Yahweh is an Old Testament name for the God of Israel and Judah. I have a masters in Theology, though it is in music and social transformation, so I could have gone looking for an explanation. In the end I left the theological tomes on the shelf and turned to U2 by U2 where the theologian who is Bono explain eloquently:
“It’s a big word. A name not written down in strict Hebrew circles. And even some not so strict have it without vowels, just YWH. And I understand that we should come towards God with a sense of awe. Because Christianity has allowed Christ to become a friend to us as well as a Master and Lord, we may take that access a little for granted. But Yahweh was one of the names for God. When Moses spoke to the burning bush, he said, ‘Who are you?’ And the bush spoke back to him, ‘I am who am.’ Yahweh. The Great I Am. I came upon it while singing without knowing really what I was singing, it’s a sound I was making in my mouth that turned into a prayer. I hoped it didn’t sound Sunday School or naff. I think every line is underscored by a desperate need for me to know what to carry, too turn off my critical eye sometimes, to be fit for the shoes I’ve been given. I love singing it.”
Needless to say as a clergyman, as a theo-musicologist, as someone who at the time was writing an updated version of my book Walk On;The Spiritual Journey of U2, I was overexcited about this song appearing on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. I didn’t have to agree that this one was about God!
There was a lot of falling on your knees on How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb. Yahweh as the closing track was the ultimate fall on your knees song. In his description of it Bono sees it as a confessional, commitment prayer to his faith in God. It is nothing short of a modern hymn. I have seen it used that way in Church and very powerfully.
There are traces of Frances Ridley Havergal’s 18th century hymn ‘Take My life (and let it be consecrated Lord to thee)’ in which the English poet offers his hands, feet, silver and gold, will and love over to God. Likewise, Yahweh is song about giving over to God to sort out your life. Lips that judge need to be kissed. Yahweh is a song of deep commitment and allegiance. It is also an unlikely yet powerfully poignant ending to a rock album.
The radical impact of Yahweh came in the live setting where Bono was able to take the recording and tease out the words and gesture with it. At the height if the Vertigo Tour when U2 were clearly the biggest rock band in the world, they would end their concerts with this moment of surrender, of emptying of self, of giving over to a transcendent bigger. When all the social commentaries of rock music lean towards its excess, its hedonistic sex and drugs and gaining fame and fortune, here was the biggest band on the planet posturing themselves before the Divine and closing out their concerts with:
“What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break”
Come on! What is happening here. I want some of it.