The lake below our house has been glassy calm lately. This happens, sometimes, in spring and fall. The water lies so still that it’s hard to tell the reality from the reflection.
I feel compelled to take pictures. My computer enables me to turn photographs upside down. Sometimes, the mirror image is so perfect even I don’t know which way is up.
A mirror surface may delight photographers, but it’s not good for the lake.
Like humans—indeed, like every living thing—lakes have to breathe. Oxygen has to filter deep into the water. Without it, the lake dies.
Where winter temperatures drop low enough, the change in season helps a lake to breathe. When water cools, it grows denser. Colder water also carries more dissolved oxygen. So when surface layers get cold enough, they sink through the slightly less dense waters beneath, carrying oxygen from the surface into the depths.
Cold-weather lakes breathe once a year.
Storms also help lakes to breathe. As winds stir up the surface, they expose more water molecules to the atmosphere. The bigger the waves, the deeper the stirring goes.
Conversely, of course, the stiller the surface, the less oxygen that a lake absorbs. The little that does get absorbed stays near the surface. It doesn’t get swirled down deeper, where fish live.
And utterly placid water becomes stagnant.
Rather like us.
I don’t want to be stagnant. Like a lake, I welcome the input from the streams and rivers of thought that flow into me.
But I have to admit that I’m not keen on having storms in my life. They upset my preconceptions. They force me to adapt. In calm waters, I can feel as if I’m in control; when storms strike, I know I’m not. All I can do is try to keep my head above water.
But I know that glassy calm is not good for me, either.
Funny things, mirrors. Have you ever noticed that it’s almost impossible to pass a mirror without checking your reflection? Men check their comb-over, their posture. Women check their lipstick, their hemlines.
You have to feel really driven by deadlines and appointments not to glance into a mirror.
But mirrors have their negative side. In the Greek legend, Narcissus became so entranced by his own reflection that he could not turn away from it, and so he perished.
Mirrors represent our obsession with ourselves. We start to think we—me as an individual, or us as a race or religion or species—are all that matters. Other life forms, other faiths, other ways of seeing the world, become irrelevant, distractions, falsehoods to be stamped out.
In his book The Naked Now, Richard Rohr suggests that people who have never experienced a crisis—of life or of faith—can never progress past a shallow and superficial spirituality. They will remain forever stuck in an unthinking acceptance of conventional norms.
Perhaps the moral of this story—as my Sunday school teachers used to say—is that every life needs to get shaken up now and then.
Like a lake, it’s the shaking-up that renews life.