Theological English (3): The Alphabet

In this fourth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the twenty-six letters that make up the Latin alphabet as it is used in English – h, five vowels, three semi-vowels, fourteen consonants, and three “redundant” letters (c, q and x) – and sees how these letters are used to represent the three elements of speech which are also the three elements of creation: breath, water, and flesh.

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.

Video

Theological English (2): The Holy Trinity

In this third video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at another Christian paradox, the concept of the Holy Trinity – God as “three in one”. How is it possible for God to be three and one? Surely he is one or the other. The answer can be found in language.

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.

ONE

It is remarkable that the number 1 is a straight line. We teach our children to count from the number 1 upwards, and when we learn a foreign language, we do the same. But the line separates, it forms a barrier. It is also unstable. A wall can come crashing down, a tower topples.

What is also remarkable is that the ego in English – I – is also a straight line and very similar in appearance to the number 1. So when we teach our children to count from 1 upwards, we are in effect teaching them to start with the ego. This conditions all our thinking. We start with ourselves, instead of starting with the other.

We should actually start with the number 0. 0 stands for the Other. It also stands for God, since 0 represents infinity and is unending (it goes round and round). We might even see that the word G O D is made up of three zeros, one after the other, and this will be important when it comes to understanding the word ONE.

Christianity is full of paradox. Christ says, for example, that we must lose our life in order to find it. This is paradoxical – how can you possibly lose your life and find it? I have discussed this in another article. Another paradox is that the first will be last, and the last first. Again, it seems paradoxical, and I have talked about this paradox here.

Well, one of the biggest paradoxes in Christianity is the concept of the Holy Trinity – that God is three in one. How can that be? Surely, he is either three or one. How can he be both?

Again, language will give us the answer, because language contains information about the meaning of life, about God, ourselves, existence, the world, the creation, the Fall, etc.

It will be easier to understand if we write it in the following way: three in ONE. The Holy Trinity is made up of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Three persons, but one essence. The Son is begotten of the Father before all ages. The Spirit proceeds from the Father (and not from the Son, as is recited in the Creed in Western Churches, a later addition).

Three in ONE. Three distinct persons, but one essence. Let us imagine that God the Father is 1, God the Son is 2 and God the Holy Spirit is 3.

We will add these numbers as subscripts to the number 0 or O. So God the Father is O1, which means that he is ‘no one’. The only thing here is that in chemistry the subscript 1 is not normally written down, so we would say simply that God the Father is O.

There is confirmation for this in the Greek language, where the word for ‘God’ is theos. If we omit the final s (as happens in the vocative and is very common in spoken Greek), this can be read the O.

God the Son is O2, which happens to be the chemical formula for oxygen (the air we breathe). And God the Holy Spirit is O3, the chemical formula for ozone, the protective layer that surrounds the planet on which we live.

Now all this information – God the Father as O, God the Son as O2 and God the Holy Spirit as O3 – can be found in the number ONE, because the one number that the number ONE does not contain is itself (1). ONE contains the numbers O, 2 (on its side) and 3 (back to front). It does not contain 1 because in chemistry the subscript 1 is not written down and because there is no selfish impulse in God, there is only love.

Three in ONE. It turns out that this concept of the Holy Trinity is literally true. That is the information about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is contained in the word itself.

There are other connections. For example, if we combine the Son (O2) and the Holy Spirit (O3), we find that they are present in MOON (the 2 is on its side again, the 3 is on its front). This reminds us of the obvious similarity in sound between Son and Sun, so it would seem that God is the air we breathe, he is the light we see by during the day and he is the reflection of that light in the night, so that we even see in the darkness.

And if we remember that the word for ‘Spirit’ in Greek is pneuma – that is ‘wind’ – and that the letter that represents breath in the alphabet is h, then if we combine the Son (O2) and the Holy Spirit (this time written as H), we find that they make up the chemical formula for water: H2O. This means that we drink God as well.

God is all around us. He is ‘everywhere present’. He is even in the language we speak. Since we are translators, there is nothing in this world that is of our own making. All the materials we use were here when we arrived – we transform them into something else, we translate them, just as we translate the air we breathe and the food we eat.

But we have to open our eyes to see him. Eye sounds the same as I. We breathe life into the line and make a circle: O. We open our spiritual eye. When we teach our children to count from 1, we are making life much more difficult for them, because once you start counting from 1, there is no end, you will never reach the answer, when all you had to do was count down to 0.

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

Word in Language (23): English Course (2)

In the first two parts of this short course in English, we have seen how word connections – connections that reveal the hidden meaning inside the words we use every day – can be made by keeping the letters in the same order, by rearranging the letters, by replacing the vowels i and u with the corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, by using the fact that the letter c can be pronounced either k or s, by making changes to the vowels according to where they are pronounced in the mouth (for example, a-e, e-i) and by making changes to the consonants, again according to where they are pronounced in the mouth (the seven phonetic pairs – especially d-t and l-r – and b-v-w).

We are now going to look at changes made to letters according to their position in the alphabet and according to their appearance. In the fourth and last part, we will look at the addition of letters. The important thing to remember is that we must continue to apply the rules we have learned – word connections often involve several changes, not just one, so we may have to change a vowel and take a step in the alphabet, or change a consonant and a letter according to its appearance. The most important changes are those made to the consonants – the seven phonetic pairs and b-v-w. Then come the changes made to letters according to the alphabet and their appearance. Vowels flow, they change easily (in some languages they are not even written down). We may need to double a letter. And we may understand i-j/y, u-w and c-k/s to be interchangeable.

Before we start looking at the alphabet and appearance, here are the words we are going to connect. I have put the changes you need to make in brackets, so have a go at making the word connections. You will need to shuffle the letters and to apply some of the rules we have already studied. There are ten words according to the alphabet:

BIRTH   (b-c)   COG   (c-d)   WORLD   (d-e)

LEFT   (f-g-h)   WICKED   (k-l)   LOSE   (l-m, r-s)   MUTUAL   (l-n)

GRAIN   (n-p-s)   ERROR   (r-s)   SHARE   (s-t)

and ten words according to appearance (which are written lowercase to make it easier to see the resemblance between the letters):

birth   (b-d)   cross (c-e)   free (f-t)

faith   hide   mouth   (h-n)   I’m sane (i-l)

alone   (l-t)   north   (n-u)   devil   (v-y)

The English alphabet has twenty-six letters. We have already looked at the letters that make up the alphabet. When we change letters according to their position in the alphabet, we take a step forwards or backwards, we turn the dial. It is as if the letters were on reels in a slot machine and they spin. We rotate them, sometimes one notch, sometimes more than one. We saw the examples of GOD and EGO (d-e), FATHER and GATHER (f-g), OTHER and THEOS (r-s). They are like the dates that appear in the little window of a watch. We may make several changes at once: JERUSALEM-JESUS AMEN (l-m, m-n, r-s). We may go in alternate directions, one letter forwards, the other back: MOTHER-HER SON (m-n, s-t). But it is clear to me that the letters in the alphabet are ordered in this way for a reason.

So if we apply the alphabetical pair b-c, we will find that BIRTH gives CHILD (also the phonetic pairs d-t, l-r). And this is true. Birth does give a child. I think of birth as an equation: 1 + 1 = 1. Two bodies come together to make one body. Three people in one. It’s quite a good analogy for the Holy Trinity, for how three can be one. If we apply the phonetic pair b-v-w and add final e, we will see that BIRTH is connected to THRIVE and WRITHE. It is also connected to BRIDE and TRIBE. The first three letters in reverse spell RIB, which is how the first woman was born. And RIB gives RIP (phonetic pair b-p) – the ability to give birth leads to our physical death, but it also gives us the opportunity to have children and to form the body of the Church.

If we apply the alphabetical pair c-d, we find that COG gives GOD. We are cogs in a machine designed by the Creator. Each one of us has his or her particular function. When we work together, everything goes smoothly. When we fight or think only of our own needs, the machine starts to malfunction. What is most remarkable for me, however, is how the Son of God, through whom the world was created – who was outside the world, therefore, as well as in it – deigned to become a cog in that machine so that we could find the way to salvation. God became a cog. He entered his own machine in order to fix it.

WORLD is connected to LOWER. This world is lower than heaven. According to the celestial hierarchy, there are another nine levels above us, rising to God and ending with the seraphim and the cherubim. So it is appropriate that WORLD is LOWER. This reminds me of another two word connections: HEATHEN-NETHER and HEAVEN-NEVER (you have to read the words in reverse). If we are pagan and do not believe in God, but only in the things of this world, we remain here below. Heaven is a kind of Never Never Land, outside time. There is a paradox here – the place it seems we are never going to reach lasts for ever.

We have seen other examples of paradox in Christianity. Opposites are connected. For example, LEFT and RIGHT (take two steps in the alphabet, f-g-h, change the vowel and apply the phonetic pair l-r). Everything is contained in God. Things that seem disconnected are not so far apart.

Remember the connections DIFFER-DEVIL and FATHER-GATHER? It is the devil who would make us differ, who would lead us into STRIFE (the contest to be FIRST). This is why GOD is GOOD and the DEVIL is EVIL (their etymological roots are different, but the words are practically the same). DEVIL is also connected to WICKED by the phonetic pair v-w and the alphabetical pair k-l (the c in wicked is just reinforcing the k).

And here’s another paradox. LOSE gives MORE (alphabetical pairs l-m, r-s). Christ enjoins us to lose our life for his sake, and we have seen how by denying the self and forming a cross – † (the I with a line drawn through it) – we also make a plus-sign. This is how we lose our life in order to find it.

MUTUAL gives AUTUMN. I find this a beautiful connection, but I cannot say quite why. There is something borrowed in autumn, something we must give back, a change taking place between the warmth of summer and the cold of winter. In autumn, the weather can be lovely, a kind of bonus summer – we call it an Indian summer. I have climbed to the Rila Lakes in Bulgaria with my wife and son in November! Autumn is like an extension that God offers us for free. It is also the season for harvesting, when we gather crops and fruit.

Crops are stored in the form of grain. We use GRAIN to make bread. We use the GRAPE to make wine (I have taken two steps in the alphabet, n-p, and changed the vowel, e-i). Bread and wine are the elements of the Eucharist, which are translated into the body and blood of Christ. How are they translated? By the descent of the Holy Spirit, by GRACE (another two steps in the alphabet, p-s; c corresponds to s). GRAIN-GRAPE-GRACE, the ‘materials’ we need to celebrate the Eucharist.

ERROR is connected to EROS (r-s). There is no doubt that eros can be used in error when it seeks to take pleasure at the cost of the other. This is one of the devil’s main strategies – to convince us that EXCESS in SEX, or alcohol, or drugs, is an affirmation of the self, an assertion of freedom, an act of independence, when all it is doing is destroying the self we are purporting to raise on a pedestal by linking it to the passions, by enslaving it, in short. Eros is when two people come together, openly, knowingly, in full possession of their faculties, and commit to each other. It is a private affair, in which God is present.

In SHARE we find HEART (s-t). We open ourselves to the other, share with them what we have. This is why both these words have HEAR in common. We hear the voice of the other, and not just our own selfish demands.

Let us turn now to word connections made by changing letters according to their appearance. For these connections, it is better to write the letters lowercase so their resemblance becomes more obvious. Letters can be turned upside down: f-t, m-w, n-u. Back to front: b-d. They can be continued: c-e, h-n, i-l, n-r, v-y. They can be crossed out: l-t. We have seen the examples ‘breath’ and ‘thread’ (b-d, breath is the thread that links birth and death), ‘hope’ and ‘open’ (h-n, hope keeps us open), ‘venom’ and ‘money’ (v-y, money acts as a poison).

We now find that ‘birth’ gives rise to a ‘third’ person (b-d). We have seen this is the case in the equation 1 + 1 = 1.

