Theological English (11): Connections – Addition of Letters (1)

In this twelfth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne continues looking at word connections made by the addition of letters, this time from “i” to “w”. It is curious that “die” contains “be” and “I” (we saw in the previous video that the “world” is a spiritual “womb”, which might explain this). What is even more curious is that “live” also contains “be”, but two “I”s in the first two letters. “Blood” gives “spirit”, as “seed” gives “sleep”. “Word” gives “sword” – our words can become physical, just as God’s words in the beginning created a physical environment. There is a previous video on this theme: “Addition of Letters (0)”.

For the connection between “blood” and “spirit”, see Marcus Plested’s instructive article “‘Give Blood and Receive the Spirit’: The Ascetical Dimension of Mystical Experience” (available online), which looks at the connection between ascetic endeavour and direct experience of God in early Christian literature and how it can be applied today.

To access all the videos in this course, use the drop-down menu “Theological English (Video Course)” above. The videos can be watched on Vimeo and YouTube.


Time is a line drawn by teachers of English on a whiteboard, with the points past, present and future marked by crosses. It is a line in a vast expanse of white, which can only exist because of the whiteboard. If there is nowhere to draw the line, then time cannot exist. We cannot just draw it in the air. Or we can if we use a sparkler. But it won’t last very long.

Time is a kind of zip. An Orion’s Belt drawn in chalk on a blackboard that is expanding space. Three points: past, present and future. Have, do and will. I have lived in London for ten years. Do you like London? I will come with you. Three auxiliary verbs that reflect our attitude to this world: to have (possessions), to do (activity) and to will (what we want). The only way to enter the line, to burrow inside it, to live in the moment, without regret for the past (nostalgia, which spells lost again), without fear for the future, is be. What are you doing? I am listening to music.

Time is a window of opportunity opened for us to take part in creation. It is a soap bubble floating in the air. It cannot last for ever, at some point it will pop. We saw in the previous article that if we are to take part in creation, if we are to be co-creators with God, if we are to have our own children, then the reproductive maturity that enables us to do this comes with age. To be left to age for ever really would be a punishment, so when we acquired carnal knowledge of the other and were expelled from the Garden of Eden, a clock was set in motion. Now we had a ‘life’, a finite period of time, three score years and ten, enough to grow up, reach sexual maturity, have children, raise them and then grow old. We are not authors, so we cannot breathe the breath of life into an inanimate object. We can, however, translate life. We receive it from our parents and pass it on. We are translators in everything we do, from having children, to breathing, to eating, to communicating. Nothing begins with us. We arrive mid-conversation, take part in the conversation and then leave.

But in this process we acquire meaning. We learn things. This is what time gives us. And note that time is clearly connected to line, there is a jump in the alphabet (m-n) and an l with a line drawn through it to make a cross: t. So that is what a cross is – a line that has been deleted, an ego that has been rejected.

Because with time came sin, and again you will see that these words are connected. Imagine letters are like reels in a slot machine: s becomes t and m becomes n, with the addition of final e. Sin-time. In time, we have children. But we also abuse this ability. We do not care for the other as we should. We try to take possession. We remain in permanent activity. Our lives are considered useless if we do not produce. Have, do and will. These auxiliaries dictate our lives, tell us how we should lead them. And what about be?

When we push aside the demands of the ego (a word that is in stark opposition to God), it is as if we turned the ego, the line (I), into a number (1) and counted down to O. We take the I of sin and turn it into son. In a similar way, we turn live into love (and not into its reverse, which is evil). We do this by removing the ego and then we see that time contains a cross (), I and me.

So time († I me) is not just the chance to have children, something we can only do with another person and which will cause us to age, it is also the opportunity to grow spiritually, to realize our need, to meet God and not to deny him.

Church Fathers say that Jesus Christ is waiting in our heart. He calls to us and, when we have grown tired of the things of this world, external objects that can be classified and counted (which is what much of our activity is about), we heed his call. We turn away from our possessions, from the incentive to own, which is nothing less than the attempt to make ourselves the source of life, and approach the heart with our mind. After knocking for a long time – because we must learn to desist from the passions, what caused us to sin in the first place – we are allowed to go in. We call on him – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ – and enter. Our mind meets itself for the first time, and becomes aware of the presence of someone far greater.

So time is a bottomless pocket. A door handle. A bubble God blew in the air. Here today, gone tomorrow. A place where we can learn the true value of love, who is the only one that matters.

Jonathan Dunne,

Monet’s lily pond

Word in Language (24): English Course (3)

In the fourth and final part of this short course in English, we will look at word connections made by the addition of letters. Sometimes it is possible to make connections simply by adding a letter, and we have seen examples of these: SELF and FALSE or FLESH, for example, or GOD and GOLD. Here, I have simply added a letter (a, h, l) without making any other changes. But often it is necessary to apply the rules we have studied and make a change to the vowels, apply the seven phonetic pairs and b-v-w, change a letter according to the alphabet or its appearance. A good example is LAND and PLANT – we have added the letter p, but also applied the phonetic pair d-t. Or FLESH and FATHER – we have added the letter a, but also applied the alphabetical pair s-t. We may need to replace i and u with their corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, c with the two ways it is pronounced, k or s, or to double a letter.

These are the words we are going to look at. See if by adding the letter in brackets and making any other necessary changes, by maintaining or changing the order of the letters, you can arrive at the connections:

FISH   LINE   (+ a)   AIR   CROWN   WORK   (+ d)

FLIRT   PLOT   (+ e)   LOVER   (+ f)   FIRE   (+ g)

GRIST   DIE   EGO   (+ h)   GREEN   (+ i)   FIRE   (+ l)

SNARE   (+ o)   FIEND   (+ r)   EXIT   (+ s)

FISH   SEMEN   (+ t)   IDLE   (+ v)

The two most commonly added letters are h and e. The first letter, h, is the way we represent breath in the alphabet, so it is not entirely surprising that we should often find this letter has been added – we are simply adding breath to the word. Think of the example of TREE, which has a single trunk, but when it sprouts branches turns into THREE, becoming three in one (a good analogy for the Holy Trinity). Nor is it entirely surprising that the other commonly added letter should be e, since this is the most common letter in the English language. What strikes me is that the two letters together spell he, and that points us to Christ.

