless.’ The website goes on to describe the intellect’s proper state in very beautiful terms:
The intellect’s proper state is a noetic height, somewhat resembling the sky’s hue, which is filled with the light of the Holy Trinity during the time of prayer. If you wish to see the intellect’s proper state, rid yourself of all concepts, and then you will see it like sapphire or the sky’s hue. But you cannot do this unless you have attained a state of dispassion, for God has to cooperate with you and to imbue you with His own-natural light.
What exactly is dispassion? I always understand it as not giving in to our natural impulse to, say, get angry or lust after someone or covet property (which is a strange concept, anyway, since in the long run nothing belongs to us but the destiny of our soul). For me, it is as simple as curbing the impulses that cause unhappiness and arguments and disintegration, fragmentation of families and societies. But we cannot do this on our own. We need God’s help and simultaneously we must purify ourselves of the passions by participation in the Sacraments of the Church.
Some people (see the site Sacramental Living) connect the Uncreated Light with the light revealed at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, the light that made Day (as opposed to the sun, the moon and the stars that were not created until the fourth day). Others connect it with the light in the Burning Bush, when God met Moses in the Book of Exodus (the fire that burns, but doesn’t scorch). A similar light is said to descend on the Holy Sepulchre on the night before Easter, from which Orthodox faithful light their Easter candles (known as ‘Holy Fire’). This is the light by which we will see in the heavenly Jerusalem, described in the Book of Revelation (21:23, 22:5).
The Bulgarian poet Tsvetanka Elenkova, whose work I have described in a previous article, connects the Uncreated Light with the bright white light so often found in J. M. W. Turner’s paintings. I would like to look in particular at the painting Undine Giving the Ring to Masaniello, Fisherman of Naples. The display caption for this painting says that Undine is a character in German fairytale written by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué and published in 1811. Masaniello (real name Tommaso Aniello) was an Italian fisherman who led a revolt against the rule of Habsburg Spain in Naples in 1647. So the caption – and, needless to say, all critics – focus on this background to the painting and how Turner might have got the idea from an opera, La Muette de Portici, or a ballet, Ondine, he had seen in London before carrying out the painting.
What both the display caption and the catalogue entry emphasize, however, is the ‘otherworldly light’, ‘that favourite white light of Turner’s’. Elenkova goes further and decides to give all her attention to the spiritual content of the painting rather than its historical context (which we are so prone to focus on and to pass on to our children). Let us look at the painting:
In the middle of the painting, we see a ball of light. In her poem on the painting, Elenkova connects this ball of light with the Uncreated Light that was revealed to Jesus’ disciples on Mount Tabor, and the figure of Undine to the right she connects with the Virgin Mary. Beneath the ball of light can be seen a hand reaching up out of the sea (we see very clearly the tops of two fingers with their nails), to the right of which (said to be a fish Turner added later on) is what looks like a face (the fish would be the left eye, above it there is some hair, below it the nose and lips), which the poet links to the hand of God and the first Adam respectively. This part of the painting would refer to the creation of the world, and we all know how Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and got expelled from Paradise, becoming subject to death and corruption.
On the other side of the ball of light, in the top left-hand corner, against a background of darkness, can be seen the figure of Christ on the Cross, arms outstretched, head slumped. Christ is the second Adam, the one who came to redeem us from our sins, to show us the way back to eternity, but this will be an eternity with knowledge, not a naive eternity in which we are prone to make the same mistake. We will have learned something from the experience of living on this earth for three score years and ten. That is why I always say you cannot go back to the Garden of Eden, to a state of blissful ignorance – our progress must be onwards.
So the ball of light in the middle of the painting is the fruit that the Virgin Mary accepts not out of disobedience, as in the Garden of Eden, but out of obedience, the seed that is implanted in her womb when she is overshadowed by the power of the Most High (Luke 1:35), the fruit that will repair the damage that was done and reopen the way to heaven.
On the left of the ball of light, we see what looks like a meteorite crashing into the earth (said by scientists to be one possible way that life arrived on earth), but look at the reflection of the meteorite in the black waters. It makes what looks like a cross.
Turner, as so often, was lampooned for this painting. Perhaps the critics even thought they could see the signs of approaching senility, since this painting, exhibited in 1846, is one of the last that Turner will paint. There is the suggestion that Turner’s choice of Undine and Masaniello as a subject may have embodied an attack on the Reverend John Eagles, one of Turner’s sharpest critics. Masaniello may have been chosen because of his rumoured friendship with the poet-painter Salvator Rosa. Masaniello’s real name being Tommaso Aniello, Turner may have been playing with the association of his own name with ‘ring’, of which ‘aniello’ is the Italian translation. Finley suggests that there is also an allusion to the French king Louis Philippe I, the object of a number of assassination attempts, while Wallace sees a parallel between Masaniello and Christ with the painting a reflection of Turner’s pessimism over the possibility of Christian salvation.
But what the painting contains is precisely a depiction of Christian salvation, from the first to the second Adam, from creation to redemption! It also provides a link between a scientific explanation of the arrival of life on earth and the Cross. When we focus only on external things, on the historical context, we are in grave danger of missing the point. Elenkova in her poems attempts to correct this physical vision, to offer a more spiritual vision of the paintings and their depth.