The word ‘cross’ can be likened to ‘eros’. This is not eros in error. This is the true meaning of eros, in which we are fully open, fully vulnerable before the other. Is there any way of being more open in a human body than on the cross, with your hands and feet nailed in place? Is this not what God asks of us, to become increasingly vulnerable, which paradoxically constitutes an ascent to heaven (Never Never Land). The answers (the certainties) seem to evaporate. They leave only one. That God is love. It is that LOVE that will make us WHOLE.

We want to be free and, in order to achieve this, we travel in all directions, we seek forms of entertainment, things that will occupy our attention, distract us from the futility of death, we search for ways to give our life meaning, to justify our existence. We think that ‘free’ means asserting our own will. This forms the basis of our modern society – the ability to do what we like (within reason). But freedom is not to do what we like, to go wherever we want. Freedom is to remain in one place. To go through the pain. To endure. And what better example of ‘free’ than a ‘tree’, which is rooted to the spot? We may pollute it, surround it with concrete, cut it down, but still it continues to give fruit, shade, warmth, oxygen! You may say that it has no choice, but I think that is exactly the point. It is our choice that kills us. Freedom is submission to God. Freedom is to bow our heads in worship. To reach down to the ground, so that God will lift us. This is why language – and life – are so paradoxical. The answers are not where we would find them. They are somewhere else (and not generally in our brains).

But ‘faith’ can grow ‘faint’ (h-n). Sometimes the journey seems long, unending, without purpose. This is where we must dig in and stay in one place. STAY provides YEAST (addition of e). STRAY doesn’t. Even the DEVOUT can DOUBT (b-v, addition of e). But when the wind blows and life seems most pointless, when we are at our most vulnerable (and the devil chooses that precise moment to attack us), we must stand firm. Like the tree.

Then we will find God. In the eye of the storm. The word ‘hide’ gives ‘find’ (h-n, alphabetical pair e-f). What is hidden comes to light. If we persevere. Word connections are often confirmed by other word connections. So it is with ‘hide’-‘find’. Compare SEEK and SEE (addition of k). Or SEARCH and REACH (addition of s). We find an answer, but it may not be immediate.

The ‘mouth’ is a ‘wound’ (two physical pairs, h-n and m-w, phonetic pair d-t). The mouth is like a wound in our body, a kind of gash. It can also wound others. As Christ says, ‘It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles’ (Mt 15:11). Note the connection between DEVIL and DEFILE (phonetic pair f-v).

Here is one of my favourite connections. The world thinks it is sane. It puts other people who don’t agree with its point of view in hospital. But ‘mental’ spells ‘I’m sane’ if we apply the alphabetical pair s-t and the physical pair i-l. There is a corresponding connection: ‘normal’ reads ‘I am wrong’ in reverse (physical pair i-l, addition of g and w). What is considered normal – making money at the expense of the other – may not be right. The one who is marginalized because of his opinions may actually be saner than we are. As a translator who lives on the margins, I begin to think that holding fast to your beliefs inevitably leads you to the margins; it is compromising on your beliefs that takes you to the centre, to a place by the fire. Christ was the most marginalized figure of them all (Mt 8:20, Mk 6:4).

But alone we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). We need the Cross to make sense of our existence. Cross out the I in ‘alone’ and you get ‘atone’, which is what Christ did: lead us back to the Father, the source of life.

We have seen how opposites are connected: LEFT and RIGHT. Let us take another two directions: ‘north’ and ‘south’ (n-u, alphabetical pair r-s). They also are connected. God is everywhere; there is nowhere he is not. This is why his name, Alpha and Omega, is left over in the other two points of the compass: EAST and WEST. These two words share the letters est. What is left over is AW (the Greek letter omega is written w).

But the ‘devil’ would have us stray. Abandon our post. Succumb to the difficulties. Seek amusement, satisfaction, elsewhere. The devil does not want us to withstand the pressure. He wants us to fracture. He wants us to ‘yield’ (v-y).

We have now seen all the ways of changing letters:

i-j/y, u-w, c-k/s;

– vowels (u-o-a-e-i);

– consonants (seven phonetic pairs, especially d-t and l-r, plus b-v-w);

– alphabet (d-e, f-g, r-s, s-t);

– appearance (b-d, h-n, i-l, m-w).

