Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lament and hope in U2’s N/One Tree Hill

(Some writing today, for a paper on contemporary Baptist worship, July 15-18 in Melbourne – and dedicated to anyone planning for the U2 conference Oct 2-4, or dreaming of Oct 3.)

A number of explicit Biblical references in “One Tree Hill” lend itself to a reading of the song in relation to lament and hope. The subject referred to in the first line of the chorus changes through out the song: the initial “You ran like a river oh, to the sea” becomes, by songs end, “We run like a river to the sea.” This is an articulation of the inevitability of death, as expressed in Ecclesiastes 1:7: “All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going.”

The song journeys through lament; (We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill; The moon is up over One Tree Hill, We see the sun go down in your eyes) to become a protest not just against one death, but against all death (And in our world a heart of darkness, A fire zone where poets speak their hearts). This is linked with being human and the Cain and Abel narrative in Genesis 4:10 (You know his blood still cries from the ground).

Yet lament is not the last word, for the song ends with the hope of reunion (I’ll see you again). This is not a naive belief that all will be well in this life (I don’t believe in painted roses or bleeding hearts, While bullets rape the night of the merciful). Rather it is an eschatology in which the world is changed at the end of time, (I’ll see you again When the stars fall from the sky, And the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill”). It has echoes of Revelation 6:12-13: “Then I watched while he broke open the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; the sun turned as black as dark sackcloth and the whole moon became like blood. The stars in the sky fell to the earth like unripe figs shaken loose from the tree in a strong wind.” Despite the need for lament in the midst of our present darkness, there will be reunion with those we love, and have loved, coupled with judgment on present evil. A message of hope indeed.

Posted by steve at 03:19 PM

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