The most remarkable part comes at the end of the catalogue entry associated with this painting. When paintings were displayed at the Royal Academy in London, the artists were in the habit of spending a couple of days adding the final touches. The painter W. P. Frith describes how Turner and his neighbour, David Roberts, continued work on their paintings:
Both he and Roberts stood upon boxes, and worked silently at their respective pictures… ‘Masaniello’ was rapidly undergoing a treatment which was very damaging to its neighbour without a compensating improvement to itself. The gray sky had become an intense blue, and was every instant becoming so blue that even Italy could scarcely be credited with it. To this hour ‘Masaniello’ remains… with the bluest sky ever seen in a picture, and never seen out of one [my italics, note the heavy irony].
Could Frith unwittingly have cottoned on to the very essence of the painting, that it contained a depiction of the Uncreated Light (remember the description of the intellect’s proper state as being ‘like sapphire or the sky’s hue’)? If we want to go through this life without being spiritually blind, it is imperative that we open our eyes to the kind of spiritual vision being offered by the Bulgarian poet Tsvetanka Elenkova in her forthcoming book Turner and the Uncreated Light and at least entertain such possibilities.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com
After the bread that is destined to become the body of Christ during the Orthodox Liturgy has been cut from the loaves that have been baked for this purpose, the bread that is left over from the loaves is divided into small pieces, blessed by the priest and distributed to the people after the service. This bread is known as antidoron in Greek, meaning ‘instead of the gift’. It is used by those who have received communion to help wash down any remaining traces of the body and blood of Christ, so that they do not remain in the mouth, and is received by those who have not received communion as a substitute – ‘instead of the gift’. One of the subdeacon’s duties is to cut this bread into small pieces so that it can be distributed by the priest.
I serve as a subdeacon in the Orthodox Church, and I often think of this unconsecrated bread as being similar to words, cut from the body of Christ and waiting to be sanctified or not by their use. That is, the words we bandy about in conversation or in writing are small fragments of the Word of God and contain the potential to be used in a sanctifying way, if our intentions are good and our mind is set on God.
It is as if the priest is distributing words to the people, who will then leave the church and go out into the street and use those words in what is hopefully a beneficial way. It is only an image.
But I would like to suggest that words, just like the environment, bear the imprint of the Creator and refer to him. My book Stones Of Ithaca contains numerous examples of stones from the beaches of the Greek island of Ithaca that seem to depict Christian symbols and scenes. Language is the same, and why should we be surprised? Isn’t Christ the Word of God, the Logos? Isn’t it logical, therefore, that he should be present in words? Or that words should speak of him?
I would like to suggest that this is so and we can find proof in language that Christ is the Son of God (and that Mary is his Mother). God is one essence and three hypostases (that is, three persons) – three in ONE. I would like to show how language confirms Christ as the Son.
Let us start with the progression that we saw in the previous two articles, AIO, the progression of the Greek alphabet and of human life. A represents the Creation (described in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis); I represents the Fall (described in the third chapter of Genesis), the era we live in; and O represents repentance, becoming aware of our sins and turning back to God, the aim of our life on earth.
In the Book of Revelation, at the other end of the Bible, Christ describes himself as ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev 22:13). This is one of his names – Alpha and Omega – and can be written A+O. Now it is curious that the three ways of escaping from the selfish demands of the ego, of moving away from the line that represents the ego in English (I), involve:
– making reference to a third point, God, and forming a triangle (Δ);
– deleting the I and forming a cross (†);
– treating the letter I as a number (1) in order to count down to zero (0).
That is, A+O. Christ’s own name, revealed in the Book of Revelation, indicates to us the path that we must follow. I don’t think any human could have invented this; it must be something contained in language itself.
We saw that A+O is found in the middle conjunction, ‘and’, because if we write ‘and’ using capital letters, we get AND or A ’N’ O. The reverse of AND is DNA, which implies that it is in our make-up to make this progression and to turn to God, away from the ego. Note how GOD and EGO are only a step apart in the alphabet (alphabetical pair d-e).
If we apply this progression AIO to the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, AM, we find that AM becomes I’M becomes OM. I take this last word to be a reference to the Holy Trinity: O3, or three in One. But one of the ways of making word connections is by the addition of letters, and one of the most commonly added letters is h. So another way of moving away from the self-centred demands of the ego that we find in I’M is, instead of making the progression AIO, simply to add h to I’M, which gives us HIM. I understand this to be a reference to Christ. He takes us out of ourselves – actually, in many ways it is the reverse movement: he returns us to ourselves. We turn to HIM and in the act of worship we sing a HYMN (the coincidence between these two homophones HIM and HYMN is found also in LORD and LAUD).
In Matthew 20:28, Christ says to his disciples that the Son of Man – Christ himself – came ‘not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a RANSOM for many’. Again, I think we can find proof for this in language, because if we ignore the first letter of RANSOM (r), we find that the rest of the word contains the name of God in Exodus, AM, and SON. Of course, the letters are jumbled up; spiritual knowledge is always hidden in some way. But it is not difficult to make out. I think the word RANSOM wishes to confirm what the Word is saying, and to confirm who he is: the Son of God.