The other commonly added letters are all grammatical. The first of them is s, which we use in English to make the plural (car, cars) and to make the third person singular of the present tense (learn, learns). Again, what I find striking is that if we add s to he, we get she, and that points us to Mary, his Mother.

The next four most commonly added letters are the two most common phonetic pairs I have already mentioned, d-t and l-r. Again, they are grammatical. D and t are the way we pronounce the past tense in English – think of the past of learn, which can be spelled learned or learnt (think of the past of spell, which can be written spelled or spelt!). These letters are appended to the end of verbs in English to indicate that the action was in the past. Meanwhile, l and r are suffixes used to turn nouns into adjectives – think of words like normal and regular.

The other most commonly added letter is n. Again, it is grammatical because n is used to make the past participle of irregular verbs (see, seen). So letters that are used in grammar to make derivatives, words that derive from others, are also commonly added in the formation of word connections. The other letters are vowels: e in first place (we often find this letter at the end of words in English, lengthening the previous vowel – think of shin and shine or man and mane), but also i and a. This completes the list of most commonly added letters: h, e, s, d-t, l-r, n, i and a.

Let us look now at the examples. If we add a to FISH (and apply the alphabetical pair s-t), we get FAITH. This is a remarkable connection because the fish is an early symbol of Christianity. The letters of the word for ‘fish’ in Greek, ichthys, form an acronym, again in Greek, for ‘Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour’. The symbol is made up of two overlapping lines – two hands in prayer. The fish may also remind us of pivotal moments in Christ’s ministry: the feeding of the five thousand; the feeding of his disciples on the beach by the Sea of Tiberias at the end of John’s Gospel, when Christ asks Peter to feed his sheep, a reference to the formation of the Church.

Meanwhile, LINE gives us ALIEN. We create an alien by drawing a line between them and us. We draw a line when we make ourselves out to be authors. The line is also the ego in English – the pronoun I. When we draw a line, we are claiming property, but this is hard to do given that nothing begins with us and things pass through us. We are translators, not authors, but our urge to be authors (and to deny the existence of the real author of all things) leads in our world to inequality, the haves and have-nots, to war and suffering. Christ asks us to embrace the other, because the OTHER is God (THEOS in Greek). We are not saved alone, but in community (we pray for each other, and the saints pray for us).

With the addition of the letter d, from AIR, we get BIRD (alphabetical pair a-b). Well, a bird is intimately linked with the air, so it is logical that the two words should be connected.

From CROWN, we get GROUND (u-w, phonetic pair g-k). This is to show that opposites are connected. To us, with our limited vision, they may seem far apart – certainly if you are perched in the crown of a tree, the ground will appear far off – but the truth is they are connected. It matters what happens on the other side of the fence – this is why translation is so important, so that cultures can understand one another and interact – but all too often we are concerned primarily or exclusively with what is going on in our own patch. We are saved as a body. We find this connection between distant points in similar word connections: ROOF-FLOOR (addition of l), TOP-BOTTOM (phonetic pair b-p, addition of m). Word connections are often confirmed like this.

From WORK, we get WORLD (alphabetical pair k-l). The world is a place of work – if we do not work, nothing will grow (and you will see that WORK and GROW are the reverse of one another, phonetic pair g-k). But this work is not in vain. It has its reward. If we read WORK back to front and add the letter n, we get CROWN. If we apply ourselves to the virtues, which is hard work, if we persevere in the face of doubts (our own as much as anybody else’s), we will receive the crown of righteousness. We will not achieve anything in the world without work.

The next is a wonderful example, because FLIRT, if we add the letter e, gives TRIFLE. I have to confess that, when I was young, my brother James used to make the most delicious trifles, with fruit and sponge cake, cream and custard. Once finished, it would sit there, on the side in the kitchen, attracting people’s attention, saying, ‘Here I am! Come and eat me!’ My brother’s trifle is not the only thing to do this – to flirt, I mean – fruit does it as well to attract the attention of animals that will spread the plant’s seeds far and wide. That is why FRUIT and FLIRT are also connected (phonetic pair l-r, addition of u). All Nature is attracting attention – or hiding!

And what is the purpose of a PLOT? The purpose of a PLOT is to TOPPLE someone. I give these last two examples to show that word connections aren’t necessarily theological – they can be mundane, or political.

By the addition of the letter f, we find LOVER in FLOWER. Well, just as fruit flirts, so a flower is a potential lover for an insect. Flowers are designed to turn heads, and we find that the reverse of FLOWER is REVOLVE for this reason (phonetic pairs f-v and b-v-w).

By the addition of g, we find FIRE in GRIEF. Grief is a purifying experience. It reduces us to our bare minimum, without the trimmings (which don’t matter anymore, or even make us sick). We are left only with ourselves, and it doesn’t amount to much. And yet this increases our dependence on God. Our pride is wiped away at a stroke. The clearest eyes I ever saw – together with those of a monk on Mt Athos – were those of a husband at his wife’s funeral. He was holding the pain inside. Isn’t this to be a disciple? To hold the pain, albeit for a while, rather than to toss it aside. To participate, to take up some of the slack, to bear witness.

Through the addition of h, we can connect GRIST with CHRIST (phonetic pair g-k). Grist is corn that is to be ground. Can you imagine two millstones whirling in a dance, rotating one on top of the other, with nothing in between? Their activity will, in the end, prove pointless. If we rotate in a dance, with nothing in between, what are we really doing? We need the grist of Christ in our lives – not just thin air, but matter that we can hold on to. God is not only spirit. He came down to earth and assumed our human nature. Every Sunday, we can consume his most holy body. This gives us grist for the mill. And what word is in MILL in reverse? I’M. Christ takes us away from the selfishness of our own desires, he provides a purpose, something we can grind. He is the bread of life.

I said before that Nature also likes to hide – especially when it dies. When an animal is about to die, it often disappears. We don’t see it anymore. This is why DIE and HIDE are connected. When we DIE, we SHED our outer coating (alphabetical pair h-i, addition of s). DIE is like the TIDE (addition of t), which comes in and goes out, just like our breathing.

Again, with the addition of h, we find EGO in ECHO (phonetic pair g-k). Isn’t our ego an echo? Isn’t it just telling us what we want to hear? But this is a kind of blindness. We will never learn anything if all we listen to is our own voice. We have to hear the voice of the other. We open ourselves to what is alien, take part in its joys and sufferings.

