When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him . . . (Psalm 8:3-4)
Louis Agassiz was a Harvard professor and founder of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, serving as its Director from 1859 until his death in 1873.
A story was recorded by one of Agassiz’s students, Samuel Scudder, which has taken on a life of its own over the years, often told now as a kind of parable with wide ranging applications to life. Scudder’s story tells about his first encounter with Professor Agassiz in which the venerable scholar presented his student with a fish taken from a jar of alcohol. Placing the fish on a dissecting try, Agassiz instructed Scudder to observe the fish and report his findings.
After ten minutes Scudder was convinced he had seen everything there was to be seen about the fish. When he made his report to Agassiz, the professor ordered him to return to the fish and resume the task. This went on for three days – the student observing the fish, reporting his observations, only to be sent back in order to see yet more. Scudder recalls “Look, look, look was his repeated injunction.”
When once asked, “What was your greatest contribution, scientifically?” Agassiz answered, “I have taught men and women to observe.”
One of the most beautiful lines in the Psalms in found in Psalm 8. Here the Psalmist marvels at the created order and states “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?” The Hebrew verb for “consider” has many shades of meaning. The ESV Bible simply translates the word as “look.” The primary uses of the word are typically in the context of what we do with our eyes – seeing, looking, examining.
There is, however, something more in the act of “considering” than mere sight or observation. This same Hebrew word is used in 1 Samuel 12:24 when the prophet Samuel urges God’s people to “consider what great things he has done for you.” When we consider we do more than see. We see into. We look inquisitively. We want to know more than what something looks like, we want to know what it means.
The discipline of observing and examining carefully and repeatedly is at the heart of the scientific method. But the same disciplines are at the heart of faith. It is significant to note (read: observe) that the Psalmist considers the heavens but then moves from those considerations to ask questions of God. God is not threatened or offended by these questions. Closely connected to the act of ‘considering’ is what we call meditation. As we ponder and query, we meditate.
It is far too easy to go through our days looking but not considering. We see things without truly observing them. We talk to people without truly listening to them. We walk the same halls and travel the same roads, glazed over with familiarity, preoccupied and distracted to the point of never truly seeing what’s around us.
Take time today to consider: consider the weather, consider your children, consider your co-workers, consider your customers. Do more than see. As Agassiz taught, “look, look, look.” And having looked closely, talk to God.
Grant, O God, that we might live this day doing more than simply seeing or looking at what surrounds us. Help us to consider it – to see in creation and in other people evidences of your grace and glory. Open our eyes to truly see, and in the seeing lead us to worship, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.