Elenkova Reviewed

A collection that got slightly lost when it was published by Tebot Bach in 2013, Crookedness by Tsvetanka Elenkova, was happily recovered by Tony Frazer at Shearsman Books in 2019, in a smaller, more manageable edition. This is the second collection by Tsvetanka Elenkova, a poet on a European scale, that I have translated and is soon to be followed by Magnification Forty, which received a PEN Translates award.

It is so rare for a book of foreign poetry to be translated into English, and so little attention is paid to them, that one should be grateful when such a book of quality is reviewed in a magazine of the stature of The Poetry Review, the mouthpiece of the UK Poetry Society. I only just found out that Crookedness received such attention from the Singaporean poet Theophilus Kwek (wonderful name!). Well, I have never had my translation described as “clean, almost earnest” before. Here is the part of the review that deals with Elenkova’s book:

Two other recent translations deal with quieter forms of disappearance and loss. Unlike Zurita, whose canvas is the oceans and seas, Bulgarian poet Tsvetanka Elenkova chooses to dwell on the fine print of the physical world: the echo from a conch, or the wind heard “through the open throat” of a bottle. These images, from her opening poem (‘Pain’), give tender shape to what is otherwise hollow or invisible: “a single slight hiss / as of a punctured bicycle tyre”, or “pain from the emptied body”. She returns in later poems to chart the psychological experience of pain; the death of a friend, for instance, is compared with sitting “under the crown of a broad-leaved tree / which is an upturned conifer […] to watch the coming storm” (‘Hourglass’). The precision of Elenkova’s images shines through (and even transcends) the clean, almost earnest diction of Jonathan Dunne’s translation.

In a new introduction, Fiona Sampson describes Elenkova as a mystic of our times, her “lucid” observations bringing to light “a poetic world […] of religious mystery, mortality, love and desire”. Though Crookedness borrows liberally from tradition, the poet is quick to disclaim immediate parallels with Orthodox iconography: “Your body has nothing in common / with the cross”, she writes (and adds – “or Leonardo / or the sun god”, for good measure). What is at work here is not the stained-glass imagery of the church, but something plainer and still more sensuous: “an interweaving (of the ankles) / an open / eight / a curve (of the wrists)” (‘This Is It’). Such earthy and abundant beauty carries with it always the hard edge of impermanence, unless, of course, it is transformed into poetry. As one of the briefest poems in the collection’s second segment (‘Pansies after Rain’) puts it, “reflection is capture” (emphasis mine).

Crookedness actually contains one of my favourite poems by Elenkova (together with ‘The Time We Are Together’ from The Seventh Gesture, my absolute favourite, and ‘The Train’, which appeared in an issue of The Massachusetts Review and in their special sixtieth-anniversary issue And There Will Be Singing). It’s the poem that opens the book, ‘Pain’:


When you hold a bottle and hear the wind
through the open throat
when you put a conch to your ear
the echo pain from the emptied body
and when a single slight hiss
as of a punctured bicycle tyre
finally fills the empty space
like a newborn’s wail
Take it carefully in your arms
and give it or don’t to its mother
but take it carefully
it’s so fragile all cartilage
Give it water or leave it on the shelf
by your head

Theological English (0): The Line

In this first video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the line, which represents the ego in English (I) and the number 1. Countable nouns are nouns that can have a line drawn around them – a book, a car, a tree. They are accompanied by the indefinite article, a/an. When God made man, he in effect made a countable noun – he drew a line around us and gave us free will. We do the same with products of the earth – we draw a line around them in the form of packaging – but we do this not to give things free will, but to trade in them, to sell them to each other. We appropriate for ourselves the role of author (things begin with us), when in fact we are translators (things pass through us).

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.


I don’t think we’re particularly interested in the other person’s viewpoint. We like to listen to our own voice, to something that is familiar. If we had a real interest in the other person’s viewpoint, we would be avid readers of foreign literature in translation, but we’re not. Translated titles are supposed to make up only 3% of new publications in the U.S., according to the blog Three Percent. Attention paid to foreign titles in mainstream media is scarce. And translators put themselves at great risk in order to devote themselves to crossing that line between one culture and another.