Through the addition of i (y), we find that GREEN is in ENERGY. This is an incentive perhaps to look for green sources of energy. After all, GREEN is CLEAN (phonetic pairs g-k, l-r).

By the addition of that other letter that represents the ego, l, we find FIRE in RIFLE. This, for me, is very interesting. What does a rifle, which bears a striking resemblance to the ego, since it is a straight line, do? It fires and then it takes a man’s life. Can you believe that, in our urge to be authors and to lay claim to property, we have created a representation of our ego – the line – for the purpose of taking another man’s life? RIFLE: FIRE – LIFE. There is language to tell us.

Our reason tells us we have the right. We listen to our reason, we rely on it, often to justify the actions of the ego. Well, why shouldn’t I? After all… And there is the voice of our conscience to provide a counter-argument. Well, it isn’t exactly fair, especially if you look at it from the other’s point of view. Reason is comforting. Reason tells us we can have what we want. But REASON contains SNARE (addition of o) and can be found in TREASON (addition of t). Perhaps it will do us a bad turn in the end and we should rely on faith instead. SNARE is also in ANSWER (addition of w). An answer is also comforting, it closes the chapter (but never for long).

Jesus must have thought he had a friend in Judas. Or this is what casual onlookers must have surmised when they saw them together. FRIEND is a complicated word, however. Without the r, it spells FIEND, and certainly the devil entered Judas when he decided to betray his master. Is that a coincidence? Yes, of course it is. Everything is coincidence, things happening together. But as I said before, there are other connections to confirm it. Look at the first four letters of FRIEND and apply the phonetic pairs f-v and l-r. What word do you find? EVIL. And in the last four letters of FRIEND? DENY. Language knew long before it happened what would come to pass.

‘All the world’s a stage,’ wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It. EARTH is in THEATRE. When our role is done, we exit stage left or right – perhaps left to join the goats and right to join the sheep (Mt 25:31-46). That is why EXIT is in EXIST. At some juncture, we exit and exist – in terms of the theatre – no longer. Life is but a dream. The ancient Greeks referred to the boundary between the earth and the underworld as the river STYX. This word is also in EXIST.

What is it that a FISH can do better than any other living creature? It can dart about, it can move from side to side, suddenly change direction. It can SHIFT (addition of t). I find this a very visual connection. I think of the fish in the water suddenly disappearing, parallel becoming perpendicular.

At the beginning of life is the seed and the egg. Only if an egg is fertilized will it remain in the mother’s womb, will it stick to the side of the womb and gestate. This is because SEMEN acts as a CEMENT (addition of t). Cement is a kind of past tense. The introduction of the seed cements the egg to the womb, where it can develop.

The DEVIL makes work for IDLE hands (addition of v). We have come across several connections with DEVIL: EVIL, LIVED, DIFFER, WICKED, DEFILE, YIELD…

We have now studied all the rules for making word connections. In all likelihood, we will have to rearrange the letters, not read them in the same order (though there are a few connections where it is not necessary to rearrange the letters). We may replace the vowels i and u with their corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, c with the two ways it is pronounced (k/s). We may double a letter. We may change a vowelvowels flow – especially the front vowels a, e and i. We may change a consonant according to where it is pronounced in the mouth – the seven phonetic pairs, plus b-v-w. We may change a letter according to its position in the alphabet and its appearance (by turning it upside down, back to front, by extending it). And having done all of these things, we may add a letter, most commonly he, she.

Language is encoded. It wishes to tell us about human life, why we are here, where we come from (the act of creation in the Garden of Eden), our current situation (a result of the Fall, where the ego holds sway, the line that produces aliens) and what we can do about it (repentance). I have given numerous examples to show that word connections are not isolated events, but part of a greater fabric in history, a thread floating in eternity, time is a thread floating in eternity. It is up to us what we do with the thread. We can discard it. We can use it to sew up a wound. We can tie it into a knot to remind us of something. We can add it to the tapestry, our own particular flash of colour. Life is a thread, a series of events taking us ever onwards, in a direction that will benefit us if we allow it. A water snake propelling us forwards. A hair in the eye that we must remove. The eye of a needle.

Thread is the breath that connects birth and death. All these words are connected. Our timeline is our breath. Our breath is our ‘to be continued’.

The eye of the needle, depending on the angle, can be enormous. Like the sun in the trees.

Jonathan Dunne,

Word in Language (22): English Course (1)

In the previous article we looked at word connections made between words containing the same letters, be they in the same or a different order. We will now look at word connections made by changing the vowels and the consonants according to phonetics (how the sounds are produced in the mouth).

The easiest changes to make to letters are to the vowels because they are like water, they flow. Voice passes through the mouth and is not obstructed by the flesh, the lips or tongue. We sing. When a doctor examines our throat, we go ‘Aaaah!’. Air passing through the mouth, with or without voice added to it, that is obstructed by the flesh, the lips or tongue, forms the consonants. They are the building blocks of language, so to speak. The difference between vowels and consonants is that with consonants the passage of air is cut off (by pursing the lips, by lifting the tongue) and then released like a projectile, with greater force.

Vowels are not produced in the mouth in the same order as they appear in the alphabet: a, e, i, o and u. From the back of the mouth (the throat, where language originates) to the front of the mouth, they appear in the following order: u, o, a, e and i. Note that the ego – the I – situates itself right at the front! So we have back vowels (u and o), a central vowel (a) and front vowels (e and i). We also have close/high vowels (u and i) and open/low vowels (o, a and e). The way the vowels are produced in the mouth forms a V-shape:

u                                        i

o                    e


It is very common, therefore, to make a word connection by changing a to e (we saw the example of EARTH in reverse being THREE). This is perhaps the most common vowel change, but also common are e-i (MEET and TIME) and e-o (ENEMY and MONEY). We also studied the progression of human life from the A of Creation to the I of the Fall to the O of repentance – AIO – and how this is present in language, both between and inside words.

