June – the beginning of summer’s lackadaisical days – it’s the time we tend to pull back from daily routines and create space for frolic and family vacations. Whether it’s a staycation or a let’s-explore vacation, summer gives us new opportunities to experience the glory of God.
My fondest memories of summer are those wrapped in nature, next to my father. When I was 8, my parents rented a small cabin just down a dirt road from a spring-fed lake. One night, Dad invited me and my siblings to join him for a midnight swim.
Steam rose as we tiptoed into the lake’s silky-smooth water. My heart pounded with a mixture of excitement and fear as Dad jumped into the depths of the lake. When he came back up, he stood tall next to me, shaking water from his hair. The droplets sprinkled my boyish skin. I felt like I was being baptized for a second time.
Dad gazed up at the starlit sky. He stood silently in the water, immersed in reverence. It was if he were connecting to something or someone up in the heavens, but the bond was much closer. He closed his eyes and folded his wet hands on his chest. I could almost hear his heart beat.
“Look, son,” my dad said as he opened his eyes and pointed to a shooting star flashing across the cathedral sky. “That’s how much God loves you. He created all of this – the stars, the lake, the trees – simply because he wants you to be happy. He wants you to enjoy the gift of life he’s given you.”
We gazed at the dancing stars for several long moments. I shot a side-glance at my dad. He was contemplating the sky. He didn’t move or talk. His head tilted slightly as though listening to someone speak. The muscles of his face were soft and relaxed. A smile radiated between his cheeks.
It was as if Dad were absorbed in prayer – like he was listening to an inner voice – a voice that had no sound but was speaking to him, through him.
It took years before I understood the voice my dad heard that summer night. But standing there next to him in the water, I knew that voice was real. I knew Dad heard it and I wanted to hear it too.
Now, as an adult with children, grandchildren and life experiences of my own, I understand that Dad was guided by God’s voice, and his reliance upon that guidance made him whole. It allowed my father to recognize and follow the path God unfolded for him day by day. It shaped and filled him with wisdom.
I also understand now why Dad spent time quietly each day sipping morning coffee alone in his den. I know why Dad turned off the car radio when he took my sister and me to school. He was listening for that voice – God’s summer voice – the one he heard as we stood bathed in the star-lit lake.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27) Have you heard that voice? Have you entered the quiet and allowed that voice speak to you – guide you? I think the voice Jesus refers to is the Holy Spirit – the one who whispers to our hearts – the voice of love that leads and guides us on life’s pathway.
Perhaps as men and women, fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts we can learn to hear that voice and follow it.
And through teachable moments like that midnight swim with my dad, we can show our loved ones how to recognize that voice too.
—brian j plachta