It is an irony because the translator, who believes in intercultural understanding, is more or less forced to live on the land that separates cultures, in no man’s land. The translator is no man. They don’t exist. They don’t receive a salary, paid holidays, a pension. If they are paid (and there is often an expectation that they won’t be), they are often paid after the project is complete, begging the question, “How do they live while they are working?”

We prefer to hear our own voice and to believe that we are right. After all, what’s the alternative? The idea of believing that we are not right would so undermine us that we reject it out of hand. It cannot be. It is impossible. For us to hold on to our sanity, we have to be right.

There is now a crisis between Ukraine and Russia, a crisis that has been a long time in the making. Conflicts arise when people (because I don’t think anybody else does this) draw lines. When you draw a line, implying that you are an author, that something starts or ends with you (a false premise, we are translators, things pass through us), then you rely on two words to maintain the status quo (as you have established it): LAW and WAR. It is curious that these two words are obviously connected by the phonetic pair (pair of consonants pronounced in the same part of the mouth) l-r. The trouble is people don’t know their phonetic pairs, so they don’t see this.

I could give more examples. The reverse of LIVE is EVIL, one path open to us in this life – to do evil. But if we take the ego, “I” in English, and remove it from LIVE (that is, if we count down from “I” to “O”, from 1 to 0), we get LOVE, the other path open to us in this life. Live: evil-love. I study these connections in my book Seven Brief Lessons on Language.

The line that is the ego in English (I) is the same line that separates countries, properties, rich and poor, whatever social divide you care to think about. And where there is a line, there is conflict. Which is why the translator works so hard to engage with the other (OTHER, by the way, is connected to LOVE and THEOS), to cross that line, even though they know they cannot make a living.

I wrote an article at the time of the outbreak of the Covid pandemic about the connection between where the pandemic is said to have started, WUHAN, and the word HUMAN (turn the w upside down and rearrange the letters). Also, between COVID and VOICE (rearrange the letters and take a step in the alphabet, d-e). Human voice. Was Covid, a terrible disease causing pain and suffering in the world, meant somehow to bring us to our senses, to make us pay more attention to the vulnerable, to make us work together in the face of a common enemy? I don’t know, but the connections are there.

Now, this morning, looking at the word UKRAINE on my phone, I suddenly realized there was a very clear connection. It involves the similarity between a capital I and a lower case l. It can then be seen that UKRAINE with the letters rearranged spells NUCLEAR (c and k have the same pronunciation).

There is meaning in words, even though we don’t usually (choose to) see it. There is meaning in words, but, like all things spiritual, it is slightly hidden: a step in the alphabet (d-e), a phonetic pair (l-r), pairs of letters that are similar (i-l, m-w)… You just have to turn a corner.

Why is it that the word NUCLEAR can be found in UKRAINE? Is this a reference to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that affected not just Ukraine, but other countries as well? I certainly wouldn’t want to think that the current crisis between Ukraine and Russia could lead to nuclear war. Such an outcome would be unthinkable.

Another clear connection with UKRAINE relates to another phonetic pair: g-k. If we apply the phonetic pair g-k to the word UKRAINE, we will see that in the middle of the country is GRAIN. Two dangers have been highlighted during the conflict in Ukraine: the danger of damage to nuclear plants, and the danger to world food supplies if grain is not exported. It is interesting that both these words are found in the name of the country. And if we take away GRAIN, we are left with two letters: U-E, which could be a reference to the European Union (EU).

We need to consider the other. We need to hear the human voice, the voice of the other. And that involves not judging people on the basis of our own criteria and actually trying to get to know them, to understand their motives. That hasn’t happened very much between Ukraine, Russia and the West. Perhaps now would be a good time to start. To see what we have in common instead of spitting at each other over the fence. And to hire a translator who will enable us to hear what the other is saying.

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


We have been placed on this earth, we’re not really sure how, except to say that we emerged from our mother’s womb after a gestation period of nine months. When we emerged, having survived in water, we took a breath of fresh air and thus became suitable for the environment we now inhabit. Once we had breathed in, we could breathe out and we joined all the other creatures in translating the environment around us.

