The hallways of Americana are painted with the rich visions of Willie Nelson. Like all contemplatives, he had problems: pain, woundings, barriers. Luckily for us, he left us quite a remarkable collection of what I might call “personal mythologies” with his many albums. Two of his albums, for me, come to mind: Red-Headed Stranger and Tougher Than Leather. The latter of the two takes us deep inside pain and suffering, death and rebirth, sin and redemption. Though eastern themes of reincarnation are invoked, the stage and the imagery are wholly Western.
Nelson asks God if life events are happening because of something that he’d done, a lifetime ago. Was he, he asks, just now repaying debts owed? He accused justice of traveling so slowly, but even that can’t mar his love of the rose.
The rose becomes the, well – let’s just say it’s the centerpiece of this Passion Play. While I won’t go line by line through the album and potentially butcher Willie’s work the way I might have done with Leonard’s Hallelujah, I do want to call attention to this fact: many of the great artists create a sort of personal mythology, a world full of good and bad, heaven and hell, sharing how those archetypes take form in their own lives. Perhaps only they know which symbols to anchor where (truly) but, for listeners and artists alike, the sea of images and inspiration is wonderful to bathe in.
Our own lives are no different. We don’t have to be serious artists to recognize the unique significance certain places, people, and things take on in our spiritual journeys. Some friends are there when we need them; patterns of heartbreak recycle, the victim becomes the victimizer. Most on the contemplative journey know full well how nasty this world can be. So why not color it with our own imaginations?
Contemplative Light is planning on doing more work in this area and, likewise, we are lucky to have Kelly Boyer-Sagert partner with us and lend us her wisdom in a new mini-course, which tackles the issue of personal mythology: Writing As A Spiritual Practice. Now available for only $10.