When the passage of air (with or without the addition of voice) is obstructed by the flesh (the lips or tongue), we form the consonants. There are seven pairs of consonants and they are very important when it comes to making word connections. These are pairs of consonants pronounced in a similar part of the mouth, and very often one of them is voiced (has voice added to it) and the other is voiceless. You can feel which consonants are voiced by placing your hand on your throat as you pronounce them and feeling the vibration of the vocal cords. The seven phonetic pairs are:

b-p     d-t     f-v     g-k     l-r     m-n     s-z

There are also seven complex consonantal sounds made by the combination of one of these letters with the letters h or g: gh, for example, as in bridge, kh as in church, ng as in song. Unfortunately symbols are used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent these complex consonantal sounds, which disguise their relationship with the seven phonetic pairs, but we are not going to worry about them at the moment.

I add an eighth phonetic pair: b-v-w. This is because these letters are pronounced very close together, as we can see in languages such as Modern Greek (where b is pronounced v), Spanish (v is pronounced b), Latin (v is pronounced w) and German (w is pronounced v). This enables me, through v, to connect f with b/w.

Have a go at making connections with the following words by applying a vowel change:

DEAF   DRAMA   FAITH   (a-e)

SEED   (e-i)   NINE   STRIKE   (i-o)

or one of the phonetic pairs:

BABEL   TABLE   (b-p)   DREAM   (d-t)

DIFFER   (f-v, l-r)   ANGLE   (g-k)

HEAL   SOUL   TEMPLE   (l-r)


EROS   (s-z)   BLESS   BREAST   (b-v-w)

These are my answers.

DEAF in reverse reads FEED. I find this remarkable. It is as if, within our limitations, we are called upon to help each other. It reminds me of Christ on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias telling Peter to ‘feed my sheep’ (Jn 21:17). Christ knows our weakness – our excess of pride in our youth, our physical weakness in old age – but still he expects and wants us to minister to his sheep, to provide help to those in need. A similar connection can be found between BLIND and BUILD (physical pair n-u).

In the previous article we found confirmation for Shakespeare’s saying ‘All the world’s a stage’ in the connection EARTH-THEATRE. There is another saying – ‘Life is but a dream’ – which forms the title of a play by one of Spain’s most famous dramatists, Calderón de la Barca, Life Is a Dream (La vida es sueño). Again, we can find confirmation in the connection DRAMA-DREAM. Both of these analogies – life as a play, life as a dream – seem to refer to our limited understanding of life as we know it, human beings on a planet spinning through space. As I have said before, I believe that the world is a spiritual womb on which we are placed to grow spiritually. Our individual physical birth (from our mother’s womb) is followed by a collective spiritual birth (from the earth), which forms the body of the Church. When we are born in this world, we are not yet ready for the latter (spiritual) birth – we need time to grow. The mistake we make is in thinking that this world is self-enclosed – is all there is, a kind of free for all – when it represents an opportunity to grow.

FAITH in reverse reads THIEF. We may be afraid of having our faith stolen, but I think this connection refers to the faith shown by the Penitent Thief next to Christ on the Cross, a passage that appears in Luke 23:39-43. The Good or Penitent Thief believes in Christ and asks him to remember him in his kingdom. Christ replies, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ So in a sense the Good or Penitent Thief is the first person to be saved – because he showed faith, because he believed.

But some of us seem to have a problem with the concept of resurrection, of rising from the dead. I don’t know why. There is a perfect example of such a resurrection right in front of our eyes, and that is SEED, which DIES in the ground only to resurrect in spring.

EARTH is planet number THREE in order of increasing distance from the Sun, but in our solar system there are said to be NINE planets in total (forgive me, I am of a certain age, and Pluto for me is and will remain a planet) with the Sun at the centre, which represents the number NONE. I have reiterated that I think we should teach our children in school to count from zero, 0, not from 1 – not to start with the ego (I), but with the eternal figure of God (O). This would then form the basis of all their thinking – not to view life in terms of the individual, but in terms of the Other, of the collective. We really have to get past the idea of money, of all exchange coming with a price tag, as if the things with which we bartered were our creation. They are not. They simply pass through our hands because we are translators. This is why single-digit numbers are not 1-10 (as we teach our children to count in school, or as we learn a foreign language) but 0-9. This is reflected by the Sun and the number of the planets.

In a similar way, we do not launch a pre-emptive STRIKE against our enemy (this attitude is again based on the idea that things belong to us and we have to fight over them). Rather we show love to our neighbour. We count down from the ego (I) to God (O), as we did with LIVE-LOVE and SIN-SON, and turn the aggressive STRIKE into the more tender and appropriate STROKE.

Language is telling us how to live our lives. It also confirms what we read in the Bible, which should not surprise us because Christ is the Word – we would expect language to confirm his message.

There are two moments of discord in the Book of Genesis. The first is the Fall – represented by the APPLE – in which man separated himself from God (though I have given a more positive interpretation of the Fall as the way we could have children and form the body of the Church). The second is the Tower of BABEL, where man was separated from man by not being able to understand the other’s language (at this point, the role of the translator came into force, but we are all translators because nothing begins with us). It is remarkable that these two moments of dissension are connected by the phonetic pair b-p.

Word connections can be quite mundane. At a party, we might eat standing up, holding a plate in our hands. At a campsite, we might eat on a stool, balancing a plate on our legs. But the normal thing is to be seated at a TABLE and for the PLATE to be on the table in front of us. That is why a table is such a basic piece of furniture – it is for eating at. A chair is for sitting on, a desk for writing at, a window for looking through (a book for reading!).

But if life is a dream, as the saying goes, then all this MATTER we hold in our hands (isn’t matter made up of atoms flying about, with plenty of space?) could also be considered a DREAM. Certainly we will have to leave it behind when we depart from this planet, we cannot take it with us – only our good deeds.

I talked about the world as the womb of the Church. The FATHER would GATHER us together (alphabetical pair f-g). He would bring us together in love. What would the DEVIL have us do? He would have us DIFFER. Here we have to apply two phonetic pairs: f-v and l-r.

The most perfect example of an ANGLE I can think of is that formed by the ANKLE. Word connections can be very visual, and this is one example (compare LICE-RICE and NAIL-RAIN – phonetic pair l-r – are they not visually alike?).

