Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thin ice freezes fast, then melts

Hike up into the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and about four hours from the trail head you'll come across some premium camp sites next to a pristine mountain lake. Bag some water and hang it from a tree to start filtering (you are guaranteed to be thirsty after such a climb), then set up tents, and build a fire. As the sun sets, it gets cold, and fast, even in the summer, and by morning, if you've chosen the right week and the right conditions, you'll wake up to a lake covered by a thin sheet of ice, almost hard enough to walk on if you dare, but thin and clear enough to note mountain fish just beneath the surface darting in the morning sun before the ice melts.

I always wonder, however on earth did fish come to be and survive here, at this altitude, under these conditions?

The same is true of a pond at the golf course here near our house in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Given the right conditions, a good snow and onset of cold can freeze the top of the pond, but sudden-like, so the clarity of the ice verges on glass. There's something deeply satisfying about launching snowballs out over the lake, only to watch them skitter in an explosive scatter out in all directions upon impact.

The joy of thin ice is its mutability. You can test it, break through it, reform it. In some instances, you can even break off large slabs and carry it around like window panes, licking as you go. Not that any four year olds I know have done this or anything. Or launch large portions of snowmen out to shatter ice and send patterning bubbles. Not that any dads I know have done this or anything.

Small bodies of water are always pleasant. Few parts of nature offer themselves so fully for exploration and pacific repletion. The number of rocks I have picked from the shore and cast across the surface of streams and ponds is beyond reckoning, and I often wonder what friendly sprites seem to return the best skipping rocks to shore again by morning-after to offer me the pleasure of casting them out again.

But there is really something about that thin sheet of ice. It's about the change that can happen overnight in a known body, a revealed entity, taking on a breakable rigidity that tempts our better natures and invites our vital curiosity. It's the same lake, always, yet transformed and wholly other by the selfsame particles present yesterday, rearranged by a simple change of temperature.

People and organizations change thus also. We tire and rest along their shore, and wake up to somebody/something else entirely. In some cases, the freezing is permanent. In other instances, it reveals a pond we never knew. But most of the time, it is the very same pond, just the conditions have changed.

We might approach change bringing the same curiosity real ice over mountain water elicits. Tread lightly. Test the weight. Experiment with the sparkle. Peer through inasmuch as the hardness is transparency. Fear the true cold. Expect beauty, because it is everywhere. Anticipate mud on the boots. Wipe it off on proximate snow.

The people I know tend to freeze up when conditions change dramatically. I am never my best self under stress. But in the moments of anxiety, at those times when I am most ill at ease, you also see clearly what I'm really made of.

The church is like this. The issue is never really the issue. Show up late afternoon, and the warmth of sun and freshness of air will invite pleasurable wading in cool liquid joy. Stay the night, cocooned in a bag with the food strung up to avoid bears, and in the morning, with only one thing changed--the temperature--the church sparkles with a fracturable veneer. Peter at the warming fire the night of Christ's crucifixion. Judas taking that bag of coins. Theudas and his quickly dissolving movement (Acts 5).

I think this is why I never bail on the church. The church is my mountain pond. I'm always ready for the next hike, to discover again as if for the first time its mutable rigidity. The church is funny like that, maintaining and sustaining accretions most other organizations drop more quickly, yet suddenly, when the temperature is right, measuring the prophetic out so appropriately that the shine of light from a ever so subtly frozen wave both blinds and illuminates, and underneath, that fish, a sign of life right in the place of impossibility.

1 comment:

  1. Really, really, nice. Blessings indeed to this old pastor.