But not all words that are connected contain the same number of letters. We now come to the richest source of word connections – the addition of letters. We continue to apply the rules we have studied (phonetics, alphabet, appearance), but also add letters.

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

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.

 

AM – I’M – OM/O3/NO ONE

 

AMEN/MEAN/NAME – MINE – NEMO/OMEN

 

Now perhaps I have just made this all up. Well, not exactly. We also saw this same progression from A to I to O (AIO) in the question words WHAT – WHY – WHO.

 

‘What?’ is the question word of Creation: what is this creature? What will you call it?

 

‘Why?’ is the mantra of modern society, of the Fall: why should I do this? Why should I believe you? (‘Why?’ simply indicates a lack of obedience.)

 

The real and only valid question is ‘Who?’ (or ‘How?’, it makes no difference), and the answer is Jesus Christ. We see this progression in the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH, which corresponds to WHY, and in the Greek Septuagint translation of the name of God in Exodus 3:14, O WN (or O WH), found in icons of Christ Pantocrator, which spells WHO and HOW. We have made the progression, we have gone from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law, to the law in human form.

 

WHAT – WHY – WHO/HOW

 

Another example. The name of God in Exodus 3:14 is I AM, which gives us ‘law’ if we apply the physical pairs i-l and m-w (one letter is an extension or a reversal of the other). We associate LAW with the Old Testament, a set of rules which must be blindly followed, even to the detriment of people (for example, not healing on the Sabbath). This LAW, as we all know, can be a WALL. It protects us, but it also stands as an obstacle, especially when it is the letter of the law – and not the spirit – that is being applied.

 

If we make the progression from A to I, from LAW we get WILL: we apply our own will. We don’t obey the commandments to love the Lord our God with all our being and to love our neighbour as ourself. We seek our own will, we place ourselves – our profit, our comfort, our status – above the other and pursue our own self-interest. We have gone from the PROPHETS of the Old Testament to an obsession with PROFITS, as if the purpose of human life was solely to make money. It is not. The purpose of human life is to turn to God and, in God’s love, to show concern for our neighbour. That is to restore God’s image in us, to become properly human. We see many examples of this transformation in our everyday lives.

 

The Church Fathers, including St Sophrony, are always talking about God’s self-emptying (or kenotic) love. We imitate this love, taking ourselves – the I – out of the equation, opening our arms, making space for the other. We humble ourselves (St Sophrony goes so far as to speak of self-hatred). And what is the position of humility? It is LOW. We give space to the other, we ALLOW them. Instead of saying WILL, we say WON’T.

 

LAW/WALL – WILL – LOW/ALLOW/WON’T

 

Language is clearly indicating to us the path of repentance for those who wish to follow the example of Christ. I don’t know how to make it any clearer than this, but I will give just a few more examples. Note that all these examples of the progression AIO are between words. There are also examples of the same progression inside words, and we will see some of those in the next article.

 

Here is one of my favourite examples. In the Garden of Eden, there was no competition: DRAW. The ethos of our modern society, with its competition and counting up from the number 1, is to WIN. But Christ came along and told us to LOSE our life for his sake in order to gain it (Mt 10:39). Look at the vowels, and you will see the progression of repentance.

 

DRAW – WIN – LOSE

 

Losing, as we have seen, can be a frightening experience because it looks as if we are condemning ourselves to self-extinction, but I have likened this to the process of translation, where in order for a text to appear in another language, it must first disappear in the mind of the translator. This, for me, is what death is. It is a matter of having faith in the Translator.

 

Another favourite example. The SWAN may be taken as a symbol of purity. Certainly, it is very white. On the contrary, SWINE are a symbol of filth, the filth the Prodigal Son found himself literally rolling in when he was reduced to feeding his neighbour’s swine after he had wasted his father’s inheritance. What word will take us to the O of repentance? It is said that no one flake is ever the same. It falls out of the sky and alights on our nose. When we step in it, it soon becomes slush, or it can become frozen and cause us to slip, but newly fallen it transforms the landscape, turning it white again, forming a blanket under which Nature has a chance to rewind. I am talking about SNOW, of course.