We find another connection to the name of God in Exodus in John 14:6, where Christ says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ If we write the name of God in Exodus I AM and turn the letter M upside down, we will see a clear similarity between I AM and ‘law’ – the law of the Old Testament, which found its spiritual fulfilment in Christ – and between I AM and ‘way’ (y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i): I AM – law – way. Language confirms what Christ is saying. This is why he goes on in the same verse to say, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ He is the way to I AM.
We find further proof of this connection between the name of God in Exodus and Christ in the appellation that John the Baptist gives Christ when he sees him approach in John 1:29: Lamb. The word ‘lamb’ (and note that the final letter, b, is silent) contains ‘I am’.
So in ‘way’ and ‘lamb’ we find two clear indications that Christ is the Son of God. Again, I would point out that no human could have invented these words so that they would reproduce the name of God in Exodus, I AM. This has to have come from God, to be ingrained in language, just as we saw AM in the name given to the first human, ADAM (both words contain the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet: AO, or AW if we write omega according to Greek usage).
In Orthodox tradition, all appearances of God in the Old Testament are by the Logos, so it is Christ who interacts with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eve and it is Christ who appears to Moses at the burning bush. For this reason, the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus – O WN – is included in icons of Christ, in the beams of the Cross inside the halo around his head. Search for an icon of Christ Pantocrator, and you will see what I mean.
O WN actually means ‘the being’. That is how the name of God, AM/I AM, is translated into Greek. O WN spells three words in English – OWN, WON and NOW – and it is easy to see the relevance of these words to Christ: he claims us as his own; he has won; he is with us now (Emmanuel).
By rotating the W, we can connect O WN to the number ONE, and I think this is because in his Incarnation, becoming visible to us, Christ represents – follows the will of – the Holy Trinity, three in ONE.
We have seen how these three letters O WN can be written O WH, which spells the question words WHO and HOW. Christ is the answer to both these questions, which we can only ask when we have made the progression AIO. That is, we have gone from asking WHAT in Creation (What is this creature? What should I call it?) to asking WHY (Why should I do this? Why should I believe you?) in the Fall to asking WHO/HOW in a state of repentance. We count down from the ego and realize that the answer we should be seeking is a person, and if you want a person to be the answer to the question you are asking, then the correct question is WHO? This was Pontius Pilate’s mistake when he was standing in front of that very person and asked him, ‘What is truth?’ Truth, he failed to understand, is not a thing, it is a person. The irony of this situation is staggering.
Now WHO sounds the same as HU, which is the root in Sanskrit of our word ‘God’. To show that Christ is the Son of God, the fulfilment of the Old Testament law and prophets, we see that WHO (O WH) is a progression from WHY, which contains the letters of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton: YHWH. And finally if we combine WHO with another name of God in the Old Testament, EL, we find that the two names together spell WHOLE. With the coming of Christ in human form, his birth, teaching, crucifixion, descent into hell and resurrection, we are made WHOLE. We are given that possibility, for our broken form, human nature, to receive wholeness, to return to God. That possibility was not available to us under the Old Law.
In the addition of letters, one of the most commonly added letters is h. Remembering the correlation in phonetics and in the alphabet between v and w, we will then see that WHOLE contains LOVE. It is love that makes us whole, that enables us to enter into relationship. Relationship is intrinsic to the Holy Trinity (there are three persons), and so it is intrinsic to us as well, because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26).
LOVE, by the addition of the same letter h, can be found in OTHER (phonetic pair l-r, alphabetical pair t-v). Love necessarily involves the other, unless all you are going to do is love yourself. I don’t think we are meant to do this. True love – true healing – involves relationship. I am healed by others, by letting them into my life and by revealing myself to them. I have a family, I was lost without them, but that same love – that same self-affirmation (as opposed to the self-destruction brought about by sin) – can be found with a complete stranger if our gaze is at once directed towards each other and towards him (the third point I talked about with reference to the triangle). OTHER is connected to the Greek word for ‘God’, THEOS (alphabetical pair r-s), and this is the meaning of Christ’s saying, ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40), but we have lost this meaning. Very often we see our neighbour as a threat to our peace, we turn away from them or eyeball them with aggression. Our lives are separate – we have no common reference. It is a common reference that brings peace.
And LOVE is connected with another word in language, which again goes some way to proving that Christ is God. If we apply the phonetic pairs l-r and v-w and the alphabetical pair d-e to LOVE, we find WORD. We read in 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love’ – Christ is the Word, and WORD is connected to LOVE, which seems to confirm this.
In the beginning, God the Father created the world through the Son on the basis of the Holy Spirit. Again, we will find confirmation in language because WORLD is a combination of LORD and WORD. We find WORD not only in LOVE, but in the WORLD we inhabit. We also find him in the SUN that illuminates our lives and enables us to grow crops, that is to survive, because there is a clear correlation between SON and SUN. It is the Son who enables us to eat. I am not saying that the Sun is Christ himself, but there is clearly a connection between the two words, which implies a scientific connection as well.
