I AM

There is a very important distinction in grammar between countable and uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns are generally concepts, things that have no boundaries, that cannot be circumscribed (a line cannot be drawn around them). Examples would be ‘love’ and ‘righteousness’. Countable nouns are nouns that can have a line drawn around them, they can be separated in our imagination from the rest of the environment. These nouns – and this is very important – are preceded by the indefinite article a or an. Examples would be ‘a house’, ‘a car’, ‘a person’. Compare the concept of ‘light’ with the countable noun ‘a light’. ‘Light’ is what fills the sky. ‘A light’ would be a single bulb – that is, it can have a line drawn around it and be contained.

When God created man in chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis, what he did was create a countable noun – a being separate from him (with its own free will). Of course, ‘man’ (here it is uncountable, it is not preceded by the indefinite article) is contained within God, he can never be quite separate, but ‘a man’ is allowed his own free will to make decisions, to believe in God or not, to love or hate, to react with kindness or anger…

The name that God reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, for me the most important verse in the Old Testament, is ‘I AM WHO I AM’ or simply ‘I AM’. Most of us would say ‘I am Jonathan’, ‘I am Rebecca’, etc. But God says only, ‘I AM’. There is no need for him to add a name because he is everything. Now in the study of speech sounds (called phonetics, the study of where speech sounds are produced in the mouth), the consonants, the hard sounds, so to speak, are divided into seven pairs, one of which is m-n. These two sounds are produced close to each other in the mouth.

If we apply this pair to the name of God without the personal pronoun, AM, we get an, the indefinite article. We can understand that from God came an individual human being, a countable noun. And if we put these two words one after the other, we get AM an – which is to say that God created a man.

The letter a is the first letter in the alphabet, it comes at the beginning, and so it is the letter I most associate with the act of creation (described in chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis). What was the name of the first man? Adam. If we turn Adam around, we see that he was made (I have allowed fluidity to the final vowel so that a becomes e).

Adam’s partner was Eve. Here the dominant vowel is e. We are progressing in the alphabet. Eve resembles another word very closely: eye. Now we are drawing close to the vowel i because eye and i sound the same.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they didn’t heed God’s command, they turned away from AM and said I’m, they made this progression from the vowel a to i.

The reverse of man is name, and that indeed was man’s purpose in Genesis, chapter 2, when God brought him the creatures to name (not to make). Name, with the letters rearranged, spells mean (by naming the creatures, he gave them meaning) and amen (Adam agreed with God’s plan for him). In the Fall, however, together with Eve, he took the fruit and said not amen anymore, but mine. Again, he replaced the vowel a with the vowel i.

We live now in the era of the i. This is the vowel that is used to represent the ego in English: I. In the system we have at the moment, it is every man for himself. Yes, we may receive some help, but basically every person has his or her own money, his or her own address, and has to struggle, more or less successfully, to make ends meet.

Where do we go now that we have succumbed to the wishes of the ego, of the I? Well, if we treat the ego (I) as a number (1), there are two ways we can go – upwards (2) or downwards (0). We can start to count (the objects around us, all of which are countable nouns – this is how we package and sell them) or we can make the much shorter journey to zero (a word, by the way, that is very close to eros).

The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use in English, counts up. The last letter of the Latin alphabet is Z, so in effect it counts from I to Z (1 to 2). This would reflect a more rational, self-reliant way of thinking, a view that treats the world as a way of making money.

As an aside here, I would like to ask why it is we teach our children the basic skills of writing and counting. Is it not in a sense to record what is in the world by writing down what there is and counting it? Are we not instilling this rationalistic way of thinking in our children from the very start (not to mention the huge emphasis placed in school on marks)?

The Greek alphabet, on the contrary, counts down. The last letter of the Greek alphabet is omega, which we can write O (it is a long o; there is also a short o in Greek, omicron). Greek is the language of the Gospel, so this would reflect a God-oriented way of thinking.

The other way of writing omega is W (this is how it is written lower case in Greek). If we put the three vowels I have talked about – the A of creation, the I of the Fall and the O of spiritual enlightenment/repentance/recognition – together, we get AIO. If we use the Greek way of writing omega, we get AIW.

