Seven Brief Lessons on Language, Jonathan Dunne. Sofia, Bulgaria: Small Stations Press, 2023.
Summary: Explores the spiritual significance embedded into the letters, sounds, and structure of our language.
When I was young, the host of a local children’s program took the initials of a child having a birthday that day and turned it into an amusing drawing. I felt there was something of that sort going on with this book, but I could not say that I was amused with the letter play in this book and the supposed spiritual truths the author found in the vowels and consonants and words of our language.
The book is patterned on one by Carlo Rovelli titled Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. The book consists of seven short readings and a postscript. The author believes our language is encoded with spiritual truth for those whose eyes are opened, and through these “lessons,” the author proposes to offer the insights that will open our eyes.
The first chapter is on the alphabet, the vowels and consonants, how they are formed, phonetic pairs of consonants (important to the ideas he develops) and their connection to breath, water, and flesh. A clue to what he would be doing comes early, when through a series of transpositions he connects breath, water, and flesh to “father,” the one who speaks all into existence. Subsequent chapters reflect on the Alpha and Omega, the “I” that is both “I am” and the sinful human ego that needs to go from I to O, the One who is Three, Love, Believe, and Translate.
Here’s a brief example from the chapter on the Trinity of the kind of language play one encounters throughout the book:
“As when we place three Os together, we get G O D, so when we place three Is together we get I l l. We become ill when we are apart from God, when we turn our back on him” (p.53).
All of this seems clever letter and word play in service of a book on spirituality. The method seems to me arbitrary, and one that could be used to say almost anything. Also, much of the book focuses on the English alphabet and words while treating with spiritual concepts that are transcultural.
I assume the sincerity of the writer, and would agree with many of the spiritual insights as a fellow Christian. But the method would have us looking for phonetic clues to reveal spiritual meaning rather than the plain meanings of the words of the scriptures and the creeds, which feels more of “Gnostic” or hidden knowledge than Christian.
The book also felt a bit of a “bait and switch,” at least it’s title, modeled as it is on Rovelli’s book which really is on physics. These really are not, except perhaps for the first, lessons on language but spiritual reflections drawing upon the author’s wordplay.
For those who truly value language and its power to unveil spiritual reality, I would commend the works of Marilyn McEntyre <https://www.marilynmcentyre.com/books>. As for this, I would take a pass.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.
3 thoughts on “Review: Seven Brief Lessons on Language”
Bill Harris of WYTV played the character Barney Bean on television. I directed the program for a few years there. Bill was a self-taught cartoonist and ventriloquist. Bill was a kind person and is missed by the many with their initials made into a cartoon.
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Thank you for being willing to alert your readers to the negative aspects of this book with your fair yet critical review. Your honesty and integrity is appreciated!
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