WASHINGTON, January 1, 2013 — Humans have praised God through many means throughout our history. Science has ventured tentatively into these waters, but God remains a mystery, and some would argue that this is the way that it is meant to be.
My views on this are well documented: I believe that science has a role to play in our spiritual development – as Jacob Bronkowski said, knowledge is our destiny, and science’s raison d’etre is surely to obtain that knowledge. Science and Religion don’t have to be in opposition, they are sides of the one coin, and ultimately, if we foster the advance of both of them, their description of that coin must converge.
But because it is the new year, and perhaps a time to eschew controversy in favor of community, let me talk about music. Except in the most puritanical religions, music has always been one way that we have agreed we could seek to commune with God, and share our experience of that seeking. Gospel and hymns are the traditional forms of praise, but pop music is also gathering its own rich tradition.
To the surprise of many, U2, arguably the world’s most popular rock band, is not afraid to release songs which have a spiritual emphasis. They wear their Christianity on their sleeves if you know where to look.
I have included some excerpts below from two of their earlier songs which are particularly clear in their message.
They touch on our need for God, and their popularity seems to suggest that they have a universal appeal, irrespective of your own particular religious belief.
Released in 1981, Gloria is one of U2’s very first singles. Not to be confused with Thems’ (with Van Morrison at the helm) ode to carnal love of the same name, U2’s Gloria is a barely disguised hymn to God. Here is an excerpt from it:
“I try to sing this song
I, I try to stand up
But I can’t find my feet
I try, I try to speak up
But only in you
Oh Lord, loosen my lips
I try to sing this song
I, I try to get in
But I can’t find the door
The door is open
You’re standing there
You let me in”
A superficial glance at the lyrics could confuse it with a love song. Perhaps Bono is simply singing to a girl named Gloria? Undoubtedly that meaning exists in the song, but the real meaning is revealed by the chorus “Gloria in te Domine / Gloria exultate” translates to “Glory in you, Lord / Glory, exalt” which is a reference to Psalm 30:2. The song also contains references to Colossians 2:9-10 (“Only in You I’m complete”) and James 5:7-9 (“The door is open / You’re standing there”).
Similar feelings are expressed in the song 40, from their 1983 album, War. The song is called 40 after Psalm 40. Indeed the chorus is loosely based on the first two verses of Psalm 40:3, which reads “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God…”
In it, Bono refers to an inability to “find my feet”, to “stand up” or to “speak up”, which is an acknowledgement of our fallen state and a cry for help to God:
“I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song?
He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear”
Again U2 are making it clear how important it is to defer to the Lord – it is only “He” that will bring humanity “up out of the pit” or out of the darkness, and out into the light. It is only in God that we can find a firm foundation in our lives.
The question of “How long to sing this song” is one we are probably all asking ourselves here at the beginning of the new year. Ever since Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden humanity has stumbled in the darkness, trying to one day find our way home; and it seems that the further we have come, the more lost we have become – and so it would be easy to lose heart.
Today humanity is facing greater challenges than it ever has in its history, and it can seem overwhelming. ‘How long?’ asks Bono. Who can truly say? All we can do is have faith, and just put one foot in front of the other for a bit longer – and if we do that we will yet come out the other side.
My only caveat is that with the strength of our faith we continue forward rather than retreat – though retreat might seem like the safer way to get home. Though going forward seems fraught with uncertainty and danger, it is only in going forward that as a species we will fulfill the potential that God has given us. As a community, as a people, as a species, let us not hide our light under a bushel.
Surely a wonderful future awaits us if we but hold the course – a beautiful day no less. Happy new year!
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