I and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We become like the tree. We branch out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word in Language (12): Love

Let us look at the word ‘love’. We have just received a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, and it is constantly looking for ways to express its love. Its whole attention is focused on this. What a wonder it would be if we were to approach life in the same way.


The first thing I see in the word ‘love’ is the progression from I to O, whereby we count down from the ego, I, to God, O, we count down from the number 1 to 0 – the opposite of what we teach our children to do, which is to count up from 1. If you count up from 1, you will constantly amass, what you have will never be enough, and there will be no end. It reminds me of our system of buying and selling, of production (whatever the cost to the environment and to our fellow human beings), whereas if you count down to 0, you have already reached your answer, there is no need to search anymore, you have, in effect, attained peace (and all without any damage to the environment or to your fellow human beings).


We saw how it is possible to apply this progression from I to O in pairs of words like LIVE-LOVE, SIN-SON and CHRIST-CROSS. Even Christ, God himself, who came down to earth to translate for us the meaning of life in a form of spiritual writing for the blind called the parable, was prepared to count down from the ego to God (despite being God himself) in order to show us how it was done. In this way, he also acquired a human nature – he became a translator, as well as an author – and in acquiring human nature he exalted it, that we in turn might go the other way and become gods. This process is known in Orthodoxy as theosis and it is the purpose of our existence, to acquire the virtues, to transform the passions, to exercise self-control and to become as we were made: in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26).


After this progression, this humbling of ourselves, we find the two letters ‘ve’, which as I have already pointed out can be connected to ‘be’ by the ‘eighth’ phonetic pair b-v-w. So ‘love’ seems to contain a turning to God in order that we might be. We go from the line to the circle, then we slip down into the valley of the v, in order to reach the e, which as a capital letter (E) is three-pronged, perhaps representing what the I can become when it worships the Holy Trinity.


There is a descent, therefore, a lesson in humility, a being brought low, in order to climb again. It is as if we deconstruct ourselves, our false image of what we are meant to be, in order to find our true selves, because if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that if we lose ourselves for Christ’s sake, it is then – and only then – that we will truly find ourselves, in that first and most telling of the paradoxes contained in Christianity (you must lose your life in order to find it).


In effect, we evolve. And EVOLVE can be seen to contain LOVE with the repetition of certain letters. If we again apply the pair b-v-w, we might say that EVOLVE reads WE LOVE or LOVE/BE. There is clearly a connection between communion with others – WE – and existence – BE.


We have different mathematical shapes, most of them filled out, bulging or with sharp edges – a circle, a square, a rectangle – but the shape I associate with love is not so full of itself as these, it is the oval, a clasping of the hands, a sheltering of the light, a timid prayer. LOVE and OVAL are connected by a slight shift in the vowels, from a to e. As if this weren’t enough, having recourse again to the ‘eighth’ phonetic pair, we see that the first three letters of LOVE give LOW. We do not exalt ourselves, place ourselves first – this is not love – we give way to the other, we make a gesture. This is love.


And we already saw how LOVE is connected with OTHER by the phonetic pair l-r, the alphabetical pair t-v, addition of h, in what for me is one of the most remarkable connections. LOVE and OTHER are central words in language. Love implies the other; without the other, there can be no love, or only self-love, which is not really love at all.


OTHER is connected to THEOS (alphabetical pair r-s), the Greek word for ‘God’. The other is God. We find (serve) God in the other. Christ says as much in Matthew 25:40: ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ We are called to practise our love on our neighbour, to go beyond our rational thinking, our thirst for revenge, and bestow love even on our enemies. How wonderfully illogical! How wonderfully nonsensical! Turn the other cheek? You must be joking!


And yet there it is. A minus leads to a plus when one I combines with another. The other – my wife, my son, my neighbour – gives me back my life. Isn’t it that simple? Whoever gave life to himself?


We also saw that LOVE makes us WHOLE (b-v-w again, addition of h), but it can be misdirected and turned into LOVE for MONEY (l-m-n in the alphabet, physical pair – pair of letters that look alike – v-y) or POWER (phonetic pairs l-r and v-w, addition of p). This is love with a view to the senses, the material world and our place in it.


I would like to finish with two astonishing word connections for LOVE.


If you remember no other word connection, remember this one: LOVE is connected to WORD by the phonetic pairs l-r and v-w and the alphabetical pair d-e. Now we know that God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and God is the Word, so there is confirmation for you because the two words are intimately connected. I would suggest that the connections LOVE-OTHER-THEOS and LOVE-WORD are central to the Gospel message and to our existence. God spoke the world into being – he did this through love. God sent his only-begotten Son, the Word, to redeem us from our sins, to call us back to the straight path – he did this through love. God can be found all around us when we act with love. You should have seen the look of this puppy when it came into my son’s arms – it was a look of pure love. And they had only just met!


Everything else falls away – the structures that we have invented, the scaffolding with which we have surrounded our lives, the lies we have been told ever since we were children. They are not important anymore. The only thing that matters now is love (those two words are surely connected).


