Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hearing it another way

As some of you may know, I am a longtime fan of the Irish rock group U2. I have appreciated their music ever since I was in the later years of elementary school, and became a devoted fan in college. One of the reasons why their music has always appealed to me is because of the many religious themes present in their lyrics. Three of the four band members are professing Christians, and many people may not know that the band almost broke up in its very early years when a couple of them felt they could not reconcile rock music with the fundamentalist Christian beliefs that they were espousing at the time. In any case, Ireland has been mired in religious/political conflict for quite some time and the members have felt surprisingly at ease working Christian overtones into their music.

What I like particularly about this aspect of their music is that the themes and overtones are not always very blatant. In fact, they are often so subtle that I'm not always sure that they're really there and that I'm reading too much into the songs. In that sense, they are a true "say it another way" subject: they find very covert and creative ways of expressing biblical and theological concepts. "Until the End of the World" on the "Achtung, Baby" (1991) album, for example, is clearly composed of the thoughts of Judas Iscariot as he reflects on the Last Supper, but many listeners are not always aware of this. "Yahweh" on "How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb" (2004) could very well appear in a hymnbook, containing selections of Paul's letter to the Romans.

Their latest album release, "No Line on the Horizon," is no exception. Although I have not had the chance to give every track a thorough listen, the second song struck me at the outset as a possible redaction of Mary's song in Luke 1, or at least Bono's version of the back-story to the Magnificat. I can imagine the words playing in the background during a video-montage of Mary's life, almost like she's singing to Jesus, her Son.

The refrain seems particularly theological to me, drawing to my mind the redemptive love of the scars on Jesus' hands:
"Only love, only love can leave such a mark/
But only love, only love can heal such a scar"

The nails of the cross "leave the mark" of Jesus' love for God's creation, but the Father's love for his Son can heal the scar that shows the sign of that Passion.

The song continues, as if Mary reflects on her role, remembering her response in faith when she sang her response to Gabriel's announcement:

"I was born to sing for you/
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up/
and sing whatever song you wanted me to."

The song ends with an acclamation grounded in faith--dare I say even in Lutheran language, echoing themes from an earlier U2 release, "Pride (in the name of love)":

"Justified till we die/you and I will magnify the Magnificent."

There is nothing other than the title that made me relate this song to the Magnificat. Upon closer listening, there is nothing that suggests it cannot also be our song, our response to a love that can heal and sustain, a love that we have known in Christ who is magnificent. The concept of our lowly souls magnifying God certainly reaches its height in Mary's song, yet it is a quality of faith that may be brought to bear in any sinner's heart. We are justified, and in that justification our lives may magnify that about God which makes God truly great: that he loves us and chooses us and loves to hear the praise we give.