The King and His Planet

So the telescope arrived this past weekend.

After an hour of trying to figure out how to put it all together, there it stood in the living room.

A crisp and clear canopy of darkness punctuated by innumerable pinpoints of light awaited my novice exploration and observations.

Outside into the cold, frosty darkness went I, knowing not what I was doing or what all the numbers on the dials underneath my scope meant. We were going to see something.

Believe it or not, acquiring the biggest and brightest object in the night’s sky was not nearly as easy as I’d imagined. Trying to catch Earth’s ancient, silver luminary in a viewfinder was kind of like ice skating – a series of wobbly and unstable attempts at remaining upright and gravitationally centered.

Especially since I mounted the telescope backwards with the focus knobs pointed away from me. That certainly didn’t help.

And trying to find one of four or five locking mechanisms to keep the scope from tilting away once I found the moon was also a challenge. I had no gloves and my hands were too cold to tighten the knobs all the way.
But after a few leg adjustments on the tripod and a few more tweaks and turns – moon acquired.

Oh my goodness.

It just hung there in the blackness of space, like some massive stone altar from an unknown civilization eerily hovering in nothingness, awaiting its priests to attend it. I kept thinking how this brutally pock-marked orb of greyish white luminescence wasn’t a picture or a video but the actual, living moon as it existed right above me.

This poor fellow looked like it had been through some ancient forgotten battle, the history of which perhaps burned in Alexandria. Who knows? What an incredible sight.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captures the essence of it best.

“As a pale phantom with a lamp
Ascends some ruin’s haunted stair,
So glides the moon along the damp
Mysterious chambers of the air.”

Truly the sight of the moon through a telescope just kind of leaves you a little spellbound.

After some wondrously surprising success with all things lunar, I decided to have a look at Jupiter.

Equally stunning.

I could see the striped clouds with relative ease as well as the gas giant’s four main moons.

But what was rather disorienting was how his moons were lined up.

My first astronomical sketch. Jupiter through the lens of my new telescope.

My first astronomical sketch. Jupiter through the lens of my new telescope.

This is my first astronomical drawing, made with Microsoft Paint. This is pretty much what I saw through my new telescope Friday night.

I am fairly certain the little dots are Europa, Ganymede, Io and Callisto all seemingly running contrary to virtually every picture I’ve ever seen of Jupiter (Don’t know the order of the moons in this drawing, unfortunately).

Every portrait of the king of the planets and his moons I’ve ever seen always shows them horizontally rather than this unusual vertical pattern.

This stunning array, however made rethink everything. What are the implications for the position of the earth in the solar system then?

Am I standing sideways?

Maybe we’re the ones who are a little off, planetary-wise (or maybe I just improperly mounted a lens or something).

Mythically speaking, Jupiter is king of the gods. If we can borrow this Jovian symbolism for just a moment, and suggest perhaps that Jupiter represents Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, then for this lay astronomer anyway, a message begins to take shape.

“Why is Jupiter on its side?”

Wait, wait. Why would the king be sideways?

Maybe the “king” planet is right-side up and I’m the one out of kilter.

For the last several centuries, modern science has tried to right the hulking, sovereign mass of our neighboring king planet to its own particular worldview and position in more ways than one.

Of course there’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for what I saw Friday evening. I’m not saying there isn’t (might be step #2 in the telescope instructions I skipped for all I know). But science does seem to at times go out of its way to deny the existence of God, or at the very least, refashion Him in their own materialistic image.

But I do this, too, trying to fashion God into my own likeness and lifestyle, or worse explain way or ignore Him.

I didn’t carefully read the telescope instructions, for example, and ended up mounting it backward. This strongly suggests the picture of Jupiter I’ve drawn is as a result of faulty direction following and/or astronomical ignorance. An improper attachment and/or understanding of my “lens” certainly may have affected what I saw. Thus, I’ve sketched a portrait of the “king” in a vertical position, quite possibly wholly contrary to nature and goodness.

Whether I made some assembly mistake or whether Jupiter was exactly as I saw it, that surreal image of the giant planet sitting there in the blackness of space reminded me of another time when another King hung vertically in the heavens.

Precisely because I’ve failed to follow the directions, the King took “stripes” for my own tempestuous and contrary storm systems. He was nailed vertically to a cross and pierced in His side.

C.S. Lewis believed the Great Red Spot on Jupiter symbolized Jesus’s wounding.

We know the story.

We see the pictures of crosses. We wear them as jewelry, emblazon them on t-shirts, we see them on church steeples, church bulletins, street-corner posters, web sites, billboards, buildings and Bibles.

We’ve grown accustomed to seeing and hearing the message of the cross in a particular way. But is it visible in my own life?

Sadly, not as it ought to be.

But last night, it was just me and the King of the planets – a portrait the likes of which I’d never seen.

While nothing particularly earthshattering happened, it did bring to mind a few thoughts.

When you really see the cross for yourself, with the naked eye, all alone, just you and the King, it’s a little disorienting. It’s not quite what you’d imagined. Maybe it’s not doing what you thought it would do “for you”.

Orienting oneself to the cross is not, in the end, something anyone can do on their own. I need professional assistance in order to properly interpret what I see through the lens of my telescope (It’s true on two fronts. My telescope “mount” has three different numerical dials, none of which I understand right now, much like my own life which has so many things which appear out of kilter, randomly madcap and inexplicable, for which I also need help).

I cannot, in my own human strength, make myself right with the cross any more than I can horizontally right Jupiter’s stripes to match the pictures in the astronomy books.

The message of the cross is that I’m not right with God. I must embrace the cross, not fashion it to my own liking.

But tragically, this is exactly what I do. Since I can’t (or won’t) do what He says, I try to take His “stripes” and orient them to my own particular view of the universe, of which I am so often the center. Yet if we can accept a bit of paradox, irony and upside-downness, and don’t mind some spinning about in ways the world does not, our orbit around the Son will proceed according to the Father’s will and understanding.

If Jesus turns me, as He turns the earth and the planets in the orbital patterns of His sovereignty, so too shall I be turned. That’s the Gospel. Jesus, turn me so that I’ll be turned. Orient me to Your stripes and let me stand upright with joy once more.

“Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”

Let me not keep thinking the universe revolves around me. It seems the most obvious truth to say it, but the most difficult one to accept.

Seeing Jupiter this weekend made me take stock of the ground upon which I’ve so often taken for granted as being “right-side up.”

Whether it was my lens or the position of the earth, my “view” of Jupiter was not what I expected. It was exhilarating, surprising and made me think. It was a good reminder that life itself is not always what we expect it will be. Our “views” need some tweaking from time to time to help us reorient ourselves to the King of king and Lord of lords.

And only He can turn us. Without Him, it is impossible. With Him, all things are possible.

“Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”