Thursday, September 15, 2011

Litmus Paper

I was never very good at Chemistry at school. I can remember almost nothing about it. At least in Physics I can remember everyone in the class holding hands and the person nearest the electrical current touching it, and the electric shock passing through the wrists of each and every person in the link. But Chemistry has no such memories attached.

I remember litmus paper. It did something but I can't quite put my finger on what it did. It was a long time ago. Putting one particular element in a solution nestling at the bottom of a test tube caused a reaction that confirmed the presence of another element. Things would change colour, or let off a swirling cloud of gas, or make a distinctly unpleasant aroma.

There is a story in the gospels where a woman, named as Mary by some, emptied a jar, or broke the jar according to some, of very expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus, or his head in some accounts, and wiped the excess with her hair. It was an act of worship. There was, perhaps, a prophetic element to her action.

Suppose that you looked at it from a “science experiment” point of view. Put an extravagant act of worship (the one particular element) into a room full of Jesus’ disciples ( or the solution nestling at the bottom of the test tube) and watch for the reaction. How do they react to her actions? The presence of one thing might reveal the presence the other thing, or the absence depending on the reaction.

That one act of extravagant worship revealed something about Mary. Just as importantly, it revealed something about everyone else too.

The story tells us exactly what the disciples said, but let your imagination supply you with their thoughts.

"That was a bit over the top."

"That's taking things to the extreme."

"She'll regret she did that one day."

"That was embarrassing."

"Who does she think she is?"

"Typical of women - over-emotional."

"You won't see me doing anything like that."

If it had been a "science experiment" it had revealed that her act of worship left them cold and critical. There was no change in colour or a swirling cloud of gas. The odour from the perfume was present – but it all indicates the absence of a heart of worship. There was no echo in their spirits that led them to join in.

Let’s move away from extravagant acts of worship and broken perfume bottles.

Let’s try instead broken water tanks and leaks. Not so uplifting. Let’s imagine buckets under drips and towels laid down to try to protect carpets and floorboards. Some of us won’t really need the imagining bit seeing as the buckets and towels are there right in front of us.

Suppose that you looked at this scenario from a “science experiment” point of view. Put an a broken tanks and various leaks (the one particular element) into a house of a usually happily married couple (or the solution nestling at the bottom of the test tube) and watch for the reaction.

It wasn’t a pretty sight! While the one person remained calm and collected, phoned the plumber and patiently waited for them to track down a new tank and work out the maths involved to get the large tank through the small hole up to the attic, the other person freaked out!

A friend of mine used to call these kinds of things “refiners”.

I was refined.

No comments: