What I’m Looking For

Today is an auspicious day for those who nostalgically delight in revisiting music from the past. Today, U2 released a 30th anniversary version of “The Joshua Tree,” which is not only ostensibly their strongest effort (I personally prefer 1991’s “Achtung, Baby!”), but is also arguably one of the very best albums of all time. It is both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, and the first three tracks are universally known and beloved.

It also, surprisingly, contains perhaps the most famous and commercially successful Christian rock song ever written.

There are a few hints at spirituality throughout several tracks on this album. Take this lyric from “Where the Streets Have No Name:” “I want to feel sunlight on my face/I see the dust-cloud disappear, without a trace/I want to take shelter from the poison rain.” The allusion is loose and vague, but the imagery does contain the connotation of salvation. Even the song title feels vaguely spiritual. It could refer to a small town where one might find freedom in being a stranger, or it could refer to the true freedom of finding heaven.

Look also at these images in “With or Without You:” “See the thorn twist in your side . . . Through the storm we reach the shore.” It’s an aching love song written to a woman, but there are definitely some biblical references.

But track two, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” is unquestionably, undeniably religious. It’s about yearning for something beyond the confines of this dusty and material world. It’s about seeking warmth in all the wrong places, and finding that you are still cold. It’s about a burning desire to find a spiritual connection to God’s will, and it’s about the chains of slavery to earthy desires being shattered. See for yourself:

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
(I was) burning inside her.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

[Refrain]

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

The strange thing to me is that the song is so popular, and so ubiquitous that I always overlooked that part of the content. For years, I always assumed that it was just a simple love song (and in a way it is, but not worldly love). I never even considered the fact that it might be a song about seeking God, or even seeking something beyond this world.

There’s a psychological occurrence called the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon” or “frequency illusion.” The idea is this: when you learn about a piece of obscure information, like an uncommon word, you will start to see it pop up more and more frequently, because you are aware of it’s existence. Essentially, when we are aware of something, we are more likely to see it’s prevalence. A childish example of this is the car-game “Slug Bug.”  When you are looking for Volkswagen Beetles, you will see far more of them than you will if you’re just driving around.  The same is true of Christian allusions, at least for me.

Now that I know what I’m looking for, I see it everywhere.

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