One of my stranger collections is made up entirely of tops. People often ask me why one would collect so many tops, and I really can’t offer much of an answer except that I just really like them. I like the idea of simple yet fascinating toys; toys that require no electrical cords, no batteries, no complicated instructions, no assembly; toys that don’t necessarily inspire competition or winners and losers. A chunk of wood with a sharpened stick through the middle and a little wrist action is all you need.
I guess if I think about it through the lens of my mechanical engineering background, I would like the fact that the design is simple but requires precision in order for it to work more effectively. The top must be perfectly balanced for each spin to last longer. The axis must be exactly centered and perpendicular to the outer disk in order to achieve this level of balance. Every aspect of the design can affect its overall performance; the length and position of the axis, the diameter and thickness of the disk, the weight distribution of the two parts, the surface that it is spun on and so much more.
Historically, according to Wikipedia, “the top is one of the oldest recognizable toys found on archaeological sites. Spinning tops originated independently in cultures all over the world.” Which fascinates that Discovery Channel part of my brain.
It’s been said that a top only exhibits the illusion of spinning. In reality it is always falling, but turns too quickly to actually fall. I’m not sure that I buy that explanation as I tend to lean more towards descriptions of gravity, angular momentum, and gyroscopic effect. But it does make for an interesting analogy. It’s not a perfect analogy (as Judge Sotomayor said during her confirmation hearings, all analogies are imperfect), but it’s an analogy just the same.
As a Christian and as a human, I am always falling in a billion different directions. I am an imperfect being and cannot possibly even dream to be able to continue spinning on my axis or standing upright under my own power for very long. Life is hard. The forces of the world are continually pulling me in every direction, trying to disrupt my life. I require something or someone bigger and infinitely more powerful than myself in order to keep going or to pick myself up and start spinning again. Which is why I, as the hymn says, turn my eyes upon Jesus.