Friday, August 22, 2008

When is an Amino Acid not an Amino Acid?

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This posting contains dangerous humor.

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You may already know this, but one of the most Chestertonian comics I know is the episodes of "Calvin and Hobbes" playing "Calvinball"... I wonder if it is a child's version of "Gype"? You do know what Gype is, don't you? It's the chief sport of Chesterton University (they were undefeated every year since the founding). Calvinball, in which the score might be "Q to 12" and in which "the only rule is there are no rules" (though the rules they do have must be declared, and agreed on) clearly suggests the marvellous game that Chesterton and H.G. Wells invented (see Autobiography CW16:211-2 and Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton 376). One of many delightful scenes of the C&H game, and the one I wish to recall today, is the one with the famous (and very dangerous) "Opposite Pole", which reverses all other rules, and which Hobbes touched, declaring it "oppositely, by not declaring it". You'll see why.

Today, August 22, is the octave day of the Assumption, and the feast of the Queenship of Mary. You may not know this, but the Vatican Navy has a queen ship. (When they get their interstellar fleet they will most likely have a mother ship as well...) Hee hee. You've never heard of the Vatican Navy? They're another one of the small-country-military which goes in for pocket knives; I had a picture somewhere I will try to find for next time. Ahem.

Anyway, you are no doubt wondering what I mean about the title of today's posting. Well, I was thinking about this, because last week I wrote a whole lot about Mary being queen and getting crowned - and you might think I was a week off.

But you see, there is a problem - in fact, a very serious problem - with this whole mystery called "the Coronation of Mary". I am no Church Father, and certainly no theologian. But there seems to be something a bit unfair with the Trinity holding the coronation back then, just after she was taken up into Heaven. I mean no disrespect! I just think They would like, if for no other reason than the sheer fun of the party, to have such a big bash when every one of Mary's subjects would be able to be there to - uh - throw rice, or flowers, or ticker-tape, or whatever the celestial protocol requires. (stardust, maybe?) And, in another sense, it seems fitting, when the word is "crowning" - the precise grammatical term evades me, but that word has a sense of something on-going... she is in-the-process-of-being-crowned, as each of her subjects comes forward and contributes his own bit to the crown.

Here's another hint of what I mean. Last week I quoted the chorus of a song we used at the May crowning when I was in grade school. Here is the complete song:

1. We gather round your shrine today, Salve regina!
To crown you as our queen of May, Salve regina!

2. This diadem of flowers fair, Salve regina!
Is intertwined with love and care, Salve regina!

Chorus: Every voice in your domain
Sings with joy this glad refrain:
Be our queen for ever reign!
Salve, salve, salve regina!

I mean that (1) the crown is twined of separate flowers - which indicates a composite structure, being made of individual components and (2) it is done in time - which also means there is something composite - she is not so much crowned multiple times, but rather the crowning has an on-going character.

Now, all this might be considered sheer silliness. And that is good. You see, last week I mentioned how Mary is queen of halogens and rare earths and chemistry... but she's also queen of all good things, including some rather curious items one would not usually associate with her.

Queen of riddles, pray for us.
Queen of jokes, pray for us.
Queen of word games, pray for us.
Queen of paradoxes and puns, pray for us.

Queen of grammar and idiom, pray for us.
Queen of all language, pray for us.

How can our voices praise - or even pray - if we do not have language? But - and this is the tricky question - isn't the whole point of all this a big joke on the devil anyway? Was not the point about God "lifting up the humble" - a REVERSAL if there ever was one, as if God touched the "Opposite Pole" - the ultimate punch line to Satan's slapstick comedy in the Garden? Why of course it is!

It's all in that great line from Chesterton, in his epic chapter about Christmas:

That is the paradox of the whole position; that henceforth the highest thing can only work from below.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:313]

And that brings us back to my original topic, which (alas) has the form of a riddle.

Q. When is an amino acid not an amino acid?
A. When it is proline.

(See here for more details.)

(Hmm.. You aren't laughing. You probably don't laugh about "getting down off a duck" either, but then I always wondered how they got up on a duck in the first place.)

No it's not a joke about a trucking company, either. Proline, for those in the audience who are not laughing, is one of the twenty amino acids for which there are three-base codes in messenger RNA. But even though we call it an "amino" acid, it isn't. It's an imino acid.

You may think this is all a big joke - and it is. But there was something that struck me some years ago, as I began to think about the twenty mysteries and wonder why this last, the "Coronation" was a mystery that somehow didn't seem to have happened yet... and then I realized, as an inattentive man might slowly catch on to a joke - yes... yes... YES! it is funny! Sure. Mary is queen of all good, and she must be queen of all humour also. She was the first one to laugh at the divine joke - the REVERSAL - after all. Gabriel left too quick, and did not hear her chuckle. But that's when Mary caught on. She saw God's joke. And what a good one it was!

Mary Queen of the Universe, pray for us!


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