We find confirmation of this connection SON-SUN if we apply the phonetic pair b-p to LAMB, which gives us LAMP. Christ says as much in John 8:12: ‘I am the light of the world.’ Language confirms it. His name confirms it, because CHRIST contains LIGHT (phonetic pairs g-k and l-r, addition of s).
He also enables us to breathe. When we discussed the Trinity as three in ONE, we saw that God the Father is no one (O1), God the Son is oxygen (O2) and God the Holy Spirit is ozone (O3). The Holy Spirit is commonly likened to a wind (a word, by the way, that contains the first four numbers – 0, 1, 2 and 3 – if we rotate two of the letters in WIND) – that is, breath, which is represented in language by the letter h. If we combine this letter for the Holy Spirit, H, and the chemical symbol for oxygen, O2, we get water: H2O. Christ also enables us to drink.
The two chemical symbols combined, O2 and O3, can be found in MOON (again, we need to rotate the letters to get the numbers 2 and 3), so it seems that Christ reflects his own light and enables us to see at night.
Language, and the environment that surrounds us, are permeated by Christ. Look around you, and you will see a million crosses. The Cross is like a stile – it enables us to cross over to the other side, to escape our own isolation, to walk over the line, to make a bridge that will carry us where we want to go. Language will help us. Once we enlist its support, it will provide the content of our prayers – at least until we no longer need words. Language, in this sense, is repetitive. It can be boring, but we are rubbing away the hard outer casing of our hearts, so that we can enter there and find God’s kingdom.
In the end, perhaps the name alone will suffice, coupled with an expression of assent. There is one city in the world that is claimed by the Abrahamic religions: Jerusalem. It was here that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection took place, and it was not far from here, in Bethlehem, that he was born. This is where Christ taught in the temple when he was only a child and sweated tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.
Take the word JERUSALEM and apply the alphabetical pairs l-m, m-n and r-s. That is, take the letters l, m and r in JERUSALEM and advance one step in the alphabet. What two words do you get? This, for me, is proof that Christ is who he says he is.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com
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
So now we are diving down into the depths of language and discovering that language has a lot to tell us about the meaning of human life and about the world we live in. We are here to count down from the ego, I, to God, O, as we saw in words like LIVE and LOVE, SIN and SON, CHRIST and CROSS. Christ himself, who is God and has no need to count down, came down to earth so that he could show us how to do this. He came down and was incarnate in order to translate for us the meaning of life. He did this by means of parables, writing for the spiritually blind.
But we have also seen that the world is a spiritual womb in which the body of the Church is being formed until the end of time. Just as we have physical and spiritual blindness, so we have a physical and spiritual birth. Sadly, many of us in this life focus solely on the physical side of things, to the detriment of our spiritual growth. We must open not only our physical eyes, but also our spiritual eyes. This is why ‘I’ and ‘eye’ sound the same. Because an open I is O.
God does not let us dive for too long. We must come back to the surface for air. And just as God separated the waters from the waters in order to create the dome of the sky (Gen 1:6-8), so we see that air is extremely important to us. We started this series of articles by talking about the Coronavirus, which has currently got us practising social distancing, something that was foreign to our way of thinking just a few months ago and is now ‘the new normal’. Viruses make it difficult for us to breathe, they precisely attack our air supply, as if we were divers in the water and our air supply was getting low or the connection with the bottle was faulty. We cannot gulp air as we would like to, and we realize how tenuous our connection to life really is.
The ancients spelled ‘air’ like this: ‘aer’. This is how it is written in Latin and Greek, and I find this extraordinarily significant. Imagine yourself on the surface of the sea, this line in creation where so many creatures live, criss-crossing the line in their search for food or to escape predators. A gentle breeze is ruffling the surface of the water, creating an effect like a desert, like pimpled flesh or a crinkled crisp. Our breathing is shallow, barely noticeable, just enough. We are on the line between two frighteningly different elements. And yet for nine months in our mother’s womb the element of water was normal to us and we breathed.
We have already seen how oxygen is present in water, so they cannot be altogether so different. Indeed, if we apply the alphabetical pair r-s, we will see that AER in reverse reads SEA. Just a step in the alphabet, that line we were talking about, a murmur in the ear (oh, EAR is obviously connected as well).
And we may notice that AER is in WATER if we take away the w and the t, thus confirming what we said about oxygen being in water.
AER is also in BREATH, another of the elements of speech/creation, but where does it come from, this element that we breathe? Where does the wind arise? Where is it when we wait in the heat of the day and it seems to have disappeared? Only the other day, I stood in my room and a cold current of air came in through the window, just like the current you sometimes get in Greek seas (off the west coast of Corfu), chilling your feet, providing welcome refreshment.
