Concerted Christ Concentration
Stars are pretty cool. If you have ever laid out under a dark night sky to see the vibrant tapestry of the galaxy above you, you might understand how it could become someone’s captivation, one’s ambition.
Such was the case for Percival Lowell.
You may have heard of him. He was born into a wealthy Massachusetts family in 1855, graduated from Harvard, and spent some decades of his life actually as a US foreign secretary to the Orient.
But, after returning and settling down in the states again, for the last 23 years of his life he became enamored with Astronomy. From 1893 till his death, he spent his life looking through telescopes, an specifically, at Mars. In 1894 he built an observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona Territory. As he zeroed in on the Red Planet, he began to notice some sort of geographical structures on the surface of Mars. The more he looked, the more he studied, he became convinced- these lines and designs were canals, canals that brought water from the polar ice caps across its surface, canals that must have been built… by intelligent life.
That’s right. Percival Lowell was the first person (and a scholar and a scientist for that matter) to seriously conclude that life existed on Mars. In essence, he invented Martians. He was so convinced, he published three books on this conclusion (this posts picture shows a sample of one of Lowell’s canal sketches). Although Lowell didn’t monetize or gain publicity for these conclusions, H.G. Wells did.
However, decades after his passing, in 1972 the Mariner 9 satellite took pictures of Mars and settled the case: Mars in fact had lots of craters, but it did not have canals. Mars indeed is lifeless.
How did this happen? How could this man stake his entire reputation and believe so strongly that Martians existed?
Although it isn’t proven, the best explanation to date is that all the time that Lowell spent stopping down, squinting and gazing into that telescope, it caused him to see shadows of the blood vessel network on the retina of his eye, which he mistook as canals on the surface of the planet. He literally spent years of his life, mapping out the back of his own eye.
Percival Lowell was devoted. Percival Lowel was a man in pursuit. Yet, Percival Lowell was a man who was dooped. 23 Years he spent looking for something great. But, 23 years he spent…mapping the back of his eyeball.
All this goes to say- it matters what you focus your life on. Have you ever been asked the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” If your life is like mine, it’s a question that I ask myself as I age more often than it was ever asked of me before. I happen to be a very goal and achievement oriented planner. For me, there is no room for aimlessness in life. There is always a to-do list, always a plan of attack. And at my stage in life right now, my thought life and my mental and spiritual capacity is highly occupied with trying to answer questions of calling and vocation. Every little decision now in this area can have a massive domino affect in terms of what tomorrow looks like.
I imagine that I’m not alone in this preoccupation. And certainly, vocation should require thought and intentionality. Yet, I must be reminded that this should not be the all consuming object of my vision and my mind. Although some concentration is important, to be consumed with attaining places and positions, rather than a person, can be just as sad as losing my life affixed to an affinity for Mars.
Several weeks ago, I spent time in reflection on the commands of Paul in Colossians 3:1-4:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 [a]Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
Speaking instruction into a society enamored with syncretistic folk religion, and in these habits, what seems to be a feverish pursuit of some sort of heaven by ascetic and ritualistic practices, Paul delivers a critical corrective. Heaven is not primarily found in a place. It is found in a person. To set one’s mind upward and heaven-ward is not about focusing on streets like gold, or moral achievement, but on the person and character of Jesus Christ. The command is to set the cross-hairs of one’s life vision on the exulted Christ, and the kingly character of the realm of the Spirit, of His Kingdom. And thus, when we think of “the end,” it’s not about being removed from earth to a distant spiritual abode. The eschatological hope is about the full revelation of our greatest relationship, and the undeserved glory that he shares in this great manifestation.
I thought it appropriate to share because, honestly my friends, I’ve worn myself weary in times past (and times recent) because I have let career and other means of self-actualization replace the priority of Christ in my vision. The great deception of the flesh and of the enemy is to convince that spending time saturating our vision with Jesus and his magnitude is impractical and unhelpful. But really, when has time occupied on even our favorite hobbies or forms of work ever trumped or had more transformational value than quality time with our most valued relationships.
Set the Vision. Keep the Vision. When life is dry, take a moment to recalibrate, and challenge yourself with Paul’s command. Set Jesus in the cross-hairs.