Now what is very interesting is that this progression of spiritual growth that puts God (0) at the centre of the picture is found in the name of God himself: I AM. All I have to do is turn the W upside down. God is indicating to us the path that we should follow – we should turn to him.

What is the most famous aspect of the Old Testament, of the Jewish Bible? It is the law – Moses received the Ten Commandments when he met with God on Mt Sinai; the Jews are famous for their rules and regulations (Jesus is often criticized for healing on the Sabbath); and indeed Christ, in the New Testament, says that he has come to fulfil, not to abolish, the Old Testament law (‘not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished’, Matthew 5:18).

The word law contains the same progression, AIW, and is clearly related to the name of God in Exodus, I AM.

What of the New Testament then? Is there any indication in language to support the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (who he says he is)?

In John 14:6, Jesus says to Thomas, who has asked how they are to find the way to heaven, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

Here we find the third word that is related to the progression AIW: I AM – law – way. The letter y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i, they are often interchangeable. Note that Jesus says, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ We could rewrite this, ‘No I comes to the Father except through me.’ That is, each individual I must pass through him.

And so we find that the whole purpose of the spiritual journey in this life (AIW) is found in the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (I AM), is found in the law that Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfil, and is found in Jesus himself, who is the way.

There are many other confirmations in language that Jesus is the Son of God. Let us take the word Messiah, which is a combination of the name of God, I AM, and she (the Virgin Mary). I have written about these confirmations in my book Stones Of Ithaca.

But there is one other confirmation that Jesus is who he says he is that I would like to include here. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him and declares, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who will be sacrificed on the Cross to atone for our sins. He will take our sins upon his sinless self. He will take the blame for our sins (lamb and blame are clearly connected, as are words like balm and psalm).

But let us look a little more closely at the word lamb (the last letter of which is silent). Again we see the name of God, I AM, in the first three letters.

The whole of the Bible can be reduced schematically to: I AM – law – way/lamb. Here we find a spiritual map, so to speak, an indication of the road we must take, which passes not through counting the objects around us and dealing in them (often to the detriment of the environment and of our fellow man), but in placing God at the centre of our lives and acknowledging him.

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

Word in Language (1): Countable and Uncountable Nouns

The basic unit of language is a noun. Nouns refer to people or things – nurse, firefighter, book, table. They may also be concepts, things that we cannot visualize, but that affect our behaviour – right, wrong, inflation, jealousy.

 

This difference between nouns referring to people and things that we can see and nouns referring to concepts we can only attempt to describe is very important. When it’s someone or something that I can point out and say, ‘That is a nurse,’ or, ‘That is a book,’ then the noun is preceded by the indefinite article a or an – a nurse, a book. This is because the person or thing exists in the world around me, I can draw the noun or indicate it with my finger, it is in front of me. When it’s a concept, we have no way of pointing it out, of saying, ‘There it is!’ And for that reason what each of us understands by the concept may be different. Concepts are not preceded by the indefinite article, unless we are talking about a specific example. Right and wrong are concepts. A right or a wrong would be a specific example that was done to me on a particular occasion (in a way, I am beginning to visualize the concept and to point it out, which is why I use the article).

 

I am interested here in nouns that we can visualize – people and things – because the fact that I can visualize the noun, I can see it with my own two eyes, means it is somehow separate from me, or at least I consider it to be somehow separate. If I refer to a book, for example, it is a book on the shelf or a book on the table. I am standing in the room and pointing to it. I may even pick it up. But I can put it down again and walk away. So it is separate.

 

We might say that I can draw a line around it. Let us look at the example of light. Light as a concept is uncircumscribable, I cannot draw a line around it. In a sense, it can contain me, but I cannot contain it. But if I talk about a light (with the indefinite article before it), then I have contained light in a bulb or a torch, for example. The expression ‘Give me a light’ refers to a single light emanating from a matchstick, not the concept of light – I am not asking you to illuminate my world, just to provide me with an example of fire that will burn out eventually.

