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Look at your fish...


Focus upon, meditate, gaze continuously

The writer David McCullough tacked a plaque above his desk that reads: “Look at your Fish.” It’s a story about the value of seeing. In an interview from The Paris Review McCullough shared the story behind that short statement. It’s the test that Louis Agassiz, the nineteenth-century Harvard scientist, gave every new student. He would take a smelly, old fish out of a jar, set it in a tin pan in front of the student and say, “Look at your fish.” Then Agassiz would leave. When he came back, he would ask the students what they’d seen. “Not very much,” they would most often say, and Agassiz would say it again: “Look at your fish.”


This could go on for days. The student would be encouraged to draw the fish but could use no tools for the examination, just hands and eyes. One student, who later became a famous scientist, left us the best account of the “ordeal with the fish.” After several days, he still could not see whatever it was Agassiz wanted him to see. But, he said, “I see how little I saw before.” Then the student had a brainstorm and he announced it to Agassiz the next morning: “Paired organs, the same on both sides.” “Of course! Of course!” Agassiz said, very pleased.


When the student asked what he should do next, Agassiz said, “Look at your fish.” Insight comes, more often than not, from looking at what's been on the table all along, in front of everybody, rather than from discovering something new.**


Three Scriptures emphasize the practice of meditating on God's Word. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8).


Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).


But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:25).


Looking at God's Word, letting it soak into my mind and heart, opening my spirit to Holy Spirit, allows me to see what is before me, what has always been there. It takes time and focus to uncover nuggets that are in the Scriptures, waiting to be seen and lived out. Look at your fish...


**Timothy Willard, “Understanding the Value of Chasing Beauty,” The Edges Collective (3-26-18)

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