And then we come to an extraordinary conclusion because, if I apply the ‘eighth’ phonetic pair b-v-w (again!) and the physical pair i-l, I find that ‘I owe’ is replaced by ‘love’. There is no debt. DEBT, as a word, is connected to DEATH (as it should be). Our debt melts away in a tide of love, and the promissory note – the IOU – becomes an exclamation of recognition: I, O You!


We recognize ourselves in the other. We caress them. And thank them for giving us back our life – our real life, this time.


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

Word in Language (8): Economy

In our modern society, we tend to think of ourselves as highly civilized because we can travel large distances by plane, we have made medical advances – the discovery of penicillin, non-invasive surgery – or we can access information on the Internet, but all these advances are technological, they have nothing to do with the morality of society. In fact, I would question whether we are highly civilized at all. Our modern Western society, the one that has been most successful in spreading its model, is based on two concepts: democracy and economy. Neither of these has to do with what I would consider the two criteria for civilization: love for God, love for neighbour. The first asserts the individual’s claim to property; the second asserts the individual’s right to money (even at the expense of his fellow man or the environment); and both are in direct opposition to the Church, because the Church is not democratic, it is hierarchical, and it is not based on the concept of economy (though ‘economy’ has another sense in the context of the Church, the Eastern Church in particular, which is to bend the rules according to the individual’s needs). The Church is just about the only ‘shop’ you will find where you will receive your ‘goods’ for free – namely, the sacraments of confession and communion, the greatest gifts of them all, because these will lead you into eternal life. The Church does not charge for these, and it is the only place I know not to do so. So our modern society and the model of the Church (love for God, love for your neighbour) are in stark opposition.


The word ‘economy’ itself means the law or management of the household – domestic matters. This is very telling because it focuses on the self (‘domestic’) instead of on the foreign (the other). In fact, the aim of countries in our international community is precisely to defend their own interests. That is the remit of diplomats the world over. What would the world be like if countries set out at the first to defend the other’s interests, if diplomats bent over backwards to improve the lot of foreigners – wouldn’t that change the world enormously?


Unfortunately, this ethos of individual success is drummed into our children from an early age at school, where education is cerebral and success is gauged by exam results, and where, as I have mentioned, we teach our children to start counting from 1, the number that relates to the human ego, I, instead of from 0, the figure that relates to God and would place us on a surer footing.


I would go so far as to say that, for me, the word ‘economy’ is the law of the ego, and we can see the connection in the phonetic pair g-k (the c in ‘economy’ is pronounced k). It is remarkable that in all these years, after all these generations, we have gone no further than to lay claim to what is freely given to us – the products of the earth – to package them (to dress them up) and then to sell them. This is the extent of our moral advancement – not love for God, not love for our neighbour, which is something we may do in our free time. The main occupation of man is to make money, but we should beware because language has something to say about this.


First of all, ECONOMY, apart from being the law of the ego, can be read MONEY & CO. if we jumble the letters. And what about the word MONEY? Well, if we change one mid vowel for another, we will see that MONEY is connected to ENEMY, but more telling perhaps is when we read the word in reverse, using the physical pair (pair of letters that look alike) v-y. Then we get the word VENOM. VENOM is MONEY in reverse, with one small change, and certainly it is a cause of great conflict, great suffering – not just the fear that everyone endures at having to have enough to get by, but also the conflicts that arise in the battles to lay claim to territory so that we can make more of it. Where does this need to lay claim to what has been freely given to us – the land and its products – come from? It comes from the Fall and the placing of the ego before God, the self before the other (who is God). But we are deluding ourselves because in this life everything, from food and air to life itself and meaning, passes through us, in a two-way process whereby we effect a change on the things that pass through us and they effect a change on us. So we are translators, not authors, because things do not begin with us, they do not proceed from us, we are not the source of anything, we are – or we ought to be – simply vehicles of God’s love.


LOVE, as you would expect, is a major word in language. It is connected to OTHER by the phonetic pair l-r, the alphabetical pair t-v, addition of h, and OTHER is connected to the Greek word for ‘God’, THEOS, by the alphabetical pair r-s, so we have:




which is the message of the Christian Gospel: love the Lord your God, love your neighbour as yourself. This should come as no surprise because Christ is the Word, so it is normal that language should confirm what he is saying.


But LOVE is also connected to MONEY by the succession of letters in the alphabet l-m-n and the physical pair we saw earlier, v-y. LOVE is in MONEY, and that is why Christ warned us that we cannot love God and mammon, it is one or the other. Love for money is the individual’s wish to keep his money for himself, not to use it for the benefit of others, and I think that banks worldwide will attest to this inclination.


Of course, for someone to be rich, someone else has to be poor. Sometimes it seems there is always someone willing and able to lighten your load (the desert fathers, hermits in Egypt in the fourth century, when coming back to their cells and finding robbers with camels unburdening them of their belongings, would rush to help them, there is even the story of one monk who, on seeing that the robbers had left behind a stick, went running after them in order to hand it over – a different understanding of our place in the world).


