Published in  
January 10, 2015

We’ve given language too much power

Whenever the Jews spoke about ‘God’ in their texts, they employed a tetragammaton – a four-letter mix of consonants.

The English language renders those ancient Hebrew letters as YHWH or, sometimes, JHVH. It wasn’t yellow-bellied cowardice or an incompleteness of ‘revelation’ that inspired this practice. The idea behind using an unpronounceable battery of letters was to sidestep the urge to label the sacred, to condition the unfathomable. In other words, as some Oriental philosophies put it, when you ‘name the colour, you blind the eye’. ‘Things’ have a vibrancy to them that transcend the labels we affix to them.

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Once we give names however, we exclude ourselves from a conversation – and we will never know that mountains have voices, or that the sky has edges, or that a heap of rubbish down the street is a city alive. We will never recognize that the colour ‘blue’ is really our own rude, visual imposition on the flow of energy streams around us. The territory is keener and more intense than the maps we have created to navigate them. Perhaps today we can stand before a child, a flower, a homeless person or a plate of food, and remove the convenient vowels that stand between us and the true strangeness of things, the ravishing mystery of being – for until we do this, we will perish of thirst by the shores of virgin streams of water, deafened by the din of our concepts, and oblivious to the repeated entreaties of the water to us.