Sunday, December 10, 2006

December 10, 2006 (G1) Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine - the Resurrection (G1)

December 10, 2006

As you will have seen in the previous seven days, I use the various - even dramatic - differences between the 20 amino acids to give hints at the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary. I selected the five amino acids which have "rings" in their side chains to signify the five Glorious Mysteries. Just as the endless circle of the wedding ring signifies the unending love of the married couple, here the various "aromatic" rings of carbon (and nitrogen) hint at the "unending" character of these mysteries which are "on the other side" of our Lord's death.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and so we consider one of the Glorious Mysteries. We've already seen G3 and G4, and G5 has its own special place; so we only need to divide G1 and G2 between today and next Sunday. Just as each Friday we recall the death of our Lord, each Sunday is a "little Easter"; so today let us consider G1, the Resurrection, for which I have chosen Phenylalanine.

Phenylalanine (abbreviated Phe or F)
RNA Codes:

There are only two codes for this amino acid; the two which begin with UU and are followed by a pyrimidine (C or U). (Yes, this is the "buddy" to Leucine's codes we saw yesterday.)

There are strikingly beautiful symmetries to be seen here. Remember that J2, the Visitation, was represented by Alanine, with its simple CH3- (methyl) group? Here, we see the very same methyl, but one of the hydrogens has been replaced by the strange and wonderful six-carbon benzene ring. (Chesterton would be delighted in the paradox whereby a jewel is ornamented with a ring!)

And, perhaps even more than our pun linking Tryptophan with the Dormition of Mary (G4), the appearance of the benzene ring in G1 conveys the idea of a surprise awakening in the early morning.

The story is told that the organic chemist Kekulé was struggling to determine the chemical structure of benzene, known to have the composition C6H6. One night he had a dream (or nightmare) of a snake biting its tail. He awoke and drew the famous hexagon with the alternating single and double bonds which you can see in the above diagram! Six C's and six H's, each atom perfectly satisfied with its arrangements.

But this compound, in fact, is 1,3,5 cyclohexatriene. But if you rotate the diagram 60 degrees, you get 2,4,6 cyclohexatriene. (You have to use a trick to keep the number one carbon staying number one.) Is that really benzene, then, or is it something else?

Ah. As even newborn organic chemists will tell you, this single/double hexagon is a symbol of something rather more complicated. For the six carbons share their bonding electrons within the ring, and the single-ness vs. double-ness does not normally appear at all - one might say that all six of the carbon-to-carbon bonds are "1.5" - halfway between single and double - though that is also almost a mystical idea. (Yes, under certain conditions, however, one can force the double-bonds to be permanent, but I cannot go into that now.) So the diagram is just a sybolic convention to denote a greater reality. As a hint of this truth, they will draw a circle within the hexagon, omitting the double-bonds.

In some ways, all this technical lore of organic chemistry has a louder echo in the mystery - the supreme mystery of all time - the Resurrection - where Jesus came back from death. Does this relate at all to Advent? Sure. One of the greatest of all Christmas stories, after the Gospel itself, is the powerfully inspiring "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens. As we shall see when we discuss S5, Dickens begins with a phrase which we must ponder again and again, if we hope to have any understanding at all of what this mystery is about:
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. ... There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
Oh, yes. How much more, then, must we understand, as Jesus Himself told the two on the way to Emmaus, that late afternoon on a Sunday in Spring... (see Luke 24:25-27) How much more must we understand that His death was real, and terrible, and complete - legally certified, too, as we shall hear - but this death was not the end.

It was the beginning.

Which means we also must have hope - it's the real meaning of Christmas hope, too: not presents, not cosy homes, not even family - but our true Family, our long-awaited Home, and the Perfect Presence.

Yes, even Kekulé would agree that such links binding Christmas and Easter are far more complex than even a snake dream might inspire. Then again, it's just what God promised the snake in the garden, isn't it? Hee hee.


At 11 December, 2006 21:35, Blogger Kevin O'Brien said...

And in "It's a Wonderful Life", the movie that tells much the same resurrection story as "A Christmas Carol", George Bailey really is "not born", as Marley really was "dead".

What a great mystery that at any Nativity a new life is suddenly there that was never there before! We've all come from "not born" to born - may we all pass from "really dead" to "true life". It is just as ineffable.


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