Bono once said that in the 80s U2 sang about what they believed in and in the 90s they sang about what they didn’t. As the new millennium broke with Beautiful Day U2 were back to what they did believe in. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was upfront spiritual.
The cover even has a clue as to the state of U2’s spiritual temperature as it features a cryptic Bible verse from Jeremiah 33:3. The band had gotten Steve Averill to doctor the cover shot of the band members taken at Charles De Gaule Airport and change the gate number behind them to read J33-3. Bono called the verse God’s telephone number as it reads, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
That cover shot of the band members in a place of departure with their baggage beside them and Bono checking his passport depicts traveling. Symbolically, the music was leaving in other directions, and the technology was staying behind.
Walk On gives an obvious clue with a clever twist and a familiar phrase, “You’re packing your suitcase for a place none of us has been/ A place that has to be believed to be seen.” The song, dedicated to Burmese human rights campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, does seem to live in two dimensions. Bono is always running and climbing and crawling toward what he is looking for here on earth. A world of freedom and justice has to be first believed before it can be achieved.
Walk On is a song about groping in the darkness with little immediate hope of light. It is about suffering a broken heart and falling back but trying to stay strong in the midst. Bono’s perseverance that he yearns to transmit to Suu Kyi may have its basis in his love of Scripture. When the apostle Paul says nothing on this earth can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38, 39), it is a promise they could see through the many dark nights of the soul.
But the cover and title have yet another, spiritual and heavenly dimension. When U2 sang Walk On at the telethon for the heroes of the tragic events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, Bono spoke over the newly included hallelujahs on the emotionally charged climax, “I’ll see you when I get home” an obvious reference to eternal hope even in the midst of mourning.
The evangelical Christian roots from which Bono, Larry and The Edge came have a core belief that heaven is only achievable by belief. A new millennium, Jubilee 2000 and the loss of INXS singer Michael Hutchence may have brought a few spiritual issues to the forefront of the band’s thinking. It was time to take stock and ask some serious questions. What goes in the suitcase, and what has to be left behind? What are the important things in life? What are the transitory things? What can last the journey? What is of the moment? These spiritual questions are an ongoing theme of the Bible.
Ecclesiastes has a basic thesis of “everything under the sun is transitory and is meaningless” (Eccles. 1:2). Only a connection with God brings any sense to the meanderings of humankind. Jesus encourages His followers to forget about the treasures of earth because they get stolen or rust or moths eat them up. Treasures in heaven are lasting. The apostle Paul tells the early believers to put their trust not in things that cannot be seen because they are temporary, but to trust in things that cannot be seen because they are eternal.
At the end of the song, Bono lists the things that can be left behind: what you fashion, what you make, what you break, what you steal. It all can and must be left behind. They are man-made things, but he adds to the list all the wrong things or mistakes that the Gospel deals with. Jesus came and died and was raised to life to offer a new start, leaving the regretful things and guilt behind and heading on afresh.
The song and the Gospel have the same conclusion that love is the only thing that needs and can be in your suitcase. Jesus, when asked what the most important commandment was, told the enquirer, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.” Whether you’re heading for justice on earth or a fuller realization of the Kingdom of God in the next life, everything else can be left behind.
Good name for a book too!!!!