In 1991, God seized my attention. So did Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and U2. I was 20, a freshman in college, raised Catholic but without much understanding or interest in practicing my faith. I had plenty of opinions about life, but little in the way of reasoned thought. That changed when I started reading the Great Books in a Catholic atmosphere.
U2 was a little like my Catholicism -- I had grown up with the band; it had been part of the atmosphere during my '80s adolescence, hanging in the air the way the Beatles and Led Zeppelin had hung about the '60s and '70s. But Achtung Baby was different. It came in through my ears and kept reverberating. It was for me one of those complete albums, the kind you always listen to all the way through instead of just picking a song or two.
Freshman year of college, I found love -- love of the intellectual life, love of my fellow man, love of Jesus Christ. I swam in love. I struggled to understand and follow the philosophers -- the lovers of wisdom. I wrestled with their questions about the world and the forces that shaped it. I came to share, in some measure, their desire for truth, however arduous the hunt.
I met my best friend, Kathy. We had the same sense of humor, we shared the same faith and the same tastes. In "One," Bono sang, "We get to carry each other, carry each other..." We carried each other. We nursed each other's broken hearts. We screamed along with "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" and "So Cruel." Women never forget heartbreaks, and after a time, they may even remember them with a kind of fondness. We put those memories behind the lyrics.
I came to know Christ as an intimate lover. I went to Mass and received Him in the Eucharist. In prayer, I opened my heart to him. He understood all. I felt I had left behind the wasteland of the world and entered the Promised Land. I felt loved.
Achtung Baby meshed with that experience. It gave a sense that something was terribly wrong -- "It's not secret that the stars are falling from the sky/the universe exploding 'cosa one man's lie" -- but still teased love out of every song and situation. The love songs, which so often seemed to concern the love between a man and a woman, yielded easily to a more layered interpretation. That love was a surface layer; underneath, there was the struggle (and the love) between creature and Creator. In the final chorus of "Mysterious Ways," the line "She moves in mysterious ways" shifted to "Spirit moves in mysterious ways." Christ was strewn throughout, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so. In "Until the End of the World," Bono played Judas, betraying Christ in the garden, but the final verse left the door open for mercy: "In waves of regret, waves of joy/I reached out for the one I tried to destroy/You, you said you'd wait/until the end of the world." And there was this from "One":
Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head?
Jesus haunted U2. I'd just found Him, and I relished their references. Achtung Baby penetrated my heart.
All these encounters with love left me a more lovable person. I was like the seed, its outer shell softened by moisture, cracking and giving way to something new. But the cracking wasn't gentle; I had to suffer to grow. Something had to break, something had to die. Achtung Baby got that. It showed the wasteland, and it showed the way out: love.