These are my thoughts for this year’s season of Lent.
Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent is March 2nd this year. Why are we observing Lent this year? Are we doing so because we really haven’t observed it these past two years?
If nothing else, it is nice to be back to the mindset of a “normal” season of Lent. Then again, because the timing of Lent is based on when Easter occurs, no Lenten season is the same as the ones before it. So, the question really should be “why do we observe Lent every year?”
Perhaps this year we can really look at what Lent means for each of us. I am afraid that for too many people Lent is about sacrifice. These individuals will publicly announce, sometimes with great fanfare and showmanship, that they are giving something up for Lent. But such acts are the acts of the religious elite that both John the Baptizer and Jesus called out. For as soon as Lent turns to the Easter season, these individuals will return to their consumption or usage of whatever it was they sacrificed for Lent.
Lent is more than the sacrifice of a favorite food or activity; it is about repentance and preparation.
We are far from a perfect people, but we are also a people who, through Christ, seek perfection. Repentance is, thus, part of this process. We must repent of our old ways, casting off that which has kept us from reaching our goals. But we must also have some sense of where we want to go. And that requires study and preparation.
If our faith is to live, it must be nurtured. Otherwise, it will die. And while our physical body may live on, what good is that if our soul has died?
I am not sure if I have ever met someone whose soul has died so I can only imagine what sort of life that person must have. But I have met many whose intellectual life has died. These individuals have reached the goals they set for themselves professionally and, having reached those goals, stopped learning. Such individuals are quite literally out of touch with today’s society. I have also met individuals who reached the pinnacle in their profession, but they continue to learn, striving to reach higher goals.
The difference, perhaps, is that those who continue to seek understanding also understand that their profession continues to change and to be alive in their profession, they must continue the process themselves.
I have been involved in chemical education for some 57 years, first as a high school student, then as a college student, and then as a teacher in high school and an instructor/assistant professor college. Even today, as a chemistry tutor, I continue to learn more about this subject that has been my vocation for this so many years (recently, the American Chemical Society announced an online review course to see chemistry with modern examples [Facebook post – 2/9/22]).
Over these years I have observed that chemistry is based on a certain set of fundamentals. In fact, from the day in 1661 when Robert Boyle published the “Sceptical Chymist”, we have known that there is a set of fundamentals on which chemistry (and all sciences) are based. [It should also be noted that Boyle was as well known for writings on theology as he was for his scientific endeavors.] But over the years, our understanding of those fundamentals has changed.
The idea of the atom as the smallest part of matter has been a fundamental part of chemistry since approximately 450 BCE. But our understanding of what makes up the atom and how the atom interacts has changed.
Even though the neutron was discovered in 1932, there is no mention of it in either of my father’s high school textbooks, both published in 1935. My father had, to the best of my knowledge, a rudimentary knowledge of atomic theory but his ideas were out-of-date by the time I took high school chemistry in 1966.
The idea of an element as the simplest form of matter is one such fundamental.
Mendeleev used the idea of chemical families, elements with similar chemical properties, to arrange the elements on the first periodic table. The Noble Gases (helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon) were the last family added to Mendeleev’s table because of the lack of observable chemical properties.
In my 1966 high school textbook was the comment that these elements did not form compounds. Yet, in 1962, Neil Bartlett had synthesized the first Noble gas compounds. Do I rely on the material in the text, or do I look at the research in the field?
The discovery of the neutron would lead to two important areas of discovery. First, it created the path that allowed chemists to create elements heavier than uranium.
Over the years, the number of elements that we know has changed. There were 63 elements on the first organized periodic table Dimitri Mendeleev created in 1869. When my father took high school chemistry in 1938, there were 88 elements; when I took chemistry in 1966, the number had risen to 103 and there are now 118 identified elements.
The work of individuals seeking to create new elements led to the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 (the year my father graduated from high school). And this discovery would lead to the development of atomic and nuclear weapons.
I think there is a corollary to our understanding of our faith. We learned the fundamentals of our faith in our membership class many years ago. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 12,
If our understanding of our faith has not grown as we have grown, then our faith is no longer viable and in danger of dying. While the fundamentals of our faith have not changed, our understanding has (or should have). And that means, as we enter in the Season of Lent and a time of repentance and preparation, we must look to what our faith means to us today.
” When I was a child, I was talking like a child, thinking like a child, acting like a child, but when I became an adult, I outgrew my childish ways.”
Why are we observing Lent this year? Because in our striving to be more perfect, more like Christ, we must set aside time to cast aside that which has held us back and seek to find ways to move us to our goal.