In order to HEAL, we must HEAR (the Word of God). Here are another two examples of language confirming the stories of the New Testament. At the Presentation in the Temple, Simeon says to Mary, ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Lk 2:35). SOUL is connected to SORROW (the letter r has been doubled, the u turned into its corresponding semi-vowel, w). We feel sorrow in our souls at the state of the world, the poverty and suffering; we also feel sorrow at our own corruption (our propensity to lust, greed, anger). Sorrow is a word that is intimately linked with soul (and the voice of our conscience). Of course, it is also in SWORD, and SWORD contains WORD. Words can be cutting. Saints are depicted with swords – they protect themselves with the Word of God. Paul says as much in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph 6:17, my italics). Word connections are rarely isolated, and we will find confirmation for WORD-SWORD in the connections ARROW-WORD (addition of a/d) and SPEAK-SPEAR (alphabetical pair k-l, phonetic pair l-r).

Similarly, when Christ enters the temple and drives out the moneylenders, accusing them of turning his Father’s house into a den of thieves, we see an example of righteous anger. We find confirmation of this New Testament story (the cleansing of the Temple, Mt 21:12-7) in the connection TEMPLE-TEMPER. The chief priests and scribes, however, show a different kind of anger. They are angry with him for healing on the Sabbath, for doing ‘amazing things’ (Mt 21:15).

Christ is without sin. He has no need to repent. But our own anger can all too often be self-motivated. We are angry because our boundary lines have been crossed, our comfort zone has been invaded. For this kind of TEMPER, we need to REPENT – and there is the word to tell us.

The word ‘sin’ in Greek is hamartia, which means to miss the mark. We are not aiming as we should, we are not pointing in the right direction. Our gaze has been misdirected, most often towards the things of this world (and owning them). This is why SIN in reverse reads MISS (the s has been doubled). It also reads NICE (c-k/s, addition of e). Sin can seem nice. It can seem an act of freedom. This is the devil’s greatest trick – to make us think we are having fun, we are asserting ourselves, while all the time we are in fact destroying our existence, becoming spiritually dead. Anything that is centred on the self is not from God. It should be centred on him and, through him, on our neighbour.

I have said that the world is a spiritual womb, a nursery, in which the body of the Church is being formed. It is a kind of template – and in the word TEMPLATE we find PLANET (repetition of e and t). In fact, this is one of those strings of word connections that occur sometimes:


AM (God) created a countable noun, a separate being, AN – that is to say, he created A MAN (a combination of AM and the indefinite article AN). MAN is a LAND animal (l-m, addition of d). We use the LAND to PLANT things – food for us to eat, trees for us to breathe, flowers to make the world a prettier place. Without every kind of PLANT, our PLANET would be unrecognizable (and very barren). Our PLANET is a TEMPLATE, a trial run, a testing ground, not our final destination.

Language turns somersaults, whispers secrets in our ears. Can you hear me? Will you pay any attention?

The only word connection I have for s-z is EROS-ZERO, which I take to be a confirmation of the saying in 1 John 4:8, ‘God is love’.

I am now going to move on to the eighth phonetic pair (which isn’t really a pair at all): b-v-w. This pair enables me, through v, to connect f-b/w.

I have done down the SELF. I have connected it to FLESH in reverse (it goes the way of all flesh), to FALSE and SLAVE (its passions deceive us, its demands enslave us). But I have shown another way, how SELF can be connected to SERVE, if we will only change our direction. And here is a remarkable connection, because SELF can also be connected to BLESS. God blesses us, he doesn’t bless some abstract notion, he blesses each one of us, calling us to greater things (the deaf to feed, the blind to build!). The self, if properly directed, is a blessing because it will direct us towards him. We cannot know the Father without our self. We cannot form part of the body of the Church without being our self. MIRACLE is to RECLAIM that self from the deceptions of the devil, from the lust and anger, from the water of the well that never fills, and to fill it with living water, the water that never runs out, Christ himself. This is a blessing. BLESS-SELF.

There are three forms of nourishment in this world, and they are connected: BREAD-BREATH-BREAST. A baby without their mother’s milk, without drinking from the BREAST, will STARVE. But STARVE is contained in HARVEST, just as FAST is in FEAST (and so we come back to BREAST):


Another string of word connections. There is paradox in Christianity, in the CRIME there is MERCY. We are given this time to come to our senses. Time is a gash in the side of eternity.

Jonathan Dunne,

Word in Language (15): AIO (0)

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.






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.




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.




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.




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.




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.




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,

Word in Language (14): Auxiliary Verbs

We live in the white space of eternity, but we cling to the line of time. It is extraordinary that the word TIME contains DIE (phonetic pair d-t, addition of m), but if we take a couple of steps in the alphabet it also gives LIVE (alphabetical pairs l-m, t-v). We have seen how it also contains MEET and DENY – this life on earth is our chance to meet Christ or to deny him, it is as simple as that. This is the purpose of life – do we choose to count down from the ego, I, to God, O, or do we prefer to attend to our own self-interest and to amass possessions by counting up from the ego, I? Once you start counting up, there will be no end, and we have seen how the English alphabet does this – it goes from the letter A to I to Z (1 to 2), it starts to count up, which may be seen as signifying a Western rational way of thinking, counting the cost, whereas the Greek alphabet, which may be taken to signify a spiritual way of thinking, a spontaneous response, counts down, it goes from the letter A to I to O (1 to 0, or omega).


This is very telling. We somehow have to escape the line that is represented by the ego, I, or by the timeline. LINE is close to MINE (alphabetical pair l-m) – when we draw a line, we are limiting ourselves, laying claim to possession, fencing ourselves in. We may find that the LINE leaves us ALONE, whereas in fact we are ALL ONE, and the one we have in common is God.


We see our life on earth in terms of the tenses: present, past and future. How much time do we spend in the present? Perhaps not very much, we are always thinking about events in the past or worrying about the future.


An example of the present tense is ‘I live in London’ or ‘I like to visit Hyde Park on a Tuesday’. It is used to talk about routines, actions or states that we consider to be fixed.


If we want to ask a question or to make a negative in the present, we have to use what is called an auxiliary verb – a verb that ‘helps’ us to ask the question or to make the negative – and the auxiliary verb for the present is ‘do’: ‘Where do you live?’ ‘I don’t like going out in the dark.’ We cannot ask a question or make a negative without the auxiliary ‘do’, or we will sound a little foreign: ‘Where you live?’ ‘I not like going out in the dark.’