It is important that we understand this concept of translating the environment around us. We generally look down on translation. It is second best to the original. It contains mistakes and isn’t as good as reading the original text. The translator’s name is hidden, eclipsed. When we need a translator, that person is essential, but we soon forget about them afterwards. Perhaps because the translator takes control away from us, we cannot access the original language ourselves and so we must rely on the other.

But translation goes further than this. The person who sits down and writes the original text is also translating – translating their experiences, the stories they have heard, the knowledge they have acquired, the words they have learned, their understanding of conversations. And they translate all of that on to a piece of paper. The way they write it one day will not be the same if they write it on another day, so the text is susceptible to their mood on that day and the environment around them (any disturbances). Creativity is a fragile thing.

And while they are doing this, they are translating the air by breathing, translating the food they had for breakfast that morning, translating (making sense of) any conversations they may overhear. Everything in this world is translation because nothing begins or ends with us.

The same might be said of our thoughts. Do they truly originate with us? Or are they placed in our minds to see what we will make of them, how we will react? I believe that the only thing that is ours, strictly speaking, is our reaction, how we choose to react – whether we choose in a given moment to show love or hatred. This also is translation because our reaction, our choice of words or deeds, is like choosing the words with which to represent a text in another language. Again, it will not be exactly the same on one day as the next.

Air passes through us. Food passes through us. Even life passes through us – the life we receive from our parents and pass on to our children, precisely because we are not the authors of life. Even trade, the desire to make money, involves things passing through our hands. They do not begin with us, we do not come up with the raw materials, more often than not it is the earth that does that. We change them in some way (a process that normally involves packaging) and pass them on, fixing a price as we do so.

But we would prefer to think of ourselves as authors. We lay claim. We say this piece of land, this object, this product is mine – because I paid for it, because I got here first. Once we draw the line and say something is mine, we open ourselves to conflict, because it is a false assumption. We don’t own the land we live on, someone else made it, and it wasn’t us. We don’t own what the earth produces, we certainly didn’t invent the seed that gave rise to the crop.

If you fail to recognize the other, then what the world contains, even other people, are fair game, you might think, a potential source of profit. But this is a corrupted way of thinking. We should use what is placed at our disposal for the good of others, not to make a profit.

This claiming ownership is really making ourselves out to be the source of what is around us, and only God can do that, the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus, chapter 3, and sent him to free the Israelites from bondage to the Egyptians. When Moses asks, naturally enough, on whose authority he is to do this, who he is to say has sent him, God replies, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ This is the name of the one who sent you.

In Greek, this phrase is translated ‘ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν’, literally ‘I am the being’, and the last part of this phrase – ‘ὁ ὤν’, ‘the being’ – is included in icons of Christ Pantocrator, since in Orthodox tradition it is the pre-incarnate Christ who appears in the Old Testament. The letters are written in capitals: O WN.

Not only do these three letters spell three words in English – own, won and now – not only do they spell a number if we rotate one of the letters – ONE – they make clear, as all of language does, who the author is, who is the one that can lay claim to ownership. The rest of us are just passing through.

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

The Fall

For centuries now, the Church has been taking a dim view of the Fall, the moment in human history when Adam and Eve, the first man and his helpmate, created from one of his ribs, were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s never quite clear what was so bad about eating of this fruit, only that God had forbidden it (although presumably he knew perfectly well what was going to happen, how the two partners would be tempted by the serpent – nothing bad will happen to you, it certainly looks tasty – and would eat anyway).

I say the moment in human history, although it could be said to be the moment that began human history, when the clock started ticking, because up until then the two partners enjoyed eternal life, whereas now, once expelled from Paradise, they would be subject to death and corruption. I always think we still enjoy eternal life, we are eternal still, it’s just that eternity is hidden behind time and we must pass through a gate to get there. But it doesn’t take away the fact our soul (and our body at the general resurrection) are already eternal. We die in order that I be.

Why does the Church take such a dim view of this moment? Yes, as human beings, we are subject to the passions. We get angry, we do unkind things, we are arrogant, lustful, greedy. We treat others as objects. We want things for ourselves, to acquire worldly wealth (I say worldly, because there is clearly no way we can take it with us when we die), property. We aspire to a comfortable life, everything just so, everything in its place, no demands on our attention, except to enjoy ourselves.