I can only assume that air, breath, comes from the Father, who breathed into the newly created human being the breath of life. Isn’t he the source of life, the source of all creation? Wasn’t it the Father who separated the waters from the waters in Genesis chapter 1? Hang on a moment, though, at the beginning of that chapter I remember there was a wind that swept over the face of the waters. Can that wind somehow be connected to the Holy Spirit? On the day of Pentecost, didn’t the Holy Spirit descend ‘like the rush of a violent wind’ (Acts 2:2)? Didn’t Christ himself breathe the Holy Spirit on his disciples (Jn 20:22), not because the Spirit proceeds from him, but because they are both part of the Holy Trinity and their lives are intertwined? WIND contains the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3 – a reflection of the Holy Trinity, which can also be found in words like GOD, WOOD and ONE.
But AER is in other words as well, for example FEAR. When fear assails us, we find it difficult to breathe, our breathing becomes rapid, we hyperventilate. What is fear? Well, it can be unfounded when it relates to our predictions for the future. In fact, I would say it generally is unfounded. And yet it can have a profound effect on our behaviour and make us RAGE (alphabetical pair f-g). Another kind of FEAR is SAFE (alphabetical pair r-s), the fear that makes us cling to our Father, what Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol describes as awe, love and reverence in our hearts.
And what is it that pumps the air, the oxygen, around our bodies? The organ called the HEART. AER is there also. If our heart stops, so does our air supply, just like divers in the water (though there is AER in WATER as well). We saw that HEART is connected with EARTH, and I would say that AER is the main characteristic that we associate with the earth – the ability to breathe.
We are beginning to see that AER is a crucial component of language. It is in SEA and WATER, it is in BREATH (which as the letter h is also in water or its chemical formula H2O), it is in FEAR and HEART (see how these two words are connected – isn’t this where we feel fear most keenly, when it strikes dread into our hearts?).
But interestingly enough we cannot only live by breathing. We must also eat: BREAD. When we are babies, we are reliant on our mother’s milk, which fills our bellies and provides us with protection: BREAST. BREATH-BREAD-BREAST. All three words contain AER and are sources of nourishment. How curious that they should be so similar!
BREAD is connected to WATER by the phonetic pair d-t and the ‘eighth’ phonetic pair, b-v-w, which we talked about at the end of the previous article.
And ‘breath’, if we apply the physical pair b-d, gives ‘thread’. Breath is like a thread, the thread that the Fates are waiting to snip. It is air – isn’t it? – that provides the continuum to our lives. We are alive inasmuch as we are breathing. This is why we can see that ‘breath’ is connected to ‘birth’ if I use the front vowels (a-e-i), but also to ‘death’ if I use the physical pair b-d and remove the r.
Breath is the thread that links birth and death. All this information is contained in language.
I open my mouth. Breath emerges from my mouth. God knows where it has come from. If I add voice, I can speak. I can imitate the Father in the act of creation (CREATE also contains AER). After all, I am made in his image and likeness (Gen 1:26).
There is the Father again, the source of all things, who begat the Son, who gives rise to the Spirit, who created us human beings and all that we can see (and cannot see).
He emerges from the shadows ‘at the time of the evening breeze’. There is AER in him as well. AER is in FATHER, just as BREATH is, EARTH and HEART, FEAR (FAITH) and WATER.
Air carries water; air is in water. We associate air with the letter h, but also with oxygen (O2). Perhaps that dividing line is thinner than we thought. Certainly creatures like gannets and flying fish think so.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com
What do we know about the Father? Perhaps we know about him as much as our ability to love. He is generally portrayed as an old man with white hair and a white beard, next to his Son, with the Holy Spirit hovering above. We may associate him in particular with the act of creation and the Fall in chapters 1-3 of the Book of Genesis. According to Orthodox tradition, all appearances of God in the Old Testament are by the Logos, the Word of God, that is Jesus Christ. The New Testament is associated with the earthly life of Christ, his birth, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection. And the Holy Spirit is associated with Pentecost, the beginnings of the Church. The Father can remain in the background. Certainly, we cannot know his essence, and of God’s qualities St Maximos the Confessor says that it is only infinity that can be grasped fully by the intellect (see the end of his First Century on Love).
In an earlier article, I made the connection between TREE and THREE and put forward the analogy of the Father as the trunk and the Son and the Holy Spirit as two branches, as in a child’s drawing, the Son begotten and the Spirit proceeding. This is why in the Orthodox Creed it is said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father – not from the Father and the Son, as is erroneously stated in Western Churches – because otherwise the Spirit would have to be a sub-branch of the Son, making for a lopsided drawing. This doesn’t make sense.
Christianity is the only religion that professes God the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is shared love, which crucially involves a third person, otherwise it could be construed as being exclusive. This love among the three persons is not jealous. It is like love in a monastic community – it professes love for the brethren, but also welcomes pilgrims, newcomers. The arrival of newcomers can be very unsettling, but somehow we have to find a place for them, to see that our reaction is immediately, naturally, spontaneously, one of love.
You cannot have the Father without having a Son. His first characteristic is that of being a Father, which immediately places emphasis on relationship. The Holy Spirit can be seen as a kind of conjunction – and – that welds the love together. I have already stated that this little conjunction, AND, contains the name Alpha and Omega (A ’N’ O) and spells DNA in reverse. It is a crucial word in language, and barely a sentence exists without it.