Auxiliaries are a feature of the English language. Other languages like Ancient Greek and Bulgarian have little particles that enable the hearer to understand that what is coming is not a statement of fact, but a question: ‘ara’ in Greek, ‘li’ in Bulgarian. Languages like Spanish use intonation. ‘You live in Madrid?’ with a rising intonation informs the hearer that this is a question. I’m not telling you, I’m asking. But English has need of auxiliaries.


So it is in the past, and the auxiliary is the same: ‘I went to school in Clapham.’ ‘Where did you go to school?’ ‘I didn’t like it very much.’


So ‘do’ is the first auxiliary. ‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘Do you often come here?’ ‘Don’t talk to me like that!’


The auxiliary for the future is ‘will’. This little word expresses intention or a prediction: ‘I will come and help you.’ ‘I think it will rain at the weekend.’ ‘Will you tell me what it is?’ Whereas the auxiliaries in the present and past – ‘do’ and ‘did’ – are only used to ask questions or to make the negative, in the future the auxiliary must also be used in positive statements – precisely to signify that it is the future: ‘I come to lunch on Tuesdays, but next week I will come on Wednesday.’


We have seen how language encourages us to think in terms of the collective, not in terms of the individual, and the future provides us with a wonderful example because if we contract ‘I’ and ‘will’ we get ‘I’ll’ – this is a way of talking about plans in the singular – whereas if we contract ‘we’ and ‘will’ and think about the future in terms of the plural, we get ‘we’ll’.


Language appears to be telling us something: ‘I’ll’ and ‘we’ll’. I’LL and WE’LL. Take away the apostrophe that indicates a contraction and you have ILL and WELL. Isn’t this language telling us to think in terms of the plural? We might also notice that ME becomes WE when we turn the letter M upside down (physical pair m-w). And what is the plural of ‘you’ (think not how the word is written, but how it sounds)? Why, ‘us’ of course!


There is an aspect – the perfect – that we can apply to the tenses we have talked about, the present, the past and the future. This perfect aspect has the amazing ability to connect the tenses, to join them together, but our emphasis is still very much on the line.


For example, imagine that I started to live in London in the year 2000. It is now 2020, and I still live in London. You have a past – I moved to London in 2000 – and a present – I live in London now. What if you want to join them together? You can only do this by using the perfect, the auxiliary for which is ‘have’: ‘I have lived in London for twenty years.’


Imagine a point in the future: when you get home. I want to say that between now and the point in time when you get home, that is between the present and the future, I am planning to finish baking a cake. I will say, ‘By the time you get home, I will have baked a cake.’ There is the perfect again, by means of the auxiliary ‘have’, and it connects two points along the line, the past and the present, the present and the future, even the past and a point further back in time: ‘When you came to visit me, I had already put the things away.’ Before that point in time when you turned up, I had performed this other action, between the past and a point further back in time (when I got home from the office, for example).


Well, after that short lesson in grammar, we are equipped to say that the auxiliaries that cover the timeline are ‘do’, ‘will’ and ‘have’.


But doesn’t this tell us something about how we approach time, our lives on earth? Because the first auxiliary, ‘do’, refers to activity – we must always be busy. The second auxiliary, ‘will’, refers to intention – what I want. And the third auxiliary, ‘have’, refers to possession – how much I have. Couldn’t this be said somehow to sum up our approach to life: what I do, what I will and what I have?


This is because we are clinging to the timeline. We are like vines on an arbour or shellfish on a submerged pillar. We cling to what we know. And what we know is what we can see in front of us, what we can lay our hands on. But there is so much more. There is the enormity of space, to start with. There is also the enormity of ourselves – isn’t the kingdom of heaven within us? There is the enormity of our hearts, of our reaching out to one another, of the many examples of endurance and selflessness that humanity has shown. There is the moment when, albeit we are busy or tired, we take time out to focus on the other’s need. We shift away from the timeline, we take a step over the abyss. We enter the white space of the whiteboard. We realize that the battle has already been won and we are picking up the pieces. We step outside of time and into the light. We cease – for a moment – to linger on the past or to harbour concerns about the future. They are always only moments – the past and future quickly reclaim their place, like a tide coming in. But there are moments when we can separate ourselves from the timeline and enter eternity. We are in eternity. Now.


And what is the fourth auxiliary that is used to represent the continuous aspect, to talk about the moment? It is ‘be’. ‘Where are you at the moment?’ ‘I am sitting in the garden.’ Enjoying life, focused on the here and now, amazed by the wonder of it all. Isn’t this life? Amazement at the other, amazement at ourselves. Little coins that jingle in our pockets. Coins that are like suns, shimmering in the light.


Faith is stepping off the line. I don’t have enough money, I don’t have enough time, I’m too busy, I can’t do it for you, otherwise…


Faith is being quiet. In the moment, when we prise the timeline open and expand it, blow a little air into the bag.


When we expand the moment, we use ‘be’ (a word that we have seen is connected to ‘we’ and is contained in both ‘die’ and ‘live’). ‘I was reading a book when you arrived’ (I was unaware of time). ‘We will be waiting for you when the train arrives’ (the train will pull up alongside the platform, but we will already be out of time – waiting for you). ‘Be’ takes us out of time – it is used for actions that may be temporary (‘I am living in London at the moment, but next month I may not be’), continuous (‘we were walking alongside the river when it happened’) or repeated (‘I have been trying to get hold of you for ages’). It takes us away from the apparent security of our own efforts (‘do’), our own wills (‘will’) and our own possessions (‘have’).


There is so much noise in the world, but the truth is that the silence is much greater. There are so many words on this page, but the truth is that the white space is far greater. There is so much substance to our bodies, but the truth is that we are peppered with holes and invaded by space.


So it is with time. Time – the cross (†), I and me – is in eternity. It is the only place it can be. At some point, the teacher of English will come along and rub out the timeline. And then our preoccupations, our money and possessions, our frustrated wills, will count for nothing. All that will count is who we have allowed ourselves to be.


Jonathan Dunne,

Word in Language (13): Hate

Hate is the opposite of love, it is the dark side of love. All the shoots we have put out in order to communicate with our neighbour, in order to interlink our life to theirs, we begin to withdraw, to take away, to withdraw our favours. And at the same time, our sight, which was focused on those we love, begins to wander, we begin to entertain temptations, even though we know that they will destroy us, so hate engenders self-destruction.


