One of the dreaded rites of premedical passage is the organic chemistry lab class. Therein, a group of hapless twenty-somethings meets for three hours a week, in their blue jeans and protective goggles, to learn how to isolate, combine, and change chemicals.
It was my worst grade in college.
There was something fascinating, though, about the class’ concept. In organic chemistry, life’s building blocks are reduced to stick-figure drawings: a dot or letter for the nucleus of each atom and a line for the bonds between them. Much of the organic chemistry experience is drawing this kind of picture. As chemicals undergo different combinations and transformations, the dots and lines shift accordingly. Each student quickly learns that an arrow represents the movement of a chemical bond–as atom A dissociates from atom B and latches onto atom C, the arrow indicated the switch.
What strikes me about this process–whether represented on paper or enacted with beakers, acids, and bunson burners–is that there is no going around the steps necessary to make compound A into compound B. The process which affects the change might require ten steps: heating compound A, separating the remaining solid, whetting it with water, washing it with acid, cooling it down, combining it with X, stirring, waiting, removing the powder, and then drying it with a special separating compound. There is no going around the necessary steps because each step brings about the actions represented by one of those arrows–each macroscopic thing we do moves a bond from here to there and the end result is the actual transformation from A into B. It is not that A has simply become like B–it actually is B, the chemical structure has changed.
I wonder if ordinances function in a similar fashion. I wonder if they affect, in some ineffable way, beyond our mortal comprehension, a change in our most basic spiritual matter so that they are necessary in some literal and eternal way, not just as a symbol of our dedication and not just as a means for exploring the meaning of spiritual things–though both of those purposes are important, but in some physical/spiritual fashion which eventually allows the Great Alchemist to transform men into gods