"Walk On": U2's Lenten Anthem

Larry Wyatt:

The album cover says it all. A virtually empty airport concourse with only Bono and the boys gathered together awaiting their flight to be called. The album is All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000). The album cover suggests that it is each other that we can’t leave behind as we journey into the future. Yet there are not an abundance of “others” who will brave this journey with us. So we treasure those who do and count on them to hold us accountable and support us with what is necessary to journey well.

“Walk On” is perhaps the leading song on this album. The song is dedicated to Myanmar political dissident, author, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who has chosen separation from her family and a comfortable academic life in Oxford to live under house arrest in Myanmar and struggle with her people for freedom and justice. In these respects, Aung San Suu Kyi stands as a prototype of a Lenten journey.

Michael Gilmour (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-gilmour/u2-aung-san-suu-kyi-and-prophet-jeremiah_b_1302465.html?ref=music-and-religion) draws some apt comparisons between Suu Kyi and the prophet Jeremiah which Bono highlights by the reference to J33-3 added to the album to the left of the group on the airport ceiling. Bringing Jeremiah into relation to Suu Kyi adds commitment to the biblical God to fill out the profile of a Lenten journeyer.

Let’s look at “Walk On,” then, as the theme for a Lenten Journey.

And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage that you can bring…
And love is not the easy thing…
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind

Love is the ultimate destination of a Lenten journey, for God is love. Yet this journey is no light or easy matter. Undertaken with serious intention, a Lenten journey is like a home improvement project. It will cost more, take longer, and make a bigger mess than you ever imagined. U2 signals this cost with the claim that “the only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind.”

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

Walk on, walk on
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it
Walk on, walk on…
Stay safe tonight

This journey is long and difficult (see U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on The Joshua Tree album). We sometimes walk in darkness for long seasons. So long, that our fragile hearts start to break. We reconsider the trek and to turn back sounds sane and comforting. Do not do it, U2 pleads. Keep on walking! The gift you have in the love of God can’t be taken from you; indeed, that which tempts you to stop and turn back has not even a glimmer of the preciousness of this gift. The safety on this journey is to keep on walking, with and toward those who long to join you on the trek.

You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom

Walk on, walk on
What you’ve got they can’t deny it
Can’t sell it, or buy it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight

We don’t know where we’re going; we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor.5:7). It is tempting and easy to leave the road but our desire for God, his love and freedom, keep our feet on the way. We walk on, lured ahead by the gift we know in part and can be had in full only in this way.

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Home… hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one
Home… I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home
That’s where the hurt is

and I know it aches
How your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Leave it behind
You got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you feel
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress-up
All that you scheme…

Nevertheless, a Lenten journey is undeniably difficult. It hurts. It costs almost everything precious to us. Nothing less than our whole-hearted passion to reach the end of journey, even if it costs us everything else, to get there, will do. Whatever we must leave behind, we do. All that can only weigh us down and wear us out. And when we reach the end, we discover that home, well, “that’s where the hurt is.” Our Lenten journey indeed ends with God, but the God we meet there is the broken-hearted God of Christian faith who continues to long for and struggle towards the shalom we designed his creation for in the beginning. Nonetheless, we walk on, walk on.

So, friends, walk on this Lent. Face the pain, shed all that is not necessary for this journey, link arms with fellow-travelers, keep going even when you don’t feel like you can take another step, for One unseen is with you. He whom you journey toward is already with you on the path. He will sustain you, he will lure you on with his love, he will meet you in whatever way you have need as you walk on, walk on.