And yet it never quite works out like that. Things go wrong. There are provocations, lines that need to be crossed. The car or the dishwasher breaks down and has to be repaired. We get ill. Things are not perfect. They are not perfect in order to teach us a little humility.

But it could be said that the very quality that got us expelled from Paradise – our rebelliousness – is often what keeps us going, the refusal to give up, the insistence on our hopes and dreams, our resistance in the face of life’s disappointments. Rebelliousness isn’t entirely a bad quality.

I am a little tired of the Church’s interpretation of the Fall, to be honest. I would like to give another interpretation, which I go into in greater detail here. The Fall represents sexual knowledge, the serpent is the man’s penis and the apple is the woman’s breast. Adam and Eve acquired carnal knowledge (at the man’s instigation, note), and for this reason they had to be expelled from the Garden of Eden (whose letters rearranged spell danger of need). Because once you become sexually mature, the process of dying begins. In ‘The Consequences of Man’s Fall’, Metropolitan John Zizioulas puts it like this: ‘In beings with organs – especially mammals – the ageing cycle begins from the moment that the organism reaches the point of reproductive maturity.’

I don’t think God was being cruel. He wanted us to be co-creators, but we are not like him, we cannot create ex nihilo (out of nothing), we are translators, we use what already exists and make something out of it. We are not authors. Only God is this. So when we create another being, we cannot just mould a body out of clay and insert the breath of life into it. We are not the originators of life, as God is.

What we can do, however, is give of ourselves (as Adam did in the creation of Eve, when a rib was taken from him). And in this way we can have children. The difference is it is not a clone army, like in Star Wars, they are our very own children, with their own personalities and identities. And we can only have children with another person, we cannot produce children on our own.

The alternative would be a heaven containing only two people, Adam and Eve, or as many as God created from our ribs, without our conscious, active participation.

God gave us the opportunity to knowingly come together and fill the Church ourselves, one generation after another. That is exactly what we are doing. Filling the Church, giving life in the only way we can, through translation. The Fall – so long as it is followed by repentance, an acceptance of our need – may not turn out to be such a bad thing.

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

Word in Language (8): Economy

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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Word in Language (6): Chemistry

God is no one, just as he is nowhere. NO is the result of the progression from the name of God in Exodus 3:14 – AM – through the selfish I’M to OM if we apply the progression AIO that we studied in the last article. OM is famous as a mantra, but I actually understand it to refer to the Holy Trinity if we rotate the final letter, m, and make it into a number, 3: O3.


This is because God, who is often represented by the eternal figure O, is made up of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we then apply the phonetic pair m-n to OM, we get NO, the reverse of which, with the addition of final e, is ONE: NO ONE. This is why I can say that God is no one, just as he is NOWHERE, which we take to mean that he is nowhere to be seen, but which also has the meaning NOW HERE.


If God is no one, the translator is no man. He does not exist, he is ignored, he is paid little or late or not at all, his name is often omitted (sometimes deliberately) from the texts that he has translated lest we realize that what we are holding is not original. Yes, but everything we are holding is not original, only God is original, and we cannot hold him.


The translator does not believe in the line that separates people and things. So what does he do? He goes to live on this line that he does not believe in and, like a tireless spider working in the night, he stitches the line, criss-crossing it until it is healed.


The translator is no man. He lives in no man’s land, between the opposing forces who have laid claim to the land. He doesn’t lay claim to the land, he spends his time endeavouring to stop the fighting, he raises his arms, he puts himself in the firing line, just as Christ did on the Cross. Christ is God, but he also became a translator when he assumed our human nature. By living on the line, which is how time is represented, the translator acknowledges the line, yes, but his attention is placed on the space underneath, the whiteboard, which represents eternity and without which a timeline cannot be drawn. That is to say that time cannot exist without eternity because otherwise there is nowhere to draw it.