I would like to suggest that there is proof in language for the existence of the Father. This doesn’t surprise me, for from him all things come. The Son is begotten by the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and we are his creation. We saw in the previous article how the world is a kind of spiritual womb, from which the body of the Church is in the process of being born. We make the mistake of thinking that life in this world is all there is and our birth has already taken place, but I don’t think this is quite true – our physical birth has taken place, sure enough, but our collective spiritual birth is still happening, which is why for me St Paul writes, ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now’ (Rom 8:22).
The first indication that the Father is who we understand him to be – the source of all life – can be found in the alphabet. But we should sound a note of caution: if we can find proof for the existence of the Father in language, shouldn’t that point us in the direction of the Holy Trinity? Shouldn’t that suggest that the Father is truly behind and in his creation, just as we make him out to be? How else could he be in language, a set of words we ourselves have come up with in order to communicate, a set of letters which we use to write these words down? This should give us pause for thought – if we can find proof for him in language.
Language is made up of three elements. The first of these is breath. Breath forms the basis of all language. There can be no language without breath. Without breath, we are in effect dead, and we are not going to communicate by means of our bodies. Breath is represented in the alphabet by the letter h, a very important letter since it represents the basis of all speech, and yet (or because of this) it is dropped in dialects like Cockney and not pronounced in languages like Spanish. That for me is a sure sign of its importance.
If all we do is huff and puff, we are not going to make much sense, and so, as anyone who has been present at a childbirth knows, the next thing that comes along is voice, the vowels. We breathe out (the baby breathes out) and add voice (the baby bawls – loudly), and now we have sound. We also have words – words like a, I and o! We can even put a vowel before breath and exclaim, ‘Ah!’ We have the beginnings of speech.
If we hold a vowel for long enough, as when we visit the doctor’s, water will collect in our mouth, and this is because vowels are like a river – they flow. We can see that FLOW and VOWEL are connected by the phonetic pair f-v, addition of e. But the vowels do not emerge from our throat, where language originates, in the same order that they appear in the alphabet. Actually, they emerge in the following order, from the back of the mouth to the front:
u – o – a – e – i
forming a V-shape as they do so. This means that the first word the human apparatus is capable of pronouncing is breath (h) plus the first vowel to emerge from the throat (u): hu (I am assuming that breath on its own does not constitute a word, which I don’t think it does).
You might wonder, ‘So what?’ Well, this little word hu is from Sanskrit and means ‘invoke the gods’. So the first word a human is capable of pronouncing is an invocation of God. It is also the root of our word God, as any good dictionary will tell you. This is extremely interesting, but it doesn’t stop there.
Have you noticed that we are human? The science of etymology, which studies the evolution of language over time and, like all science, is limited in its vision (only faith is not limited, which is why we need it), will tell you that human derives from the Latin word for ‘man’, homo. Yes, maybe. But word connections – which are the study of language outside time, and hence far more interesting – will enable us to see that HUMAN is a combination of HU and MAN. It seems that God stamped us with his seal when he made us. We have already seen how MAN contains AM and AN.
But we still haven’t seen any proof for the Father. Let us continue. If all we had was breath and water, h and the vowels, we would do a lot of whining and exclaiming (some people do that, it is true). But to form words, real words, we need to obstruct the passage of air with our lips and tongue to form the consonants. Now we get proper chunky words. The consonants, as I have explained, can be divided into seven phonetic pairs:
b-p d-t f-v g-k l-r m-n s-z
depending on where in the mouth they are pronounced and which piece of flesh – the lips or tongue – is used to obstruct the passage of air when they are pronounced.
That accounts for twenty letters, but the English alphabet has twenty-six. Three of the remaining letters are semi-vowels – that is, the passage of air is only partially obstructed. The semi-vowels j and y correspond to the vowel i; the semi-vowel w corresponds to u (think of the name of the letter).
And the other three are what I call redundant letters. We don’t need them. They are c, q and x, all of which can be written using a combination of the letters k and s: the letter c is pronounced either k or s, q is pronounced k and x is pronounced ks. And yet they serve a purpose, because the double pronunciation of c as k/s enables me to make word connections through both these letters (we will see an example in a moment).
That accounts for the whole of the English alphabet: h, five vowels, seven pairs of consonants, three semi-vowels and three redundant letters. The letter h corresponds to breath, the vowels to water and the consonants to flesh.
What is very interesting is that the exact same three elements – breath, water and flesh – correspond to the act of creation in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis. Remember that a wind (breath) swept over the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). Remember that to form the sky (air/breath) God separated the waters from the waters (water) (Gen 1:6-8). Remember that God then gathered the waters under the sky into one place and formed the land (flesh) (Gen 1:9-11). Remember that man was formed from the dust of the ground (flesh) (Gen 2:7) and God then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (breath).
So the same three elements of breath, water and flesh are involved in the creation. But why should we be surprised, given that we know that God spoke the world into being? Doesn’t almost every paragraph in Genesis chapter 1 begin, ‘And God said’?
Do you remember how the letter c can be pronounced k or s? We might now see a connection between SPACE and SPEAK.