 

SWAN – SWINE – SNOW

 

And one last example. The creature I most associate with the depths of history is WHALE, this creature that swims the world’s oceans and seems to have been doing so ever since the beginning of time. It is a creature I associate with the Creation, primordial and wise. What word do I get if I make the progression from A to I? WHILE, which corresponds to the process of time, time which has been spread out like a carpet for us to walk on while we make up our minds. And if I count down from the ego and make the progression from I to O? I become WHOLE, a combination of the Old Testament name of God, El, and O WH.

 

WHALE – WHILE – WHOLE

 

We already saw other examples of the progression from the I of the Fall to the O of redemption: LIVE-LOVE, SIN-SON and CHRIST-CROSS.

 

Language is urging us not to count up, not to make out that we are the owners of everything in existence. We are not. We are here to act as vehicles of love, to become sons, children of God, to lose our life for Christ’s sake on the Cross in order that we might receive everlasting joy in the resurrection.

 

Language confirms this. The Greek alphabet does the same, it provides the example. We may associate this with Eastern spirituality (for me, that is Orthodoxy) or with kenotic love and spontaneity, which doesn’t count the cost. There is another example, however, and I’m afraid it is provided by the Latin alphabet, which may be taken to signify a greater reliance on reason. Reason always counts the cost.

 

And that is because the Latin alphabet, instead of counting down from I to O, as the Greek alphabet does, counts up: from I to Z. This means that you have taken everything that was created, A, and used it for yourself.

 

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

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, 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 (5): WHOLE

We saw in the previous article that the letters O WN in icons of Christ Pantocrator refer to the verse Exodus 3:14, in which God meets Moses at the burning bush and reveals his name to him:

 

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)

 

O WN is the Greek Septuagint translation. It literally means ‘the being’, but in English translations of the Bible the name of God is rendered I AM.

 

I live in Bulgaria. Here, I have seen these Greek letters, O WN, written O WH, possibly because the letter N is written H in Cyrillic. These two letters are closely connected – in effect, the crossbar between the two parallel lines has simply been straightened, H could be a stylized version of N. If we make them lower case, h is simply an extension of n. We find this a lot in word connections – letters that have been extended: h-n, i-l, v-y.

 

But there is another reason for introducing the letter H, and that is because ‘the being’ in Greek has a rough breathing: ὁ ὢν. Do you see that little c atop the letter o (which is the definite article, ‘the’)? This little cup or cap atop the letter o represents the sound h in Greek (though it is ignored in modern Greek pronunciation, which I think is a shame). So actually the correct transcription would be HO WN.

 

Let us look at the alternative spelling, O WH. It is remarkable that as O WN spelled OWN, WON and NOW, so these three letters spell WHO and HOW.

 

The answer to both questions is Christ.

 

WHO? The answer is I AM (the English translation of the name of God in Exodus 3:14).

 

HOW? Christ gives us the answer to this question when in John 14:6 he says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ WAY is I AM written with the semi-vowel y (and the m turned upside down).

 

So the answer to life’s most important question is contained in language. WHO and HOW. In the act of creation (related in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis), the question word was WHAT: what is this creature, what will you call it? Today we are in the habit of selfishly asking WHY. WHY corresponds to the demands of the ego, that is I. In WHAT to WHY, there has been a progression from the first letter of the alphabet – A – to I.

 

But it is the wrong question. The right question, the only one that will give us an answer, is WHO. When we ask this question, we get the answer: I AM.

 

In this way, we make the progression from the letter of creation – A – to the ego – I – to O. We count down. The Greek alphabet makes this progression because the last letter in the Greek alphabet is Omega. The Latin alphabet, which we might equate with a more rationalistic, legalistic way of thinking, does not make this progression. It counts up – from I to Z (or 1 to 2).

 

If we write the correct progression AIO but replace the final letter o with the Greek way of writing Omega, w, that is AIW, we find we are back to I AM. AIO (AIW) is the progression of human life, but the Latin alphabet makes the fatal mistake of counting up: AIZ. Once you start counting up, there is no end. You will never reach an answer (and all the time the answer was right behind you, but you have to have humility, you have to turn around, you have to count down, from I to O).

