Hank & Jesus: Easter Sunday with a Country Twist
When listening to Hank William’s famous country-gospel song, “I Saw the Light,” it is easy to focus on the celebratory refrain, “praise the Lord, I saw the light.” However, as those who have lived in darkness know quite well, these words carry no meaning unless you understand the depth of despair from which such words of elation came.
Hank Williams is considered to be one of country music’s founding fathers. Looking at photos of his loud, stereotypical country garb, you might assume here was a good ol', clean cut, country boy living in the quaint 1940s. That was very far from the truth. Struggling with a debilitating illness that caused him major back pain throughout his life, Hank turned to alcohol and painkillers in an effort to self-medicate. His increasingly destructive behavior got him fired from the Grand Ole Opry, divorced from his first wife, and dead in the backseat of his powder blue Cadillac en route to a New Year’s Day gig. He was 29 years old. This is far from the character profile many would expect after listening to Hank’s high pitched, twangy voice joyfully singing, “Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight, praise the Lord, I saw the light!”
Yet, because of his imperfections, Hank was able to capture the joyful feeling of renewal, of experiencing God’s divine mercy, in a way that only someone who lived in darkness would be able to explain. Although headlines of his drunken mishaps narrated his downward spiral, Hank continued to include at least one gospel song in each of his performances. He was obviously a lost soul desperately searching. But he never dropped the gospel of hope from his act. And this is something to which we can all relate: feeling unworthy, being trapped in a cycle of sin, ignoring God’s invitation to let Him into our lives …. But by amazing grace, still not giving up the search for Truth.
Hank gives us a song that fits well into our Lenten season as we reflect upon our own aimless wanderings, our “lives filled with sin,” not “letting [our] dear Savior in.” Easter is our Christian New Years, an opportunity to put to practice the lifestyle of the person we want to be. We had 40 days to reflect, struggle, and in particular this year, crave God’s light... to trade the “wrong for the right.” But let's not forget from where we've come. As Father Richard John Neuhaus wisely advises in his Death on a Friday Afternoon, let's pause a moment this Good Friday and reflect upon the darkness in which we live and to what we witness every Holy Week liturgy. Sometimes we recoil from the darkness and rush onto Easter Sunday, "but we will not know what to do with Easter's light if we shun the friendship of darkness that is wisdom's way to light."
We at Sisters on Fire pray that this Easter Sunday, and all Sundays for that matter, our fellow sisters and brothers experience the beautiful freedom of seeing the light!
"I Saw the Light," sung by Liam Mogan @liammoganmusic
Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. “Hank Williams,” All Music, accessed April 8, 2020, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/hank-williams-mn0000549797/biography.
Escott, Colins. “Hank Williams, Honky Tonk Blues,” American Masters PBS, August 10, 2005,https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/hank-williams-about-hank-williams/734.
Neuhaus, Richard John. Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross. New York: Basic Books, 2000.