By Bert Montgomery
Thank God for Willie Nelson!
Recovering in bed after the skillful hands of a surgeon removed about twelve inches of my colon, my spirit is being refreshed by the skillful voice and hands of a master musician. A short stack of favorite CDs lay next to the bed, but the one receiving the most playtime is Willieâ€™s 1978 classic, Stardust.
Funny, Stardust isnâ€™t even my favorite of Willieâ€™s albums. But there is something magical about itâ€”all of those old pop standards, like â€œGeorgia on My Mind,â€ â€œSomeone to Watch Over Me,â€ and â€œOn the Sunny Side of the Street.â€ It is a joyous record that always lifts my spirits in a way that few others can.
Iâ€™ve also been reading some Thomas Merton. Merton writes in The Seven Storey Mountain, â€œIt is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint. For God is greatly magnified and marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one. There are no two saints alike: but all of them are like God, like Him in a different and special way.â€
OKâ€”so Merton had â€œdiscoveredâ€ an ancient saint in the Catholic tradition who was speaking to him in a personal way. But Iâ€™m stating it right here and now: WILLIE NELSON IS A SAINT!
You may question the subject matter of some of Willieâ€™s songs. You may point out some of Willieâ€™s personal habits. But Iâ€™m telling youâ€”nobody, but nobody, can sing â€œIâ€™ll Fly Away,â€ â€œUncloudy Day,â€ or â€œAmazing Graceâ€ with more gospel exuberance than Willie!
Maybe itâ€™s his honesty. Thereâ€™s no self-righteousness hereâ€”Willie is who he is. He doesnâ€™t hide his failures or habits from himself or anybody else. Thatâ€™s one reason Willie really speaks to me: I wish I could be so transparent before God and others.
Maybe itâ€™s his activism. Willie freely speaks his mind about and gets his hands dirty working on the moral issues of the day. His work for family farmers in an age of corporate greed run amuck. His opinions and songs about war (present war included). His continued support of underdog political candidates who arenâ€™t owned by big money interests.
Yes, Willie has a gut-level integrity and a strong moral compass that reflect the Truth of the Gospel. I only wish more preachers (myself included) could have such a moral compass and such personal integrity!
Whatever it may be, I canâ€™t really explain it. But, I am constantly brought into a spirit of joy and yes, into the very presence of God, when I listen to Willie Nelson.
I doubt any other Baptist preacher has ever declared someone a saintâ€”especially someone usually considered quite the sinner. But there is something about Willie Nelson that reflects the love of God to me and into the world. In Mertonâ€™s terms, thereâ€™s something about Willie Nelson that is like God in a unique and special way.
So, hereâ€™s to Saint Willieâ€”the patron saint of rebels, outlaws, and exceptional sinners! Thanks be to God!