If hate engenders self-destruction, it is a form of death. We are slowly but surely heading towards death, but not death as a portal of life, not DIE so that I can BE, as we saw in a previous article. This is death with no continuation. This is THE END of the film (these two words are beautifully connected: phonetic pair d-t, physical pair – pairs of letters that are an extension or a reversal of one another – h-n). This is the death of the popular imagination, where there is no continuation or, if there is, we don’t want to know about it.


So hate is a negation of God, because if we deny the existence of heaven, we deny the existence of God; if we deny the possibility of good (in ourselves quite apart from anyone else), we again deny the existence of the GOD who is GOOD. Do you see how language, the Word, wishes to teach us? GOD is GOOD, but the DEVIL is EVIL. If you look up these pairs of words in a dictionary and search for the etymology, you will find that their roots – horizontal, over time – are different. Not so in a vertical understanding of language. They are very close for a reason.


So hate makes us first withdraw into ourselves, reject contact with those who are close to us, and then seek to scatter ourselves further afield, to disintegrate, in what may be a call for attention or a means of revenge or a wish for self-annihilation.


But there is always the call of God, the call of our conscience, if we can only overcome the barrier of our ego, of our pride. PRIDE is in DESPAIR, and it is despair that robs us of our willingness and strength, as Saint Porphyrios points out in the book of his life and sayings Wounded by Love (p. 98).


Hate leads us to despair, while love gives us hope, hope of a better future. This is why HOPE is connected to OPEN (that same physical pair I talked about earlier, h-n). Hope keeps us open to the other, to their love, which is calling us, just as a dog hears the call of its owner. Hope keeps us open, but of course this means we can be wounded – the Wounded by Love of the book title.


Dark thoughts explore our mind. They can be a little frightening, these thoughts, even overwhelming. Where do they come from? Are they really ours? Well, given that the whole theme of my writing is that we are translators, not authors, and things pass through us, I am inclined to believe that thoughts also do not start with us. What belongs to us is our reaction, the choices we make, whether we choose to ignore these thoughts, to exercise self-control, to seek the good, or to enact the thoughts, to give free rein to our baser instincts. Does this really mean that no thoughts belong to us, only our reaction does? I am inclined to believe so, and thoughts are like language, roots travelling underground, in the subsoil of our minds.


In which case, we should be able to take a dark thought and simply make it good, turn it around, do the opposite, embrace the one we want to hate. This will hurt, though. It will hurt in that place we have opened up in order to embrace the other, in order to apologize, in order to see it from the other’s point of view, in order really to lessen our own importance in the grand scheme of things. Will anything really happen if I let go of my hatred? Will the world collapse if I forget to maintain my resentment? No, the world will carry on as normal, and I might even feel a little relieved – also a little sore perhaps – the hatred like a mole popping up its head from time to time, breaking the soil, trying to remind me of its existence, trying to draw me down again into the dirt of non-existence.


These thoughts, I let them go. They are nothing. Thoughts are insubstantial, a monk once told me. They have no substance. If they have no substance, they have no reality beyond the reality I choose to give them, even if it doesn’t feel that way when they assault me and seem to control me, not the other way around.


Perhaps I just stop thinking. THINK, after all, is connected to NIGHT by the phonetic pair g-k. It may be over-rated. It may be better just to WAIT. What word connections can I find for WAIT? Well, DAY is in there (phonetic pair d-t, addition of w). So is FAITH (f-v/w, addition of h). Isn’t the meaning of FAITH to WAIT? Maybe God doesn’t expect me to achieve something every day, to justify my existence all the time. After all, he has the bigger picture. He envelops time. Time is an envelope, and he sticks it down, says when it is finished. Perhaps he will put it in the post, send it to the outer reaches, open it later on, while we are all busy or asleep, and see what it is that everybody did with the time allotted to them. Take out the letter of our actions, intentions, good deeds. The desert fathers say that God always sees the intentions behind our actions, our motivations. What is it we are trying to achieve? Are we just trying to get his attention? To call him down, to force him to intersect with our lives because the horizontality of living got too much, too boring, too monotonous, the street, the cars, the coffee, the cake, get up, work, eat, sleep. So much going in and out of ourselves. Things passing by. Ourselves sometimes ineffectual, unprepared, unable to influence events. WAIT, whispered FAITH. Look at me. I am here.


Christ, I am in the night of hatred. Will you love me even down here? Will you see a speck of goodness in me that is worth saving? Is my breath anything to you? Of course, it is. You gave it to me. You are the Word. My breath is yours and the Holy Spirit’s. I beg of you, hold me. Deliver me. See how DELIVER contains DEVIL. Our Father, which art in the heavens…


DEVIL in reverse reads LIVED. Past tense.


DEATH with the letters rearranged spells HATED. Past tense.


There is no future in either of these. If we apply the phonetic pair d-t, we will see that HATE is connected to HEAD. DEATH contains both of them. Perhaps thinking, calculation, is not the way. But where does that leave us?


It leaves us in the moment. In the moment, there is no time. It is the only place where we can escape time. The moment is, in effect, the nullification of time. We are not controlled by past memories or future fears. We simply place ourselves in the O of repentance, the star in the night sky, the pinprick of existence.


A star is not light coming from a long way away. A star is a window, an invitation, a ladder of ascent. It is where the threads of our garments do not meet, where the air passes through, it is the interstice, it is the light, it is the way we slip through the net. It is a hole in the fabric.


Even the flame of a match banishes the night. ‘Flame’ contains ‘I am’, the name of God in Exodus 3:14. It enables us to make a hole in the line of time. We use the flame as a nib, a bubble, a leaf, and begin to write.


Jonathan Dunne,

Word in Language (7): Time

Let us look at time. We live in time, our lives on earth have a beginning, a middle and an end. When we learn our own or a foreign language, one of the first things we learn is the tenses: past, present and future. So our lives are very quickly conditioned by the concept of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Everything in this sense is linear, and indeed the word ‘time’ is connected to ‘line’ by the phonetic pair m-n and by drawing a line through the letter l to make t (I call this a physical pair, because they look alike).


