I’ve written before about the importance of John Denver in my life. I truly believe that his influence was as profound as that of the Catholic church when I was growing up. His music was bright and loving and joyful and we experienced it that way in our home. And even if I was unsure about some of the nuances – even if I wasn’t walking around making grand theological statements about John Denver songs – I knew that he represented a spirituality I both needed and wanted.
In the circles of A Course in Miracles, John Denver sometimes seems to be approaching sainthood. I don’t know how he’d feel about that. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I never saw him – not back when he was alive and creating music and not now that he’s gone – as someone who was pursuing some otherworldly ideal. I don’t know that he wanted to be glorified for his personal gifts – I think he wanted to use them to bring us closer to the joy and peace that he experienced and knew was possible. I think he wanted to be a teacher in the truest sense of the world, one who leads and then stands aside when the student is ready to walk alone.
I could go on at length about my favorite John Denver songs, but the one I’ve been humming lately has been Annie’s Song.
Annie Denver seems to have been the muse for some of Denver’s best work. I recognize that his personal life was not always roses and boxes of chocolates – you get hints of that in this memorial speech given by Annie Denver (and on the same page you can read Bryant Gumbel’s interview with her which I’m told was pretty obnoxious in person. In the text, Annie comes off very centered and calm.)
Denver’s issues are fine with me. Nobody’s perfect and it’s facing that imperfection and insisting on grace and beauty despite them that brings us close to the love that is God. This is the essence of important songs like Rocky Mountain High. My guess in that Annie Denver today would accept that as well and encourage people simply to focus on the songs – on the message, if you will – and work to integrate it into our lives. As Tara Singh might say, bring it into application. Or as John Denver said “Reach for the future and hope for tomorrow and all that you can be.”
Anyway, Annie’s Song has always been special to me because it links our love of a person – the special relationship in course lingo – to the beauty and majesty of the natural world. “You fill up my senses . . . ” I know a lot of writers who dismiss Denver as trite, who consider him something akin to a cheap Hallmark card, but that’s to overlook way too much of his work. That phrase, that idea of a person filling our senses . . . it’s perfect and powerful. If you haven’t been there, haven’t felt that, then don’t stop searching until you do. In the same way that a sunset or a shooting star or a mountain standing solemn and tall in the moonlight can literally drop us to our knees, so can love. So can that special someone.
Every time I talk to my mother about John Denver, we always return to the notion that he left too soon. What a tragedy when he could have left us more work, more songs. I feel that. I imagine the people who are shared his life in a more intimate way feel that to a degree that I can only imagine. But at the same time, we have to be thankful for them – for his children, for his partners like Annie Denver – because they served as his muse. They were the special relationships through which Denver saw and understood our inner Christ. They were the vehicles that the Spirit flowed through, coming to fruition in his creative gift. I feel that love and happiness when he sings, and I am never not grateful for it.