The Lower Lights

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I remember late night rides home from Ludington. I was small still and either buckled in up front between my parents or riding backwards in the way back of the station wagon. Lake Michigan was still drying in my hair and its sand filled my pockets and rubbed on my feet inside my socks.

Tired and sunburned and happy, I’d try to drift off to sleep.

Most of my favorite childhood memories are set on the beaches of Lake Michigan, particularly those of Ludington.

My dad drove us home those nights, often singing to us and with us. Gilbert and Sullivan, songs about some cannibal king with a big nose ring, or a man who bought a donut with a nickel that had a hole in it. Silly songs, most of them. Songs I happily stayed awake to sing along to.

But there was one song he sang that made me close my eyes and clench my throat so I wouldn’t cry for its beauty. It was the kind of song that made me miss my grandpa and I didn’t know why. The kind of song that stirred a longing in me for things holy and pure and lovely.

It’s a hymn I don’t remember ever singing in church, although it was in the hymnals which lived in the pews of Calvary United Methodist where I grew up. That was all right. I preferred hearing it in my dad’s baritone, no organ needed.

These days my family goes to Grand Haven. It’s less than an hour from my front door and easy for an evening trip after my husband gets out of work. We drive back in the dark, my kids with Lake Michigan drying in their hair and sand rubbing their feet on the inside of their knock-off Crocs.

As we drive along, I think of my dad singing his silly songs. But more than that, I remember the haunting melody of the Lighthouse Song. The song that has worked its way into my memory and my soul.

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us, He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore

Let the lower lights be burning
Send a beam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

(Let the Lower Lights Be Burning, Philip P. Bliss)

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