The Spiritual Journey of "Out of the Woods"

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Welcome to 2016 everyone! Like most people during this time of year, I want to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for 2016. But since, like most people, I watched Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve in anticipation of the countdown, I got to watch the premiere of Taylor Swift’s latest music video “Out of the Woods.”

Out of all of the videos that Taylor has released from her 1989 album, this is by far my favorite since “Bad Blood.” It takes me back to the Taylor I knew: the Taylor who wore long, beautiful dresses and tried to figure out what love meant. The video itself is reminiscent of a spiritual journey.

It starts out with the words “She lost him” and opens with Taylor standing on the beach in a long light blue dress. As the song begins, a forest starts growing around her. This symbolizes the beginning of a spiritual journey, being led into a seemingly dangerous place where wolves (which could represent opposition or anxiety) and tangling vines (which represents sin) are out to get you at every corner. Day turns to night as Taylor weaves her way through the woods and runs from the wolves and through the tangling thorns. In the chase, she falls and her dress gets torn, representing the first stumbling.

All of a sudden, Taylor is on top of a mountain. The wolves are still chasing her. Taylor rips the necklace she was wearing off and tosses it over the mountain. Then she takes a leap and dives into the ocean below. This represents the second part of the spiritual journey: taking a leap of faith and letting yourself be submerged into an ocean of grace. I also saw her taking the necklace off as letting go of what you used to love in order to immerse yourself into a deeper love.

But just as Taylor is in the ocean, she’s suddenly in a desert. She touches a tree and then finds herself frozen in the middle of an icy forest, running from an avalanche. Both of these can represent spiritual dryness. Spiritual highs don’t last long and the dry periods of spiritual life can either feel as barren as a desert or as cold and bitter as winter. Either way, these dry periods prompt us to reflect and have faith in spite of how we feel.

The bridge of the song finds Taylor crawling through a muddy swamp as vines entangle around her in every different setting. This is the fallen state of grace, when we are covered in sin. Like the vines, sin paralyzes us. But as the song transitions towards the last chorus, little lights surround Taylor and even though she keeps getting thrown down and finds herself surrounded by fire, the vines don’t try to entangle her anymore. Instead, she gets up and gets out of the woods. The music video ends with Taylor back at the beach as the forest disappears behind her. Her dress is shorter, but her eyes are so much wiser. She sees her old self looking out into the ocean and reaches out to touch her.

Then these words flash on the screen: “She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything.”

The last part of the music video to me represents the sense of renewal which leads to finding the best version of yourself again. You return to where you started because God draws straight with crooked lines.

Fellow Swifties will recognize the words from the end of the video as the secret message from the song “Clean.” In a way, this message combined with the music video basically describes what 2015 was to me. I didn’t lose a person so much as ideas on what I thought my life should’ve been. I met with a lot of disappointments in 2015. And yet, through my own spiritual journey, I found myself again. I let go of all of my preconceptions on how things were “supposed to be” and took a leap of faith, entering into this new life where nothing’s quite as certain, and yet my faith and trust in God remain constant.

And somehow, that faith and trust was everything. It led to me making new friends. It helped me to grow as a writer. Most surprisingly of all, I became a more forgiving and hopeful person.

It’s hard for me to choose one word that will be my constant throughout 2016. Mercy is a good contender since this is the Year of Mercy. I’m reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, so light is also a potential word. I’m still on this spiritual journey towards finding my vocation, which makes the word “direction” quite appealing. However, what resonates the most with me right now is love. Bishop Robert Barron said that “Mercy is what the Divine Love looks like when turned towards the sinner.” Mother Teresa was called to be a light of love to the streets of Calcutta. And in this journey that I’m taking, I feel like love will be what will lead me to wherever I end up next.

I don’t just mean romantic love, although I find myself longing for that more than usual. I also want to learn how to balance love of God and love for myself in a healthy way. To be humble but at the same time be self-assured and hold my ground to protect myself from creeps and devils. “Love” also applies to my writing. I want to finish all of my writing projects, pour my love into every single word and share that love with the world. Most of all, I want to be able to get past my cynicism and be able to love my neighbor and see the best in them.

So here are some questions for you: Where are you on your spiritual journey right now? What do you think is your word for 2016?

I pray that God will help lead you out of whatever woods you happen to find yourself in. Happy New Year everyone!

Screenshots from “Out of the Woods” are copyright to Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift, and Joseph Kahn and are used for editorial purposes only.

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