Bono on the Psalms
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
The Psalms were written as the soundtrack to the spiritual life of Israel. Music touches us on a deeper level in a way that no other medium can.
In my studies today I came across some material from Bono on the Psalms. Douglas K. Blount observes that for Bono, “all roads to the Gospel lead first through the blues… gospel without blues leads to self-deception” (from “Rattle and Film: U2, Nietzsche, and Salvation in the Blues,” appearing in Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen)
Bono writes an excellent introduction to a published collection entitled Selections from the Book of Psalms. The following is an abbreviated form. Enjoy.
“At the age of 12, I was a fan of David. He felt familiar, like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious, and he was a star. Before David could fulfill the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting. This is where David was said to have composed his first psalm – a blues. That’s what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God – “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?” (Psalm 22).
Abandonment and displacement are the stuff of my favourite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s despair that the psalmist really reveals and the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. “How long, Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever?” (Psalm 89), or “Answer me when I call” (Psalm 5).
Psalms and hymns were my first taste of inspirational music. …they prepared me for the honesty of John Lennon, the baroque language of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the open throat of Al Green and Stevie Wonder. When I hear these singers, I am reconnected to a part of me I have no explanation for – my “soul” I guess.
Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do – they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, girls, my mates, the way in to my spirit was a combination of words and music. As a result, the Book of Psalms always felt open to me and led me to the poetry of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, the book of John…My religion could not be fiction, but it had to transcend facts. It could be mystical, but not mythical.
David was a star, the Elvis of the Bible…And unusually for such a “rock star,” with his lust for power, lust for women, lust for life, he had the humility of one who knew his gift worked harder than he ever would. He even danced naked in front of his troops – the biblical equivalent of the royal walkabout. David was definitely more performance artist than politician.
Years ago, lost for words and with 40 minutes of recording time left before the end of our studio time, we were still looking for a song to close our third album, War. We wanted to put something explicitly spiritual on the record to balance the politics and romance of it; like Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye would. We thought about the psalms – Psalm 40….Psalm 40 is interesting in that it suggests a time in which grace will replace karma, and love will replace the very strict laws of Moses (in other words, fulfill them). I love that thought. David, who committed some of the most selfish as well as selfless acts, was depending on it. That the scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it is a source of great comfort.
“40” became the closing song at U2 shows, and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape of T-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from Psalm 6: “How long (to sing this song).” I had thought of it as a nagging question, pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long hunger? How long hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalizing of such questions could bring such comfort – to me, too.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.