 

AIZ is an act of hubris, AIO is an act of humility. But what do we teach our children in school? We teach them to count from 1, not 0 – starting with the ego, I, not with God, O.

 

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that this then affects our whole way of thinking: we see everything from our own point of view, in terms of ownership, instead of seeing things as God would have us see them, in terms of service. It is a real wrench to change our way of thinking, but this is what we should be teaching our children. To take a step back, not to affirm the ego (don’t worry, as soon as we lose ourselves, Christ has promised us we will find ourselves again, just as in the act of translation, where the text must disappear momentarily before it reappears in another language).

 

So we make the progression from WHY to WHO. This progression from I to O is found in other word connections. We make the progression from I to O in LIVE to LOVE, for example, instead of turning LIVE around, perverting it, and getting EVIL. That is the choice that is open to us in this life. Another example of the progression from I to O is SIN to SON. We stop sinning, or at least we try to, and become children of God. Even CHRIST made this progression when he submitted to death on the CROSS for our sakes. He counted down (look at the vowels), albeit he is God already, to show us the way. He deleted the I and turned it into a Cross, †, which is also a plus-sign, +. We saw this in the article Alpha and Omega.

 

But the answer only became available with the Incarnation of Christ, that is with the New Testament. The New Testament fulfils the Old. The Old is not enough – it contains the law and the prophets, that is it looks forward to the coming of Christ in human form. We know this because perhaps the most famous name of God in the Old Testament is the Tetragrammaton, YHWH (which is normally transcribed Yahweh). YHWH corresponds to the question word WHY. It has not made the progression to O WH (WHO).

 

Another name of God in the Old Testament is EL. We find this name at the end of the names of archangels, such as Michael and Gabriel. And what happens when we combine this name of God in the Old Testament, EL, with the name of Christ, O WH. What word do we get?

 

EL + O WH = WHOLE.

 

Christ makes us whole.

 

We like to think of ourselves as isolated beings, with parapets around us protecting us from unwanted intrusions, but the fact is we are peppered with holes. They are called pores. Actually they are what permits our skin to breathe, they are necessary.

 

But on a metaphysical level, we feel we have a hole when we are not fulfilled and we might try all kinds of ways, all kinds of substances, to block up this hole – we might seek comfort in drink, in drugs, in anything that takes our mind off the gaping hole at the centre of our lives.

 

Only the Holy Trinity will do this, will supply the answer. The Holy Trinity can be linked with the number 3. When we add the number 3 to HOLE (and rotate the number 3 so that it becomes the letter W), we get WHOLE. WHOLE is HOLE with God (3) at the beginning.

 

And once we have made that change, once we have repented, a miracle takes place. Because what word is contained in WHOLE that is not in HOLE?

 

Word connections sometimes involve the addition of a letter, most commonly h (the letter that represents breath). The letters v and w are closely connected – they are next to each other in the alphabet, and their pronunciation can be confused (think of Latin and German).

 

If we make these changes – v-w, addition of h – to WHOLE, what word do we get? LOVE.

 

WHOLE is a combination of EL and O WH – the New Testament fulfils the Old.

 

It is a combination of our HOLE and the Holy Trinity, represented by the number 3 (or the letter W).

 

And it contains LOVE, which is what happens when we take the ego, I, and count down to O.

 

All of this – all this message – is contained in language, in the words we use every day, but we have no idea. We study language horizontally, in terms of history. We don’t study language spiritually, apart from time. That is why I compare language to the environment. We look on them both two-dimensionally, as put there for our own use, but they reflect their Maker. The environment reflects the Creator, who created it in the first two chapters of Genesis, and gave us the creatures to translate (that is, to name). Language reflects the Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For all we know, the words we use are fragments of him – breadcrumbs.

 

But to perceive this, we need God at the centre of our lives, not ourselves. We need to open our spiritual Is so that they become Os.

 

O is simply an I that has been opened. An eye that sees for the first time, a progression we all need to make in this life.

 

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