We might also see that WORLD contains LORD and WORD. The WORLD is a combination of LORD AND WORD:
world = lord + word
Hence those three words that are constantly repeated in Genesis: ‘And God said.’
But we still haven’t found proof for the existence of the Father in language. You need to know that there is an ‘eighth’ phonetic pair (and it isn’t even a pair): b-v-w. These letters are closely related. In Modern Greek, b is pronounced v; in Spanish, v is pronounced b. In Latin, v is pronounced w; in German, w is pronounced v. This enables me, through v, to connect b/w with f (the partner of v according to the phonetic pairs), and many word connections are made using this combination.
Now we will begin to see that the three elements of breath, water and flesh – the elements that make up speech, a daily occurrence, and also the creation of the world we inhabit – have one word in common. I am not making this up because I am obeying phonetic rules, so it is in language (not in my imagination!).
BREATH is clearly connected to FATHER by this combination I talked about, f-b/w.
WATER is clearly connected to FATHER by the same combination, f-b/w, addition of h (one of the two most commonly added letters).
FLESH is clearly connected to FATHER by the phonetic pair l-r, the alphabetical pair s-t, addition of a.
The elements of speech and creation have the word FATHER in common. That is remarkable and ought to make us bow our heads in worship. The next time we open our mouths to speak, we might be a little more respectful of what we are doing and remember how the Father is in the elements of speech, in our very human being.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com
The story of the Fall of humankind is related in chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis. It is generally understood to mean that the woman, Eve, was tempted by the serpent and persuaded Adam to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which the Lord God had told the man not to eat from or else he would die. The serpent – a representation of evil, or the devil himself – tells Eve that they will not die, but their eyes will be opened and they will be like God, knowing good and evil. The man and the woman eat and then become aware of their nakedness, which causes them to hide when God comes visiting ‘at the time of the evening breeze’. The Lord God asks Adam how it is he knows that he is naked, and he replies that the woman gave him fruit from the tree to eat; she in turn blames the serpent. God pronounces their punishment, and the man and the woman are expelled from the Garden of Eden.
I should perhaps point out one of the most remarkable word connections you will ever find, and that is when we rearrange the letters of GARDEN OF EDEN. I used to do this, sitting down in the early morning (between 6 and 8) while the house martins screeched around on a level with my eighth-floor apartment in Sofia, Bulgaria – rearrange the letters and see what I could find.
GARDEN OF EDEN gives DANGER OF NEED. This is surely a coincidence, language telling us something.
Adam and Eve were in danger of need. But what exactly is wrong with having a knowledge of good and evil, and why should that cause them to die?
I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation, one I thought was unique to me until I discovered that it had been offered and accepted before. This interpretation – which is only that, an interpretation – gives rise to several conclusions, which I would like to list at the end of this article.
I imagine Adam and Eve playing in the Garden of Eden, in innocence, as children do, without a care in the world and with not much to do except to admire God’s handiwork in themselves and the animals and plants that surrounded and delighted them. They must soon have become friends. Life must have seemed like an ‘Eden’ to them – no great responsibilities, no great amount of work, no aches and pains to bother them. Just an eternity of today.
Except, as children do, they began to grow, to become sexually mature, and their curiosity must have been piqued. Eve began to have these bumps on her chest; Adam began to grow hair around his genitals and his long thing got longer. And they must have begun to experience the first sexual stirrings, perhaps in the night, when they were asleep, lying among last year’s fallen leaves. Perhaps they began to experience pleasure and to wonder what pleasure lay in the other.
There is an obvious correlation between the serpent and the man’s penis. The snake has traditionally been associated with the penis and sexuality. So perhaps it was the man who, feeling aroused, suggested they acquire carnal knowledge, knowledge of one another. Certainly carnal knowledge can be for good and evil – good in a loving, committed relationship and in the procreation of children; evil when it treats the other as an object and seeks only its own satisfaction. Undoubtedly, in the history of humankind, sex has been a force for good and evil – on the one hand, a demonstration of love, two people coming together in wonder and amazement; on the other, an abuse of the other person when it is not consensual or merely pleasure-seeking, seeking a meaning where none is to be found.
So we have identified the serpent with the man’s penis, but what of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the apple? The apple can be related to the woman’s breast, that object that mystified the man and that he is now suggesting they eat of. After all, a fruit has flesh. It also has ‘the seed in it’, as we read in chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis, in the first creation account.
God had said that if they ate of the forbidden fruit – had sexual intercourse – they would surely die, and this is true, but bear in mind that the verb ‘die’ has two meanings: to expire at the end of our earthly lives, but also to expire in orgasm. This latter meaning is well documented.
What is the connection between these two meanings, and again why should the knowledge of good and evil be such a bad thing?
I think the answer is to be found in an article by a Greek bishop and theologian, Metropolitan John Zizioulas. In ‘The Consequences of Man’s Fall’, he writes, ‘In beings with organs – especially mammals – the ageing cycle begins from the moment that the organism reaches the point of reproductive maturity.’ So when we reach sexual maturity, we begin to die (in both senses of the word).