If we apply the phonetic pair b-p, we will see that the reverse of ROB is POOR. Meanwhile, the reverse of SELL is LESS, perhaps because we have somehow gone against the commandment of God to love him and to love our neighbour by using our neighbour to make a profit. If our concern was placed always and only on the other, we would feel no need to attach a value to our own exertions, and this would indeed represent a step forward in terms of civilization. But we continue to pay attention to PROFITS instead of listening to those Old Testament figures the PROPHETS, marginalized figures, a bit like translators, who tried to bring people to their senses. We are not here to make a profit out of anybody, we are not here to treat people as a potential market for our product, we are here to do good. Money is an illusion of the devil, as the connection MONEY-VENOM indicates.


And note that it is the packaging of the products we sell that then causes untold damage to the planet and the creatures that inhabit it, especially plastic. We take what was freely given to us – we might have adapted it, turned it into something else, translated it in our own way, but the basic ingredients will have come from the earth because we cannot magic anything into existence – and instead of allowing the tap to flow, as the earth does, we turn it on and off to create supply and demand, we package it, we take what is an incessant stream (uncountable) and make countable nouns, individual items that can be processed at the checkout. Often these items are wrapped in plastic, the result of our definition, and it is this plastic causing damage to the world. PLASTIC contains the word CAPITAL.


The other thing we sell (or claim to own, which is the same thing) is PROPERTY and again, if we apply the phonetic pair b-p (remembering that there is also a strong connection between b and v in language), we will see that PROPERTY contains POVERTY. When we amass property – which doesn’t really belong to us and never will, because we are not responsible for the land or its materials, they were made by someone else and given to us to steward – instead of giving and receiving meaning, which should be the norm in human relationships, we find that we give and receive poverty (those who cannot afford a property, those who are burdened with mortgages or high rents, our own spiritual poverty).


This is an important concept. This is why it is so important to recognize that we are translators, not authors, and things pass through us, they do not belong to us (except for our love for one another). If we accept that things do not truly belong to us, they are only entrusted to us for safekeeping, we will loosen our grip, tension will decrease, we will have a better chance of giving and receiving love. After all, it is well known that suffering is caused by the inability or unwillingness to respond to the other’s love. That is the definition of hell. Heaven is to participate in the other’s love, which is why there are three persons in the Trinity, so that the love can be inclusive.


God brought us into the world to translate. He made the creatures and brought them to us to name (to translate). But we have taken the creatures, the products of the land, the plants and trees, and gone to MARKET. That is the extent of our civilization. We have got no further than this. I would say that we ought to be ashamed. All these years, and nothing much has changed. If anything, it has got worse, because it is now possible to make a lot of money almost without coming into contact with the products themselves. The richest people work with their heads, not with their hands, moving products around, sometimes without even seeing them.


And what word is connected to MARKET? CREMATE. We are burning our bridges, we are burning what unites us, creating societies that war with one another and argue amongst themselves. Let go of the so-called right to property, the foundation stone of our system of democracy, and the need to fight goes away. After all, we are not here forever, we are only passing through, which begs the question whether our wish to assert our claim to property is not in fact a wish to evade our own mortality, to somehow make ourselves out to be permanent.


The only place where I find a different model being practised is the Church: the doors are open, entrance is free, the focus is on God and our neighbour. True life, therefore, for me is in the Church, the body of Christ. This is why I prefer concepts like aristocracy (I believe in virtue), monarchy (Christ is my king) and hierarchy (I believe in spiritual growth) to democracy, because to say that power rests with people is to make ourselves out to be authors, and that is a false premise.


By turning to God and placing him at the centre of our existence, the MARKET loses its appeal, the word CREMATE begins to sag in the middle, the edifice topples, the two sides being held apart by an abyss fold together, and we are left with CREATE. Our nature is divinized – though not through any merit of our own, but through participation in God’s energies, which occurs by grace and is therefore a free gift.


GRACE, as far from the economy as you could wish to go, because it is freely given, is connected to another word in English, which symbolizes the tripersonality of God. That word is SHARE (the c in ‘grace’ is pronounced s, g-h is an alphabetical pair). We participate in the shared love of the Trinity, and all competition, all profit at the expense of the other, is seen for what it is: a perversion of our true purpose, which is to give and receive love, to be in relationship.


Postscript: Another story from the desert fathers. Two brothers wanted to live in love. They achieved this, each carrying out the will of the other, until the devil appeared to one as a dove and to the other as a raven, causing them to see things differently and to argue. They fell to blows and were parted until they realized that what was driving them apart was a distorted vision of the same thing – what separates us is not the thing itself, but our perception of it. Arguments arise from different perceptions of the same thing. This story is told by Abba Nicetas in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward, Cistercian Publications, 1984, p. 157.


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