Talk about jealousy – our friend Nathan was among those fortunate enough to score tickets to U2’s much-anticipated gig in NYC last night, and he sent us the following report. [To read Aaron Zimmerman's excellent 4-part series on the spiritual history of the band, click here, here, here and here.]
He didn’t just invite the audience on his otherworldly journey, he also invited Someone Else: at the end of the first song, “Breathe”, he closed his eyes and knelt slightly. With one hand holding the microphone and the other palm-toward-heaven, he pleaded, “Spirit breathe.”
And like the cool September breeze that gently graced the stadium throughout the show, the Spirit did indeed descend, to transport us to another place.
Several songs into the set, the band performed “Magnificent”:
I was born
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
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise
Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent‚ Magnificent
My friend Phil was standing next to me. While Bono worshiped using the above lyrics, Phil turned to me and said, “How can people not know what he’s singing about?!” I agreed completely.
The next song was Elevation. It’s a song that fits the “spaceship” theme: “You make me feel like I could fly, so high, El – eh – vay – shun!” And to make the point even more obvious, Bono looked at the crowd and said, “It’s my prayer for you.” And at this point in the church service–I mean, concert–I started to think about a question that the band sings in a lyric on the new album:
Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot
How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?
Perhaps I’m wrong, and there was no single person in the crowd of 84,000 who didn’t “see it” like I was seeing it. Perhaps everyone in the place understood that the spaceship was a cathedral, that the lead singer was a priest, and that the setlist was a liturgy, designed specifically to facilitate an encounter with the God of the Universe.
It couldn’t have been more clear than at the end of “One”, when Bono sang:
Can You hear us coming Lord?
Can You hear us call?
Feel us knocking
We’re knocking at Your door!
When this portion ended, he led us in an a cappella–84,000 strong–version of the hymn “Amazing Grace”, which blended into “Where the Streets Have No Name”. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see… I want to run, I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside. I want to reach out and touch the flame, where the streets have no name.”
At this point in the evening, Bono was no longer explaining his intention to have us meet God, or to take us away in his spaceship. No, at this point, we were already gone.
We held our arms aloft, reaching out to the touch that flame. And for a second I still wondered if someone could be in that place, standing next to the Truth but not seeing it. But when the next song started I decided to let Bono’s question be asked of me, instead of those around me. Was I the idiot going out with Beauty? Was I the one standing next to the Truth but not seeing it?
My answer came in the next song, “Ultraviolet”, one of my all-time favorites. I interpret the song to be in reference to Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God as an ultraviolet light: we can’t see it but it illuminates nonetheless. For this song, Bono dressed in a suit of lights. A rope hung from heaven (where the spaceship was now flying) above him, and it too was lit up like John chapter 1. As he hung from the microphone/rope like a drowning man clinging to a lifeline, he sang,
Sometimes I feel like I don’t know
Sometimes I feel like checking out.
I wanna get it wrong
Can’t always be strong
But Love, it won’t be long.
I used to think the chorus “baby, baby, baby‚ light my way” was a plea to some carnal lover. But now I realize that the “baby” is the Christ child, and his enduring love is my only lifeline. “I’m in the black, can’t see or be seen. Baby baby baby, light my way.” How many times in my life have I gone on thinking I am strong enough? I am capable enough? How many times have I not reached out for that rope of illumination and clung to it, as if my life depended on it? So many times, the Truth is right there, and I don’t see it.
The concert ended in surrender. (Where else could it end?) The liturgy was sung:
I’ve been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body’s now a begging bowl
That’s begging to get back, begging to get back
To my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control
And this is when I stopped noticing the people around me (judging their ability to “see it” or not) and simply focused on my own encounter with Jesus, my own surrendering to him.
At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me