 

This difference between light as a concept and an example of light (a bulb, a torch, a matchstick) is the difference between an uncountable noun (the concept) and a countable noun (an example of that concept). Countable nouns can have a line drawn around them, they can be made separate from ourselves, they have a beginning and an end. Uncountable nouns – the concept at least – are eternal.

 

But let us turn our vision to ourselves. We are countable nouns. We come into existence. We are born of our mothers – a bundle of flesh that emerges from the womb. You can draw a line around this and say, ‘That is a child.’ Countable nouns, by definition, can be counted. We can count the children in a family or in a class. Each child sits on a chair at a desk. The chairs and desks can also be counted. They can be separated one from another, or piled into a stack.

 

I would like to suggest that this is what God did in creation – he created separate beings, Adam and Eve, separate creatures, trees and plants, each one of which was an example of that particular species. He created countable nouns, nouns that could have a line drawn around them, as in a child’s drawing. A man, a woman, an oak, a leopard… a word (because he created the world by speaking). All separated off from himself, endowed with its own specific qualities and characteristics. We ourselves imitate this process – when we speak, we emit words, separate beings that once spoken cannot be retrieved.

 

And he endowed us with free will. In fact, I would go so far as to say he created separate beings, countable nouns, precisely with that purpose, so that they would have free will, because if a human or a rabbit was part of him, it would not be able to function independently (within the limits of its species) and so would resemble a machine.

 

So, in the case of God, I would say this separation into countable nouns had a noble purpose, a purpose which he has given us to proceed (we create our own children, animals produce their own offspring, trees produce seeds).

 

If I could just refer to language, the name of God that he reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 is I AM WHO I AM, which we can shorten to I AM, or simply AM. One of the seven phonetic pairs – pairs of consonants that are pronounced in the same part of the mouth – is m-n. If we apply this pair to AM, we get AN, the indefinite article, and together they give A MAN. This is just a coincidence.

 

So man (I am talking about the concept here, not a particular individual) has been given the ability to create separate beings, just as God did. We can create a child, a light. We can build a house. We can write a book. But what we cannot do is create a concept. We cannot create a new species (we can create hybrids). And we cannot create light.

 

That is, we can use the ingredients, the things that are already provided for us, and transform them into something else, but we cannot provide the ingredients. Put simply, this means that we are translators – we take what is given to us and we transform it into something else. We are not authors.

 

And if we are not authors, because nothing begins with us, nothing proceeds from us, things pass through us, then this means that the concept of ownership is flawed. Things do not belong to us. Or rather only our response to them does, the way we choose to use them, and this is what constitutes our free will.

 

I think this difference between countable and uncountable nouns is very important because at one point I would like not to have a beginning and an end, I would like to be immortal, but to do that I must participate in a concept – God – that is uncountable, who is capable of creating new ingredients. I cannot do this on my own. I cannot make myself uncountable. Only God can do this by allowing us to participate in his energies.

 

And secondly it is our claim to ownership that gives rise to the system of capitalism, whereby we take the products that have been (freely) given to us and package them in order to sell them at a cost. This turning concepts such as flour or oil, metal or wood, into something sellable involves making them countable (otherwise how can I transport them, and how can I charge you for them?). So I create a bag of flour, a barrel of oil, a car or a table. I use the concepts that were put there by God, I transform them (because this is my purpose: to translate), but then I sell them, and as soon as I sell them, I must draw a line around them in the form of packaging. It is the waste product of this process that causes our environment so many problems. It is, in effect, the waste product of our own definition.

 

When we treat the other as a source of profit, we have distorted God’s purpose. God gave us the other, a separate being, as a source of joy, to learn how to love (not to learn economics).

 

One final word connection. The Greek word for ‘God’ is THEOS. We saw in the previous article on the Coronavirus that LOVE is connected to OTHER. If we take a step in the alphabet, r-s, we will see that OTHER is connected to THEOS. So the other is God. When we see them as part of ourselves, we participate in them, the dividing lines are broken down and we become separate, but also one.

 

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