At the hilltop church, my grandmother’s alto lilted through the propped windows, her smoky praise mixing with campfires and lake water. My family’s open-air sanctuary had no doors to keep anyone inside, not even the God they were summoning with grape juice and tambourines.

They cried “Holy.” I whispered “where,” and left between tithes and offerings. I walked until their song melted, until the stones praised Him and water trickled down crags.

I listened to misty beach air, to driftwood and rocks. God was silent as my bare toes skirted Lake Erie water— a teenager who knew He was somewhere between the shore and the altar.

But I knew nothing—didn’t know that in five years, I would mouth soundless words, hymns, at my father’s graveside.

My feet sank in cemetery ground softer than sand, flecked with the little embers that make fire last longer than waterfront evenings.

Smoky music still glides through lake-breeze, flits through the billowing flags of sailboats. Embers, gray and silent, pepper the sand, keeping earth warm long after it should have turned cold.