Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Periodic Lent - Chlorine

Today, the Second Sunday of Lent, we hear the gospel about the Transfiguration, which uses an interesting term...
And his garments became shining and exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller upon earth can make white. [Mark 9:2]
One translation (perhaps of the parallel in another gospel) says something like "whiter than any bleach could achieve" - yes, a "fuller" is one who bleaches fabric. One of our modern bleaches is often termed "chlorine" - though this is a common expression, and not chemical. It is not the element, but it contains chlorine, as it is a solution of sodium hypochlorite, NaClO. The element chlorine is a yellow-green gas, very poisonous and reactive.

We need not even reach under the sink to find a chemical containing chlorine - right here on our tables and stoves we can find common table salt, which is sodium chloride, NaCl. It should come as a perennial surprise to us that this useful and important substance is a strange yoking of two terrible and powerful reactive enemies - we shall discuss salt later in our series, but indeed we might find it here a suggestion or symbol of the mystery of the hypostatic union, unveiled for a moment on the mountain top.


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