I like U2. They create music and lyrics that make me think. Their thoughtful lyrics are filled with symbolism and passion for “the least of these.” Emotion flows through each musical note.
Most of all, I appreciate their expressions of faith—even when they wrestle and struggle. And do they struggle. These guys are fragile and broken, just like you and me. So, to be clear, I don’t agree with all they do, say, and promote. Despite their rough edges, I respect them, and I enjoy their music.
My absolute favorite U2 song (just edging out “One”) is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song is beautiful and troubling. It makes me uncomfortable. At one moment, Bono sings about Jesus’ sacrifice that broke sin’s bondage over those who believe and the longing for heaven. The next moment he sings, “But I still haven’t found where I’m looking for.” Wait! What? Isn’t Jesus enough (I asked in my holy voice when I first heard the song at age 17)? Jesus is enough! While I want to live my life in that reality, and I long for heaven, I fall short. As Bono confesses, I get sidetracked and chase other things on the journey. That’s why it makes me uncomfortable. It shows what lurks in my heart. (See my post about the song here).
U2 recently re-released “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” to mark the album’s 20th anniversary. The album is a beautiful work of art. Most remember it for songs like “Beautiful Day” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” For me, “Walk On” is the real diamond. In many ways, it couples very naturally with “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” While it was dedicated to San Suu Kyi, an imprisoned freedom-fighter in Burma, the song deals with the “stuff” that gets in our way of love. Perhaps, just maybe, the stuff that keeps us from the love of our Creator.
The album’s title is taken from Bono’s spoken word intro in “Walk On.” He says, “And love is not the easy thing. The only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind.” The theme of packing and the things you can’t leave behind continues throughout the song. Another journey narrative with an out-of-place sojourner. In many ways, it mirrors the message and progressions of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But in “Walk On,” Bono isn’t looking for something else. He encourages the listener to get rid of all that extra baggage they have collected on the journey.
Look at verse two and its thinly veiled reference to heaven with bondage and freedom language and see how the chorus encourages the listener to continue the journey. Bono sings about something unseen that gives strength for the sojourn:
You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom
Walk on, walk on
What you’ve got they can’t deny it
Can’t sell it, or buy it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight
The song concludes by talking about “home” (maybe a literal home, maybe a symbolic home) and encourages the listener to leave behind all the things that he or she holds on to … all the stuff that gets in the way of love. Then Bono gives a list of the things we should leave behind.
Home, hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one
Home, I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home
That’s where the hurt is
And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Leave it behind
You’ve got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you feel
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you care (It’s only time)
And I’ll never fill up all my mind
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
And all that you scheme
All you create
All that you wreck
All that you hate
When asked about his inspiration for the lyrics, Bono mentioned “Corinthians.” I’m assuming Bono was inspired by 1 Corinthians 13—the love chapter. Not only does Paul describe love in 1 Corinthians 13, he talks about putting away childish things. There are also hints of “The Cares of this World” from the Parable of the Sower. And of course there is a little bit of 1 Corinthians 13 (and a bit of Romans 7 and Philippians 3) in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
Bono wrote “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in his late 20s, and it seems like the words of a young struggler, a temped sojourner. The line “I’m still running” is so ambiguous. Is he running to God or from God?
“Walk On” came along when Bono was close to 40. These are the words of a struggler who is a bit older—someone who has had a chance to collect some needless hurts and habits. The idea of walking on is not ambiguous—we must keep going during the struggle of life. This time, Bono isn’t talking about running, but merely putting one foot in front of the other and dumping all the stuff that entangles us. If you are like me, there is a lot I need to leave behind. This year has been a struggle—walk on!
Postscript: Since I wrote this, I have discovered that U2 ends this song with a series of “Hallelujahs” – additional evidence that the song has spiritual meaning for the band.