God is no one – O1 – but in chemistry the subscript 1 is not normally included, so we can say that God is O. We see this in the Greek word for ‘God’, which is theos. In modern Greek, the final s is often omitted, as it is in the vocative case, when we call someone’s name. If we omit the final s of theos, we get THEO and, if we introduce a space, just as we did with NOWHERE-NOW HERE, we get THE O. God is ‘the O’.


The word ‘God’ itself is made up of three Os: G O D. All three letters resemble a circle. And here is a remarkable discovery, because if we add the letter W to the beginning, as we did in the previous article with HOLE-WHOLE, we find the word WOOD. WOOD is made up of three Os, with the number 3 representing the Holy Trinity at the beginning. The relevance of WOOD to Christianity is obvious, I think.


In fact, in an earlier article, we talked of the connection between TREE and THREE (addition of breath or h) and how a simple child’s drawing of a tree will show a trunk and two branches, which can be likened to the Father (the trunk), the Son (begotten of the Father) and the Holy Spirit (which proceeds from the Father). In this analogy, we see the incorrectness of affirming in the Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as is done in Western Churches – this would make the Holy Spirit a sub-branch of the Son, which it is not, and would make the drawing a little lopsided. The Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, as is correctly stated in the Orthodox Creed. All three share the same essence (in this analogy, that is WOOD).


Church Fathers sought an adequate analogy for the Holy Trinity. St Spyridon, whose relics are in Corfu Town, at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 is said to have demonstrated how one can be three by taking a potsherd or a brick and squeezing it. As he did so, fire rose into the sky, water dripped down to the ground and only clay was left in his hand. Thus he demonstrated how the three constituent elements – fire, water, clay – could be one, and one could be three.


St Gregory the Theologian, at the end of his famous Fifth Theological Oration, likens the Trinity to an eye, a fountain and a river, but is ultimately dissatisfied with the analogy. St John of Damascus, in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (I.8), likens the Trinity to three suns ‘cleaving to each other without separation and giving out light mingled and conjoined into one’.


But I wonder if language has something to teach us about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is said to be three in one. Three in one.


How can there possibly be three in one? We will have a better idea if we write ‘three in ONE’. Do you see how the only number that ONE does not contain is itself: 1? It contains 0, 2 (on its back) and 3 (back to front), but it does not contain the number, 1, that relates to the ego. This is because, as I have already mentioned, the subscript 1 is omitted in chemistry.


In this analogy of the number ONE containing the three numbers 0, 2 and 3, God the Father is O(1) – or no one; God the Son is O2, the chemical formula for oxygen, what we breathe; and God the Holy Spirit is O3, the chemical formula for ozone, the layer that protects us from the Sun’s heat.


So the Holy Trinity is literally three in ONE: O(1), O2, O3.


We may also notice that these three letters – ONE – resemble the letters that appear in icons of Christ Pantocrator – O WN – the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM. We only have to rotate one letter.


This is normal, we should expect it, because Christ does nothing without the cooperation and agreement of the other two persons in the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit. They are one.


We may also notice the correspondence between SON and SUN. Christ is not only the Word that we speak, not only the oxygen that we breathe, he is the light that fills our world and enables us to live. You might think that I am making this up. One of the phonetic pairs – pairs of consonants that are pronounced in a similar way in the mouth – is b-p. There is a similar correlation between LAMB and LAMP. And if we observe that the c in Christ is pronounced k and apply the phonetic pairs g-k and l-r, we will find that LIGHT is in CHRIST – just as CHILD is (phonetic pair d-t) – with the addition of the letter s.


It is St John the Baptist who, seeing Christ approach, declares him to be the ‘Lamb of God’ (Jn 1:29). We have already seen how he is the confirmation of the Old Testament when he declares, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6), because WAY is I AM.


Here is further proof that Jesus Christ is who he declares himself to be, because if we take the name of God in Exodus – ‘I am’ – and join the two words together, we get ‘lamb’ (I have changed capital I into lower-case l, the two are practically identical; the final b of lamb is silent). The word ‘lamb’ is the logical continuation of ‘I am’.


