In this ninth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the order of letters in the alphabet and how this can be used to make word connections. It was foreign workers in Egypt in the second millennium BC who came up with the idea of using not hieroglyphs for writing (hieroglyphs represented words or syllables), but letters that represented individual sounds, a much more cost-effective way of writing, since you only need 20-30 letters to write down the different words, but hundreds of hieroglyphs. This idea was taken on by the Phoenicians, the traders of the ancient world, from where it passed to Greece and Rome, becoming the Latin alphabet we use today.
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