Teachers of English, of which I was one, teach the tenses by going up to the whiteboard and drawing a horizontal line with their marker. On the line, they mark three crosses to represent past, present and future, but the fact is the line is like a loose thread and it exists before the cross that stands for the past and continues after the cross that marks the future, because we cannot be certain about these things – when the past started, when the future will end. It hangs in the air, like a loose thread on our clothing, which we pick up and put in the bin.


I remember standing in Wandsworth, London, while teaching an English class, and having a revelation. I realized that the only way I could draw a timeline was by having a whiteboard, without the whiteboard it was impossible for me to draw the line. And while the black of my marker seemed to obliterate the white of the board underneath, the fact is the white of the board still existed beneath the black of the line. This meant that time exists – and can only exist – in the white space of eternity. Time is proof for the existence of eternity because without eternity time cannot exist. There is nowhere to draw it.


But what is its purpose? I have already said that I believe time exists to give us a chance to make meaning a two-way process, to offer ourselves to God in the same way that he has offered himself to us on the Cross.


Let us take out our toolkit and disassemble the word ‘time’. What do we find? Four letters: t – i – m – e. That is, ‘time’ is made up of a cross – the letter t, which we saw earlier resembles the letter l with a line drawn through it – and the words ‘I’ and ‘me’. So it seems the first thing about time is crucifying the self, our egotistical impulses. This is the meaning of the Greek word for ‘love’, agape – we overcome our own will, our own selfish inclinations, in order to love the other, however different he or she may be, because God has already loved that person and because, by loving them, we will learn to discern what it is in them that makes them worthy of God’s love and gives them value, something we may not have been able to see when our spiritual sight was obfuscated by our own concerns and ambitions. We have already seen that when we draw a line through the self and form a cross, the letter t, we also form a plus-sign, +: in laying down our life for the other, we find our true self, the one that is meant to live, the one that exists in the white space of the board and is not conditioned by the tenses (I am born, I live, I die).


But we can go further than this, because, by changing one of the vowels (remember that y corresponds to i) and applying the phonetic pairs d-t and m-n, we see that TIME is connected to two words: MEET and DENY. That is, our sole purpose in this life is to turn towards God or to turn away from him, to embrace him or to reject him, to enter into the personal relationship that is represented by the Holy Trinity or to turn in on ourselves and enter into a relationship that is inward-looking and ultimately futile. We can see a similarly stark choice in the word LIVE, because LIVE in reverse reads EVIL, but if we take the ego in LIVE – the letter I – treat it as a number (1) and count down, we get LOVE. So in LIVE we are faced with a similar choice: to do EVIL or to LOVE the other (God and our neighbour – they are one).


If we take steps in the alphabet, we will see that TIME is connected to LIVE (l-m, t-v), but it is also connected to DIE if we apply the phonetic pair d-t and take away the letter m. Again, the stark choice between allowing space for God in our lives or leaving him outside. The connection TIME-LIVE involves keeping the letter m, a letter which, when upended, resembles the number 3 (the Holy Trinity). If we keep the number 3, we live.


It is certainly true that from the point of view of this world our lives have a beginning and end, and time itself is no different. It came into existence and it will cease. We see this if we apply the phonetic pairs d-t and m-n, because ‘time’ is connected to ‘begin’ (here, the d has been reversed to make b, and we have added the letter g) and to ‘end’ (here, we have omitted the letter i and read the word in reverse).


Put simply, time is a space in which we are given the opportunity to grow. It cannot go on for ever, just as our childhood cannot go on for ever, because at some point we must become spiritually mature, realize our limits and seek another meaning that is not the simple gratification of our needs. Time is a teacher. It is like an enclosure in which the damage we can do may appear great, but it is limited. Take time away, and you have boundless space. Lift up the veil of time (I think those two words are connected), and you will reveal the twitching nose and arching whiskers of the white rabbit of eternity beneath, the one we have been grasping at, the one we knew was there all along, if only we could believe it. TIME, in short, is a MYTH (same three letters, addition of e/h), a story, the story we tell our children when we put them to bed, the story we read to ourselves as we get older. It is a myth, but we take it to be reality, and the one who is – namely, God – we take to be a myth.


There is another word connected to TIME, and that word is SIN (alphabetical pair s-t, phonetic pair m-n, addition of e). Time is an opportunity to sin – only God is without sin – but by sinning we learn from our mistakes and reach spiritual maturity. We take the opportunity to MEET God rather than to DENY him. We learn to LOVE rather than to do EVIL. We become a child of God – a SON – by taking the I in SIN and counting down, as we did before, from I to O.


We have learned to place too much emphasis on our reason, to make an effort and to expect the corresponding reward for our exertions, for everything to have a price (though how that price is fixed in this world is questionable, to say the least). Salvation, however, will not come to us through our own intellectual acceptance of God, our keeping our side of the bargain. It will not come to us through MERIT (a word that contains TIME). It will come to us when we open ourselves to the grace of God and participate in his energies, when we align our will to his.


We do not get to heaven by our own efforts, just as we cannot know God through an act of our own will. We can strain as hard as we like, bang our heads against a brick wall. God has to reveal himself to us. The ball is in the other’s court, I’m afraid. But we can invite this revelation, this participation in his energies, by showing mercy. MERCY is the counterpoint to MERIT – they are only a letter apart, but the connection is hidden so it won’t be immediately visible. The letter c is pronounced s, s-t is a jump in the alphabet, y corresponds to i. MERCY-MERIT. Two ways of viewing the world. MERIT: you get what you deserve (this is patently untrue). MERCY: we humble ourselves and – at this point, yes – by an act of will we do violence to ourselves and force ourselves to embrace our enemy, to understand him, to say a good word to him on the road instead of hurling abuse.


TIME, like a screen, a partition, a stage set, a loose thread, is whisked away, the board rubber comes out and eliminates the black line in time for the next lesson, the bell goes, people’s attention turns to other things, what lesson is next, what the other person thinks, and ETERNITY is revealed.


The letter y corresponds to i. Phonetic pair m-n. ETERNITY has TIME in it, just as the whiteboard showed us.


And the word ‘eternal’ – if we juggle the letters around, rotate or extend the letters (phonetic pair m-n, physical pairs f-t and i-l) – spells ‘I am free’.


Jonathan Dunne,