In this sixth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne continues looking at connections between words in the English language, again using the same letters, but this time changing their order, rearranging the letters. Once we rearrange the letters, sometimes reading the words back to front, we can no longer claim that the connection is because of etymology, the evolution of words over time, with us as the cause of their development. Spiritual meaning is hidden, so in order to discover this meaning we must be willing to make slight changes to the words – changes, however, that always follow a fixed set of rules (phonetics, alphabet, appearance).
Having looked at the line, which represents the ego in English (I) and the number 1, in this second video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the three ways of moving away from the line – the triangle, the cross and the circle. Truth is paradoxical, so while a cross represents suffering, it is also a plus-sign. This is the meaning of Christ’s injunction to lose our life in order to find it.
There is a very important distinction in grammar between countable and uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns are generally concepts, things that have no boundaries, that cannot be circumscribed (a line cannot be drawn around them). Examples would be ‘love’ and ‘righteousness’. Countable nouns are nouns that can have a line drawn around them, they can be separated in our imagination from the rest of the environment. These nouns – and this is very important – are preceded by the indefinite article a or an. Examples would be ‘a house’, ‘a car’, ‘a person’. Compare the concept of ‘light’ with the countable noun ‘a light’. ‘Light’ is what fills the sky. ‘A light’ would be a single bulb – that is, it can have a line drawn around it and be contained.
When God created man in chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis, what he did was create a countable noun – a being separate from him (with its own free will). Of course, ‘man’ (here it is uncountable, it is not preceded by the indefinite article) is contained within God, he can never be quite separate, but ‘a man’ is allowed his own free will to make decisions, to believe in God or not, to love or hate, to react with kindness or anger…
The name that God reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, for me the most important verse in the Old Testament, is ‘I AM WHO I AM’ or simply ‘I AM’. Most of us would say ‘I am Jonathan’, ‘I am Rebecca’, etc. But God says only, ‘I AM’. There is no need for him to add a name because he is everything. Now in the study of speech sounds (called phonetics, the study of where speech sounds are produced in the mouth), the consonants, the hard sounds, so to speak, are divided into seven pairs, one of which is m-n. These two sounds are produced close to each other in the mouth.
If we apply this pair to the name of God without the personal pronoun, AM, we get an, the indefinite article. We can understand that from God came an individual human being, a countable noun. And if we put these two words one after the other, we get AM an – which is to say that God created a man.
The letter a is the first letter in the alphabet, it comes at the beginning, and so it is the letter I most associate with the act of creation (described in chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis). What was the name of the first man? Adam. If we turn Adam around, we see that he was made (I have allowed fluidity to the final vowel so that a becomes e).
Adam’s partner was Eve. Here the dominant vowel is e. We are progressing in the alphabet. Eve resembles another word very closely: eye. Now we are drawing close to the vowel i because eye and i sound the same.
When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they didn’t heed God’s command, they turned away from AM and said I’m, they made this progression from the vowel a to i.
The reverse of man is name, and that indeed was man’s purpose in Genesis, chapter 2, when God brought him the creatures to name (not to make). Name, with the letters rearranged, spells mean (by naming the creatures, he gave them meaning) and amen (Adam agreed with God’s plan for him). In the Fall, however, together with Eve, he took the fruit and said not amen anymore, but mine. Again, he replaced the vowel a with the vowel i.
We live now in the era of the i. This is the vowel that is used to represent the ego in English: I. In the system we have at the moment, it is every man for himself. Yes, we may receive some help, but basically every person has his or her own money, his or her own address, and has to struggle, more or less successfully, to make ends meet.
Where do we go now that we have succumbed to the wishes of the ego, of the I? Well, if we treat the ego (I) as a number (1), there are two ways we can go – upwards (2) or downwards (0). We can start to count (the objects around us, all of which are countable nouns – this is how we package and sell them) or we can make the much shorter journey to zero (a word, by the way, that is very close to eros).
The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use in English, counts up. The last letter of the Latin alphabet is Z, so in effect it counts from I to Z (1 to 2). This would reflect a more rational, self-reliant way of thinking, a view that treats the world as a way of making money.
As an aside here, I would like to ask why it is we teach our children the basic skills of writing and counting. Is it not in a sense to record what is in the world by writing down what there is and counting it? Are we not instilling this rationalistic way of thinking in our children from the very start (not to mention the huge emphasis placed in school on marks)?
The Greek alphabet, on the contrary, counts down. The last letter of the Greek alphabet is omega, which we can write O (it is a long o; there is also a short o in Greek, omicron). Greek is the language of the Gospel, so this would reflect a God-oriented way of thinking.
The other way of writing omega is W (this is how it is written lower case in Greek). If we put the three vowels I have talked about – the A of creation, the I of the Fall and the O of spiritual enlightenment/repentance/recognition – together, we get AIO. If we use the Greek way of writing omega, we get AIW.
Now what is very interesting is that this progression of spiritual growth that puts God (0) at the centre of the picture is found in the name of God himself: I AM. All I have to do is turn the W upside down. God is indicating to us the path that we should follow – we should turn to him.
What is the most famous aspect of the Old Testament, of the Jewish Bible? It is the law – Moses received the Ten Commandments when he met with God on Mt Sinai; the Jews are famous for their rules and regulations (Jesus is often criticized for healing on the Sabbath); and indeed Christ, in the New Testament, says that he has come to fulfil, not to abolish, the Old Testament law (‘not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished’, Matthew 5:18).
The word law contains the same progression, AIW, and is clearly related to the name of God in Exodus, I AM.
What of the New Testament then? Is there any indication in language to support the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (who he says he is)?
In John 14:6, Jesus says to Thomas, who has asked how they are to find the way to heaven, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
Here we find the third word that is related to the progression AIW: I AM – law – way. The letter y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i, they are often interchangeable. Note that Jesus says, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ We could rewrite this, ‘No I comes to the Father except through me.’ That is, each individual I must pass through him.
And so we find that the whole purpose of the spiritual journey in this life (AIW) is found in the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (I AM), is found in the law that Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfil, and is found in Jesus himself, who is the way.
There are many other confirmations in language that Jesus is the Son of God. Let us take the word Messiah, which is a combination of the name of God, I AM, and she (the Virgin Mary). I have written about these confirmations in my book Stones Of Ithaca.
But there is one other confirmation that Jesus is who he says he is that I would like to include here. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him and declares, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who will be sacrificed on the Cross to atone for our sins. He will take our sins upon his sinless self. He will take the blame for our sins (lamb and blame are clearly connected, as are words like balm and psalm).
But let us look a little more closely at the word lamb (the last letter of which is silent). Again we see the name of God, I AM, in the first three letters.
The whole of the Bible can be reduced schematically to: I AM – law – way/lamb. Here we find a spiritual map, so to speak, an indication of the road we must take, which passes not through counting the objects around us and dealing in them (often to the detriment of the environment and of our fellow man), but in placing God at the centre of our lives and acknowledging him.
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