One of my great disappointments in life is that I can't whistle. I can make some strange tinny noise while sucking in air, but it's a wimpish tone, with no bellow to it. And since I can only muster this neutered note while gathering wind, my chirp only lasts 10-12 seconds before I'm gasping for breath. It's embarrassing, particularly when your sons want you to teach them the licks. I still believe whoever whistled that opening for the Andy Griffith Show is a god.
My dad, however – now he can whistle. When I was a kid, he'd tootle the usual tunes when a melody stuck in his head, but mainly my dad whistled to communicate. Whistling is dad's fourth language. A true linguist, dad has four primary tongues: English, Texan, sign language and whistling. Sign language was for when we were in a public setting and dad wanted to say something off the radar. It may have been as simple as granting me permission to exit church and go to the bathroom — but receiving confirmation via clandestine hand code made the whole thing excitingly cloak-and-dagger. Whistling, however, was for those occasions when dad wanted to reach every nook and cranny of the neighborhood. Dad had a powerful, looping whistle, and it signaled time to return home for dinner or chores or for an outing. That whistle was unmistakable. Dad could be a couple blocks away, and I knew exactly what it meant and would come running.
I loved that sound. I hear it now. That powerful echo told me there was a place called home and that there was a dad standing there at the front steps waiting for me.
St. John speaks of God as our shepherd and we the sheep. And the sheep, John says, know the Shepherd's voice. We know the whistle. John doesn't have much to say regarding our tenacious efforts to hear, preening toward every scrap of sound while anxiously deciphering its meaning (or not). John simply says the Shepherd speaks, and the sheep hear. And then the sheep follow. Of course, we could rightly protest with the hundred competing scenarios where things go differently, where the Shepherd seems difficult to hear – or where the sheep don't listen and don't follow. But of course, John doesn't say the sheep hear everything plain. We simply hear enough. We hear plain whatever we need to hear plain. That's the rub. Ever since Eden, we tend to believe we need more knowledge than we actually do.
But all we really need to know is the whistle. And to know that a Father filled with love waits for us at the front steps.