The following is part 2 of a 3-part article series that examines excerpts from a new book about U2 and C. S. Lewis (how their music and books intersect and capture spiritual hunger in powerful ways) called Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey Into Joy and Healing. The series is being published to celebrate the upcoming release of U2’s new album “Songs of Experience.” (#U2SongsOfExperience)
In Part 1 in this series, U2 and C. S. Lewis taught us about Lewisian Joy (stabs of joy) and an inconsolable longing for God.
As this longing presses us, we begin to see how frail and futile our attempts have been to replace God–the ultimate source of joy–with the things and relationships of this world, especially when we find how restful it is to go to God for all of our spiritual and emotional nourishment and strength.
My late mother Sally Ott put it this way:
Our words are leafy, windblown attempts to attach meaning to your Tree of Life. You are the nourishing source for our frailty, yet we disengage from your security and flitter away into gusts and puddles, mud banks and debris. Odd, how we seek beauty and food in transient things. When I flutter to the ground, exhausted, bent, and bruised, you gather me up in a whispering breeze, and you rest my droopy form upon your limbs. Comforted and nourished, I peek at the world of busyness and rest.
The journey of responding to all of the “stabs of joy” that stir us to deeper hunger for God can be tiring, especially when we see how broken we truly are beneath all the shiny facades we build.
Yet God is like an “unknown caller” texting us with persistence in the middle of the night, never giving up on us or slowing in His attempt to communicate His heart to us.
This is what U2 captures with its lyrics and music in one of the band’s best tracks, as I explained in the book:
When U2 recorded the song “Unknown Caller” in the city of Fez, Morocco, for their twelfth studio album, No Line On The Horizon, all four members of the band gathered under the open sky of a riad, a traditional Moroccan home that has an open-roofed courtyard or garden in the middle. And when I heard the band play the song at the Rose Bowl in October 2009, Bono said this about that recording experience: “It was a beautiful sunrise on that morning.…Two birds flew into our little riad, and we wrote this song. It’s called ‘Unknown Caller.’ For a chorus of voices. A chorus of voices! Help me!”
According to a sixty-four-page interview with U2, which was published as a magazine and released with No Line On The Horizon, “Unknown Caller” tells the story of a broken man who receives mysterious text messages on his phone even though he has no signal; and the song strongly implies that God has sent the messages.
With fantastical images that would fit right in with the clocks melting in Salvador Dali’s Surrealist painting, Bono weaves a sense of mystery, even eeriness, as a person receives text messages from God in the middle of the night. As the song’s chorus shouts, God extends a simple invitation to the broken man. It could be summarized this way: Come to me, and I will make all things new. Draw near to me and begin a journey beyond your obsessive orbit of Self.
The song really does feel like an invitations. As I wrote: “It haunts you. It beckons, pleads, and pulls. It yearns for something beyond this world—what C. S. Lewis called the ‘severe’ and ‘remote’ when describing the sublime longing of Joy….What’s astonishing, however, is how the music communicates these themes as clearly as the lyrics—perhaps even more so.”
As you discover in my book, the structure of “Unknown Caller” works as a musical pantomime of a spiritual truth: we journey into shadowy valleys and low places throughout our relationship with God as we respond to deep hunger for Him, but suddenly in a moment He brings us to a high place above all the darkness, overlooking incredibly beauty.
In Book 1 of C. S. Lewis’s series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” we discover a similar pattern in the journey from shadows to light, from tribulation to breakthrough on the mountain heights above the valley:
When we reach this new elevation, the most important thing we discover is not something new about ourselves, but about God. This something new might surprise us as it once surprised a boy named Digory. In Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, Digory is full of sorrow because his mother is dying of an illness. One day he stumbles into Narnia and causes a disaster. When Digory stands before Aslan to give account for what he has done, Aslan commands him to perform a quest.
Digory, whose only desire is to find some magic that will cure his mother’s terminal illness, tells Aslan about his mother. The boy even considers trying to strike a bargain with the Lion, but he realizes that “the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with.” When Digory, who is certain that the Lion will ignore the plea about his mother, looks Aslan in the face for the first time, he discovers something shocking:
Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
The truth discovered is simple: if we “faint not” in our prayer and pursuit of God, if we respond with hungry hearts to the text messages from the unknown caller, the mysterious promptings of the Holy Spirit to spend time with God (promptings that come at the oddest times), He promises to draw near to us (James 4:8) and fill us with living water (John 4).
Click here to read other published installments in this 3-part series.
Excerpts in this article come from the book “Shadowlands and Songs of Light.” Text LIGHT to 54900 to get a preview of Shadowlands and Songs of Light. You can also try the new YouVerse Bible App devotional plan written by Kevin called C. S. Lewis and Joy now available in the Bible app.