Tuesday, December 05, 2006

December 05, 2006 (J1) Methionine

Methionine - the Annunciation (J1)

December 05, 2006

In my comments on the beginning of life, which I made at the beginning of this Advent commentary, I told you that we would see the AUG code again. Today is that day. When I wrote that beginning, I was still weighing various possible arrangements of my topics, but now, after a number of struggles, I have resolved to use the simplest one. Probably there is another which is more "poetic" but arranging it takes time which I do not have - so I have to simplify where I can. Hence, we'll start with the Joyful, and proceed, with exceptions to handle ... er.... the exceptions, as you shall see.

So, today we consider the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation. It is the beginning of a new story, in which a spirit spoke to a woman - yes, so similar to the beginning of the old story, where a spirit spoke to a woman. But in the new story, the woman was obedient; so much so, that her "yes" (which is a "positive") became a "sign of contradiction". In a mathematics beyond the norms of worldly "logic", this positive would "negate" the original negation. (A lot of theology can be found even in the simple + plus-sign of addition!) Many other writers, theologians, mystics, and poets, have written about this mystery, examining its parallels and allusions. But, because of my design, I shall examine an amino acid, and try to find a poetic suggestion there.

Two days ago, I explained that the code "AUG" is the "initiation code" which begins the translation from the mRNA into protein. I told you that we would see the code again, and this is why: the AUG code has a different meaning when it is not the beginning. That is, when AUG appears as an actual code, inside the "open reading frame" of the mRNA which is the actual blueprint for the protein being built. There, it stands for the amino acid called Methionine:

Methionine (abbreviated Met or M)
RNA Code:
(Yes, there is only one code for Methionine.)

The selection of Methionine to symbolize J1 was made simply because J1 is the start of the mysteries, and AUG signifies the start. Indeed, the parallel is rich, because AUG is both start and Met. Should the start code for some protein be damaged, the ribosome may simply begin at the next AUG, which really ought to be a Met - so the protein will be somewhat shorter than it should be. Also, even though the liturgical year of the Church begins with the first Sunday of Advent, the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25 (nine months before Christmas!) Actually, there may be innumerable repetitions of J1, whether one is saying the Rosary, or the three-times-a-day Angelus prayer; this hints at the Church's use of liturgical repetition of feasts to hint at eternity. (There's much more to say about that, but I defer it to another time.)

Now, Methionine, like several other amino acids, is called "hydrophobic" because it will tend to "stay away" from water. You have seen this if you have ever made salad dressing: unlike vinegar, olive oil (or whatever kind you like) will "stay away" from water, and bead together; you have to do tricks if you want them to join, as in mayonnaise! Hence I felt something poetic as I took Methionine and four other hydrophobic amino acids to denote the five Joyful mysteries, which begin the re-binding of Man to God. Remember the prayer at the offertory? We'll hear more about this later, but I will quote it now:
By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ Who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.
But unlike the other four amino acids which I shall talk about shortly, Methionine is different. In fact, among the twenty, only two contain an atom of sulfur (the brown S in the above diagram). At the heart of J1, is Mary's fiat - her "let it be done", by which she said "Yes" to God. This "S" is a token for that "Yes". (Indeed, the other amino acid with an "S" will therefore stand for the other "Yes" which was said; you can puzzle that out, or you can wait, and you will find out more about it soon enough.)

A priest friend told me of a beautiful Vietnamese hymn to Mary in which the chorus (loosely translated) is "Dear Mary teach us always to say Yes (to God)." Let us always turn to her, who always said Yes to God, and who was the first to know Christ, to help us know Him more, and to always say Yes as she did.


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