Starting the Mornings Off With Willie

By Emily Rogers

I drive a forty-five minute commute to work. That is an hour and a half in the car each day without traffic. If my 1991 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s sound system didn’t pass away as I was driving that glory on wheels in college, then I wouldn’t have come to know the comfort of driving in silence.  Most of my mornings are spent quietly because my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Remembering my always vivid dreams, praying, and thinking about what I need to accomplish that day keep me plenty preoccupied. However, on my way home, I usually need something to listen to in order to shift the post-work gears. I will usually listen to one of three options: a podcast, an audio book, or music. If you look on my passenger seat right now, then you’ll find three Willie Nelson CDs ready to ride.

The first CD I popped in (in fact, the first Willie CD I have ever heard) is titled Naked Willie. Released in 2009, Naked Willie is a compilation of seventeen of Willie’s song from between 1966-1970. The songs are “naked” in that they are without any elaborate background vocals and/or orchestration. It’s just Willie doin’ Willie. 

Side note: Having just vacationed in Nashville a few weeks ago, I can absolutely close my eyes and picture Willie in a smoky, seedy corner of a 1970’s bar singing and strumming these tunes on Trigger...

The final song on Naked Willie, “Laying My Burdens Down,” has become my go-to song to belt out and harmonize (poorly) while on the road. Yes, Willie and I are becoming good pals, and he’s got me singin’ ‘bout layin’ my burdens down! It’s not surprising then that I found myself tapping my thumb on the pew during today’s prayer intentions at mass to this very earworm. Yet, this distraction got me thinking about the “easy” lyrics and how they actually (oddly) flow with the wave of mercy we are riding out on from Divine Mercy Sunday.

The lines “I just started laying my burdens down/Oh I'm layin' 'em down” comprise 24 of the 33 lines in Willie’s song. If you take them out, then the song reads:

Well I used to walk stooped
From the weight of my tears
I used to duck bullets from the rifle of fear

The flesh ain't nothing but the bark on a tree
The tree ain't nothing but the soul in me

My soul took love on a hell of a ride
A soul ain't nothing but the car love drives

Love said Mama can I come on home
And God said son you ain't never been gone

The apostles knew what it meant to walk in fear and feel the weight of their tears in the three days before Jesus rose from the grave. They were afraid of those who may come after them, who may arrest or kill them next for their belief in Jesus as Christ and King. And so, when Jesus came to them in the locked room and invited them to touch His flesh, He reminded them of His soul and His love for theirs. Even the Doubter, who did not believe the Master had come home to them, came to see and believe. Jesus reminded him He had never been gone. 

There are times when we too feel as though the weight of the world is on our shoulders. There are times when we feel distant from Christ’s love and mercy, when we are tired and afraid. We forget how important of a friend He is and what He looks like in our lives. We feel like we have strayed too far away from Him and His Church to be wanted back, but then, He reminds us He has never been gone. He does this through conversations with friends, interactions with strangers, books we read, and Willie Nelson songs we pick up at the library. These are the times we must buckle up for Love to take our souls “on a hell of a ride” and absolutely let Him drive!

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”