Language is genetically encoded. It contains information about God, about human life, about the environment. It is a question of putting it under the microscope and obeying a simple set of rules (the seven phonetic pairs, changing letters according to their position in the alphabet or their appearance). That is all, but most people, if I talk about this, give me a nervous look and start to edge away. If I talked about etymology, the academic science of the evolution of words over time, they would nod sagely and feel themselves to be on safe ground. But etymology will teach us far less about God and the meaning of life than word connections. It is just a question of belief, because faith in Christ cleanses our spiritual vision. In Orthodoxy, great emphasis is placed on vision, as it is on deification, the process of becoming gods by grace through the acquisition of humility and the alignment of our will with God’s.


SON-SUN, LAMB-LAMP, CHRIST-LIGHT. Christ warms us by day and reflects his light at night. How so? If God the Son is O2 and God the Holy Spirit is O3, then we can see that they combine to make the MOON (2 on its back, 3 on its front). The Holy Spirit is often likened to breath. Christ breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples in John 20:22 – he is able to do this not because the Holy Spirit proceeds from him, it does not, but because he is the Word and breath forms part of speech. The letter for breath is H. If we combine this symbol for the Holy Spirit with the symbol for Christ, O2, we get H2O, the chemical formula for water. I would say that the MOON and water (H2O) are – literally – a combination of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Without God, we have no life – we will not breathe, eat or drink, language shows us this – but so often we choose to ignore him.


We seek fulfilment in other ways, often in earthly ways. We may not even acknowledge the spiritual side of things. And yet language has one last thing left to teach us – language, which is made up of breadcrumbs, fragments of the Word. We have come across six of the seven phonetic pairs, pairs of consonants pronounced in a similar way in the mouth, one of which is m-n. We have seen that it is common to add the letter h in word connections. The letter h represents breath. When we add h, we are literally inflating the word a little, like a balloon, so it will take flight.


If we apply the phonetic pair m-n, addition of h, to ONE, what word do we get?


HOME. The Trinity – ONE – takes us home. All that searching in different directions, and the answer was right before us. God is NO ONE. He is NOW HERE. All we have to do is open our mouths, shuffle our feet a little, bow our heads – and breathe.


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

Word in Language (4): Christ the Translator

But we prefer to own things. We prefer to draw a line and say ‘this is mine’. We are authors. And yet this is not true. Things pass through us, they do not begin with us. Air, food, words, experiences, even the gift of life, pass through us. We take what we need (meaning) and in the process we give meaning.


We are translators. Just as a translator allows the text to pass through him in order to translate it into another language, so the things of this world pass through us. But meaning is a two-way process. It is not only the text that passes through the translator, but the translator who passes through the text. He also is changed by the experience. He acquires meaning himself.


So it is with the things of this world – they pass through us, but we also pass through them. Money passes through our hands, for example, but we also pass through a house. Neither of them remains with us, we will leave them both behind. So neither truly belongs to us. What belongs to us, I think, is our reaction, how we use the things with which we are entrusted, how we react to situations. Our reaction – the destiny of our souls – is our belonging.


So is there nothing else we can truly be said to OWN? Well, I think there is, but it is not a thing, he is a person. And the process of meaning is the same.


If you have ever seen an icon of Christ Pantocrator, you might have noticed that inside the halo, in the beams of the Cross, are three letters: O WN. These are Greek letters and represent the Greek Septuagint translation of a verse from the Old Testament (perhaps the most important verse in the whole of the Old Testament, in my opinion): Exodus 3:14.


In Exodus 3:14, God meets Moses at the burning bush and replies to Moses’ question who he should say has sent him to the people of Israel to free them from the Egyptian overlords:


God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ (NRSV)


In Greek, this text reads:


καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν λέγων· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν. καὶ εἶπεν· οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς ᾿Ισραήλ· ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέ με πρὸς ὑμᾶς. (LXX)


I have underlined the names of God in the Greek text: ‘I am who I am’ (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν) and ‘I am’ (ὁ ὢν).


O WN (ὁ ὢν) literally means ‘the being’. It is sometimes translated ‘the One Who is’. In reference to this appearance of God before Moses, when he revealed to him his name, these three letters are included in icons of Christ, because according to Orthodox tradition all appearances of God in the Old Testament are by the Logos, the Word of God, that is Christ.


