Nouns and verbs

I think I read somewhere about a language that had no nouns. I’m not sure about this; I have a feltboard for a mind. Everything sticks to it. Dust, dead moths, bits of information eroded by time and memory into something quite other than what they once were. But whether there was such a language or not, I’m enchanted by the idea. I point and say “Look, it’s dogging.” Whatever ‘it’ is, at this moment it’s manifesting itself in wagging, barking, running, chasing. There’s no dog at all. We just use language to capture a moment in time and perception, and to convey it to someone else.


There’s always, in human beings, this ache and longing to encapsulate, to put experience into containers, and given the complex requirements of the socio-economic-political construction we have to live in, it’s probably necessary. But it’s maybe wise to keep in mind that all those nouns are the possession not of our experience, but of the thing we live in, the great reef in which we are all polyps. We can go at least that far, and render unto Caesar those things which belong to him, in this case all the nouns. They’re all just the stamped currency of our culture.


I’ve come to this point through struggling to find my way in a community of believing Christians. As a verb love is dynamic. It won’t be held in containers. We make verbs into nouns and adjectives and suppose that because there’s a word, there must be a thing it stands for. It’s a weaelly way to turn fire to metal, to currency.


If God is, He is prior to our naming Him. If I had it to do myself, I’d make God (the word, not God) into a verb rather than a noun. The whole crazy immeasurable big bang of love and power all of it is the fire of Him loving. Nothing is still. It’s all an ongoing explosion, nuclear spin, the blas furnace of a star, there’s no still point, no true function for a noun.


Jesus said “Love God and love each other; let everything else take care of itself.” The truth of this is a little frightening. Love is a fire. God’s love is a fire. Everything gets burned up in it. At best all the nouns are only directional markers, pointing to the Fire of God.


One thought on “Nouns and verbs

  1. I think the language was Ojibway. ( ). I might have mentioned it to you way back when 😉
    David Bohm wrote about the notion of a rheomode as a verb based language in one of his books ( )
    As well, I think about Parker Palmer’s notion of truth as “troth”, a living relationship that implies we don’t know something until we can enact it with integrity. ( ) He tells a story taht I think illustrates this well.
    Some brothers . . . went to see Abba Felix and they begged him to say a word to them. But the old man kept silence. After they had asked for a long time he said to them, “You wish to hear a word?” They said “Yes, abba.” The old man said to them, “There are no more words nowadays. When the brothers used to consult the old men and when they did what was said to them, God showed them how to speak. But now, since they ask without doing that which they hear, God has withdrawn the grace of the word from the old men and they do not find anything to say, since there are no longer any who carry their words out.” Hearing this, the brothers groaned, saying “Pray for us, abba.” (p. 41)

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