And this ties in with a teenager’s behaviour, because a child who reaches sexual maturity changes somewhat. They become more bashful, more private, they are no longer prepared to appear naked in front of their parents. Isn’t this exactly the behaviour of Adam and Eve when God comes looking for them ‘at the time of the evening breeze’? They hide themselves. They have become aware of their nakedness. And what is it they use to hide their nakedness that now causes them such shame? Fig leaves! Figs are another symbol of sexuality and the male organ.
So they have acquired carnal knowledge, they have slept together, and now they do not want God to see them because they are ashamed of their nakedness and they know that he will see it in their eyes. Their eyes have been opened.
But if sexual maturity coincides with the beginning of the ageing process, there is no other way to have children. So God – who so often is seen as inflicting punishment, as being vindictive, something that is as far away from his nature as it is possible to be – performs an act of charity, of love: he banishes them from the Garden of Eden in case they eat of the tree of life. He wants them to have children (I’m quite sure he knew perfectly well what was going to happen, just as any parent does), but he doesn’t want the ageing process that comes with sexual maturity to last for ever, that would be terrible, so he sends them out of the Garden of Eden to till the land they came from.
He does this in order that we might have children. In order to have children, we must die. This is the meaning of death – it is so that we can have the unparalleled blessing of procreating, of giving our life to another, who is then ‘the apple of our eye’.
This is a great thing – ‘Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13) – but it also serves another purpose: it builds up the body of the Church. It prevents God from having to create all the creatures, all the men and women, himself. He involves us in the process (albeit our involvement is slightly different, because life passes through us, it does not begin with us – we are translators, not authors).
In this sense, the earth is a spiritual womb, it is a womb in which a spiritual body – the body of the Church – is being formed, just as we are formed in our mother’s womb. We have not realized this. Just as there is spiritual blindness as well as physical blindness, so there is spiritual birth as well as physical birth. We are still in the womb, but now it is not the body of an individual that is being formed, it is the collective body of the Church, a body made up of many members (in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, Paul compares us to the different members of the body, each performing his or her own unique function, with Christ as the head).
And this is where we get into the realm of Christian paradox: life passes through us when we receive life from our parents and pass it on to our children; but we also pass through life, in the sense that we are not here for ever and we move on. We form part of the body of Christ, the body of his Church, but in the sacrament of communion it is his body and blood that form part of us. We lose our life and find it. I begin to think the Christian message is true precisely because it is paradoxical.
Is there an indication of the world as a spiritual womb? I think there is, because if we read the first creation account in chapter 1 of Genesis, we find that God created the day on day one (already we have the progression AIO in the word DAY, remember the correlation between O and D and between i and y) and then, on day two, he created the dome of the sky by separating the waters from the waters. Doesn’t that sound like a baby in its mother’s womb, surrounded by water? Perhaps this is why SKY can be connected to KISS and SICK, because for procreation to occur there must be a kiss, but sexual maturity is also the beginning of the ageing process, of what makes us sick.
Is there anything in language to connect the serpent and the man’s penis, to connect the apple and the woman’s breast?
Well, if you allow fluidity to the vowels and change one front vowel for another, you will find that PENIS is in SERPENT, with the addition of r and t. And applying the phonetic pairs b-p and l-r, you will find that APPLE is in the first four letters of BREAST, with the addition of s and t.
This interpretation – and it is only an interpretation – has three consequences:
- The Fall was a good thing. Otherwise, we couldn’t have children and the body of the Church could not be formed.
- Perhaps the woman is not entirely to blame; in fact it would seem that Adam was the prime mover in response to his sexual desire. We could at least speak about shared responsibility.
- While in the Church great emphasis is placed on monasticism, on abstinence and asceticism, it would appear that the purpose of life on earth is to have children, and this would give the option of marriage far greater importance than it is sometimes credited with.
So Genesis, that most remarkable book, is not just the story of the creation of the world and the Fall of humankind, but also the story of each one of us, of human life. We are born, just as the world (the body of Christ) is. We reach sexual maturity in order that we might give that life to others. We then have to die (we have now fast-forwarded to the Crucifixion) because it is the only way to give life – to die, to expire. But there is a greater mystery here. This is not the last word.
The word ‘die’, if we apply the physical pair b-d (a pair of letters that look alike; in this case one is the mirror image of the other), clearly contains ‘I’ and ‘be’. It is a very life-affirming word. The word ‘live’, if we remember the closeness between b and v, contains two ‘I’s and ‘be’ – this may refer to our physical and spiritual selves, to our human and divine natures (the latter acquired by grace in a process known in Orthodoxy as theosis), or to our fallen and resurrected selves. Anyway, it is manifestly not the end.
If we could only see this world for what it is, a place of spiritual growth (not a place to make money!!) – a spiritual womb – we might realize our connectedness. Having been born from our mothers, we are now – all of us, outside the constraints of time – in the process of forming another, spiritual body, one that has Christ as its head and one that will last for all eternity. The world is a spiritual womb. We must die in order to have children, participating in this way in the formation of the Church. And having died, we have no choice but to be born again, but this time without the straitjacket of corruption, without the ageing process. We will be ‘like angels in heaven’ (Mt 22:30). With one great difference: we will not be alone.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com