But this has meaning in English because those same three letters spell OWN. We could be said to ‘own’ Christ inasmuch as we form part of his body in the Church. He is ours. But ownership in Christian terms is not about exerting control, it is about expressing love. In the same way, he could be said to ‘own’ us. He gives himself to us in the Eucharist; we give ourselves to him unconditionally. It is a two-way process.


OWN in English spells another two words: WON and NOW. Christ’s is the victory; with his Resurrection he has conquered death. The end of the world has yet to come (this is for another reason), but the victory is assured, even if it seems at certain points in our lives that the opposite is true. NOW because Christ is with us now. How does the illuminating Gospel of Matthew end? ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ His presence with us is permanent.


This, for me, is the meaning of ownership: to own Christ and to be owned by him. It is not to fight over portions of the earth. It is not to draw lines (supine egos) on the ground, around our property (which one day will not be ours). It is to give ourselves unconditionally. The giving the other way round (by Christ) has already been done, and that is the meaning of time: to turn meaning into a two-way process, to make it mutual.


The destiny of our souls depends on our reaction, our acceptance or not of Christ, our clinging to the letter of the law or its spirit, its deeper meaning, its greater good. This is ownership: to react with love or anger, to claim for ourselves or for the other, to cling to self-preservation (a futile task) or to lose our life in order to find it. This is why, having found the pearl, the merchant went and sold all that he had in order to buy it.


But there is something else – something that points to Christ as the Messiah, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophets. The name of God in Exodus 3:14 is translated into English as ‘I am’. I think the whole of existence is contained in these three letters. First of all, we should note that ‘am’ contains the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega (AW, do not worry that the m has been turned upside down). This name is found for the first time in Revelation 1:8:


‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (NRSV)


The expression ‘Alpha and Omega’ is contained in the verb ‘am’ – God could have just said ‘am’, and it would have been sufficient.


Also interesting is the fact that ‘am’ in reverse gives us the Sanskrit word ma, which means ‘create’. This is because God is the Creator, it is with him that things begin (not with us).


And finally the name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 and reproduced in icons of Christ, ‘I am’, gives us two other words in English. The first of these is ‘law’. I think you can see this – a capital I and a lower-case l are practically identical; again, I have turned the m upside down (this is very common in language). ‘Law’ refers to the Old Testament – the law that Moses brought down from Mt Sinai on the tablets, the Ten Commandments, about worshipping the Lord your God and honouring your father and mother.


But this law is only a preparation for the law in person, that is Jesus Christ. Of itself, it does not give life, it does not conquer death – only Christ can do this.


And we see this when we make the progression from ‘I am’ to ‘law’ to another word in English: ‘way’ (y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i).


In John 14:6, Christ says to Thomas:


I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (NRSV)


Note how both ‘way’ and ‘Alpha and Omega’ are preceded by the pronoun and verb ‘I am’. It is as if Christ is extrapolating them, is drawing out their meaning. He is, in effect, teaching us to be translators.


Christ came down to earth for two reasons: one is to translate for us the meaning of life, and he does this using Braille (writing for the spiritually blind, that is us). His form of BRAILLE is the PARABLE (another phonetic pair is b-p).


The other reason has to do with the second part of that verse from the Gospel of John, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me’, because not only did Christ come to translate for us the meaning of life (which is to believe in him), he also assumed our human nature (we are translators) so that he could later translate us into eternal life. You cannot do this if you are only an author. You must be a translator as well (the two natures of Christ, as defined at the Council of Chalcedon).


At the end of our lives, when we reach the end of our translation, of acquiring and giving meaning, we will become the word that best defines us, and that word will be spoken by Christ into eternal life. He will translate us. This is why translation is not inferior, it is not second-rate, it is not dog-eared like a book from the library, it is the essence of human life.


The fact that we see translation in a negative way is a reflection on ourselves, not on translation. Our wish to be authors – superior, first-rate and brand-new – reflects our desire to hold on to our lives at all costs. It responds to the instinct of self-preservation. But in the end we will be required to let the Word pass through us – and to pass through him – if we want to inherit eternal life.


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