I Found Grace Inside the Sound: U2’s No Line On The Horizon

Over the weekend Mockingbird received an anonymous, theological review of the new U2 record, which […]

Mockingbird / 2.23.09

Over the weekend Mockingbird received an anonymous, theological review of the new U2 record, which was just too good not to post. The record is out 3/3/09:

Good music is like a diamond; one can look at it from many different angles and see various facets of beauty. The new U2 album is like this, and I could have written a review about many other topics, such as its guitar riffs, its “moments of surrender”, or whether or not it is the “best ever” U2 album. Instead, I’m going to focus on the facet that played loudest to my ears: the repeated lyric, “let me in the sound.”

If the title No Line on the Horizon refers to a yearning for the removal of the barrier between heaven and earth, then I assume it is evoked from Jesus’ prayer to his Father, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is an idea displayed in visual form on the album’s cover, which is a photograph of a blurred line where the ocean meets the sky, and an “equals” sign over it (…on earth as it is in heaven). The theme certainly would fit within the larger context of Bono’s theology of eschatological tension (the “already / not yet” reality of Christ’s Kingdom), so poignantly painted in the scenes of Sunday Bloody Sunday and many other examples.

In that earlier U2 era, the tension was mostly focused on the brokenness of life on earth’s side of the horizon line (“broken bottles under children’s feet”). It sometimes alluded to the Kingdom on heaven’s side, showing us that it would include unity and hope (“tonight, we could be as one”). That unity was later analogized as radiant color, for example in the lyric “then [in heaven] all the colors will bleed into one” in I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

So many times, Bono has pleaded with the Divine to come down through the barrier once again. He would wonder why the delay (“how long must we sing this song?”), especially in the face of such a mess here on earth. He even pleaded by mocking God’s absence in Wake Up Dead Man: “I know you’re lookin’ out for us, But maybe your hands aren’t free?”

But on this latest album he has started to paint a fuller picture of that “other place,” the Kingdom (not yet) come, on the other side of the horizon line.

Moving beyond the color analogy, Bono here describes heaven as full of sound.

In the new song Breathe he has us imagine “the roar that lies on the other side of silence” and in I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight, he sings “…the sweetest melody is the one we haven’t heard.” I think this sound–a roar!–must be the same vision of heaven described in Revelation 4 and 5, where all the living creatures in heaven and on earth say/sing without ceasing “Holy Holy Holy” to the lamb on the throne.

Pointing us toward that sound, Bono invokes a prophetic tone by asking God to be witness to the truth of the Kingdom (“let me in the sound!”) and then he declares that he’ll be communicating that truth on earth, singing to the hearer, “Listen for me, I’ll be shouting. But we’re gonna make it all the way to the light.” Like a prophet, he then gives a rally cry to his people: “Let’s shout into the darkness, squeeze out sparks of light.” This lyric is an obvious footnote to the Bruce Cockburn lyric that Bono quoted on Rattle and Hum, “gotta kick the darkness till it bleeds daylight.” But here, instead of kicking at evil, Bono asks us to sing into it. He asks us to listen for Jesus’ tune, then sing with him that not-yet-heard melody of the Kingdom.

Walk out into the street,
Sing your heart out.
The people we meet,
will not be drowned out.

The song concludes its last verse with this:

We are people born of sound,
The songs are in our eyes.
Born to wear them like a crown, oh.

Walk out into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out,
Sing my heart out.
I found grace inside the sound,
I found grace, it’s all that I found.

Like a minister reminding his flock of their mission to be salt and light, Bono declares to us that we were created to sing of God’s grace. If we would yearn to hear, as he does, the song already being sung on the other side of the horizon, we might catch a note or two. We might “tune our hearts to sing God’s grace”, as the 18th century hymn Come Thou Fount also beckons. We might sing these notes in the darkness until we see sparks of light.

How long must we sing this song? Until that day when Christ returns and there is no line on the horizon.