Thursday, August 14, 2008

God's Breweries: the One Who kindles the sunrise

I am struggling over the beginnings of a new project about food - no I don't mean a meal, I mean a writing! - and even though I am part chemist, I had to go hunting into the other disciplines for what they might tell me about ... the ELEMENTS! And I found some interesting things.

One might guess that the ancient Greeks knew about the Periodic Table since their word for "element" stoiceion (stoicheion) comes from the word for "row, rank, series"... But they didn't. They only had four "elements" which we might now term the "states" of matter:
earth - which we now call "solid",
water - which we now call "liquid",
air - which we now call "gas",
fire - which we now call "plasma".
The fifth element - whatever it might be (no, not boron, hee hee) - gives us (through Latin) the curious word "quintessence" - which literally means "fifth (form of) being".

Now, after lots of work (imagine the Curies boiling down ten tons of mine waste to get a tiny tube of radium!) we know about some 100 elements - properly, the chemical elements - which we distinguish by a variety of physical or chemical properties. Amazing, totally fascinating things.

And it may be as aggravating to begin a discussion of the formation of elements as it would be to begin a discussion of the formation of species - though we actually know a little more about the formation of elements as the process is still occuring before our eyes. Yes, that great light we see during the day - the sun - is a nuclear furnace, which gives us light and heat - but has as its "ashes" a variety of elements. In general the main fuel of a star is hydrogen, and the main result of its "burning" by nuclear fusion is helium. But there are other reactions which occur, in which there is what we might call "cooking" - or, more poetically, "brewing". The term "brewing" is perhaps a bit more apt, because even though we all know it takes preparation to cook something, and usually some period of time for the thing to be cooked. But when something is brewed there seems to be a real significant wait involved. We have fast food, and even the disciples could chow down as they went through a field of grain (see Mt 12:1)... but it's kind of hard to have "fast" beer. Some one has to start the brewing well in advance of your drinking.

There's a delightful and mystical line in GKC about this grand preparation. It hints at one of those nasty argumentative things called "intelligent design" - which I am not going to go into now, as much as it would be fun to talk about the details of the brewing of the elements:
There was someone else, some strange and unseen being, who had designed these things, if indeed they were designed. There was a stranger who was also a friend; a mysterious benefactor who had been before them and built up the woods and hills for their coming, and had kindled the sunrise against their rising, as a servant kindles a fire. Now this idea of a mind that gives a meaning to the universe has received more and more confirmation within the minds of men, by meditations and experiences much more subtle and searching than any
such argument about the external plan of the world.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:396]
But, as I said, I am not going into that depth today. I just like to think about that image of God setting the suns a-burning and a-brewing, long before ever we woke up, and I wish I had the time to write a poem about it.

But I don't, and I have not been able to do much more than make some notes on my food topic. And then there's water, and that has to get in there somehow! Oy. Obviously I need to pray some more about it. And since I have not been able to go very far with my writing today (I was rather busy with my usual Thursday writing, which you can see here, I decided to post something else which I wrote a little while ago. It's rather suited for Easter than for Assumption, but as usual Mary plays a role in it, and you might like it: go here to read it.

Now, back to whatever it was I was doing. Food... and that story about the wreck. yeah. I've got to get busy.


At 22 August, 2008 14:27, Blogger Sheila said...

I taste a Liquor never brewed
In tankards scooped in pearl--
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!


High above the forests lie the pastures of the Sun ... (do you get that reference? That can be your "musical knowledge test"--to see if you like anything I know of besides Rush)

The sun will always be a poetic thing. The moon is poetic in the sense that one almost has to write poetry about it. It's dreamy and vague and conjures dreamy and vague poetry. But the sun SHOULD have poetry written about it--fiery, hot, fierce poetry. I like the brewing idea very much--though I doubt I will ever manage to write the fiery, alcoholic poem that makes me think of!


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