In this fifth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne begins to look at word connections in the English language – that is, the spiritual content of language, meaning inside words. Unlike etymology, which is the study of how words have evolved over time, the spiritual content of language hasn’t been put there by us – it is meaning the words themselves contain, whether we like it or not. Hence the spiritual content of language can be said to be “outside” or “behind” time. It is vertical rather than horizontal (“over” time). Here, Jonathan looks at the simplest word connections – connections between words that don’t involve making substantial changes to the letters or their order.
Time is a line drawn by teachers of English on a whiteboard, with the points past, present and future marked by crosses. It is a line in a vast expanse of white, which can only exist because of the whiteboard. If there is nowhere to draw the line, then time cannot exist. We cannot just draw it in the air. Or we can if we use a sparkler. But it won’t last very long.
Time is a kind of zip. An Orion’s Belt drawn in chalk on a blackboard that is expanding space. Three points: past, present and future. Have, do and will. I have lived in London for ten years. Do you like London? I will come with you. Three auxiliary verbs that reflect our attitude to this world: to have (possessions), to do (activity) and to will (what we want). The only way to enter the line, to burrow inside it, to live in the moment, without regret for the past (nostalgia, which spells lost again), without fear for the future, is be. What are you doing? I am listening to music.
Time is a window of opportunity opened for us to take part in creation. It is a soap bubble floating in the air. It cannot last for ever, at some point it will pop. We saw in the previous article that if we are to take part in creation, if we are to be co-creators with God, if we are to have our own children, then the reproductive maturity that enables us to do this comes with age. To be left to age for ever really would be a punishment, so when we acquired carnal knowledge of the other and were expelled from the Garden of Eden, a clock was set in motion. Now we had a ‘life’, a finite period of time, three score years and ten, enough to grow up, reach sexual maturity, have children, raise them and then grow old. We are not authors, so we cannot breathe the breath of life into an inanimate object. We can, however, translate life. We receive it from our parents and pass it on. We are translators in everything we do, from having children, to breathing, to eating, to communicating. Nothing begins with us. We arrive mid-conversation, take part in the conversation and then leave.
But in this process we acquire meaning. We learn things. This is what time gives us. And note that time is clearly connected to line, there is a jump in the alphabet (m-n) and an l with a line drawn through it to make a cross: t. So that is what a cross is – a line that has been deleted, an ego that has been rejected.
Because with time came sin, and again you will see that these words are connected. Imagine letters are like reels in a slot machine: s becomes t and m becomes n, with the addition of final e. Sin-time. In time, we have children. But we also abuse this ability. We do not care for the other as we should. We try to take possession. We remain in permanent activity. Our lives are considered useless if we do not produce. Have, do and will. These auxiliaries dictate our lives, tell us how we should lead them. And what about be?
When we push aside the demands of the ego (a word that is in stark opposition to God), it is as if we turned the ego, the line (I), into a number (1) and counted down to O. We take the I of sin and turn it into son. In a similar way, we turn live into love (and not into its reverse, which is evil). We do this by removing the ego and then we see that time contains a cross (†), I and me.
So time († I me) is not just the chance to have children, something we can only do with another person and which will cause us to age, it is also the opportunity to grow spiritually, to realize our need, to meet God and not to deny him.
Church Fathers say that Jesus Christ is waiting in our heart. He calls to us and, when we have grown tired of the things of this world, external objects that can be classified and counted (which is what much of our activity is about), we heed his call. We turn away from our possessions, from the incentive to own, which is nothing less than the attempt to make ourselves the source of life, and approach the heart with our mind. After knocking for a long time – because we must learn to desist from the passions, what caused us to sin in the first place – we are allowed to go in. We call on him – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ – and enter. Our mind meets itself for the first time, and becomes aware of the presence of someone far greater.
So time is a bottomless pocket. A door handle. A bubble God blew in the air. Here today, gone tomorrow. A place where we can learn the true value of love, who is the only one that matters.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com