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March 12, 2008

3

U2’s ‘Wave of Sorrow’ & the Ethiopian Famine of ’84

by quaesitor

I’ve been wanting to blog about this song since it hit the streets last autumn, but yesterday’s posting seems to lead into it reasonably well. This is a song that achingly captures the questions surrounding the Ethiopian famine of 1984/5 (link to excellent BBC flashback, from which the picture is taken). Provoked by working on Live Aid, Bono and his wife Ali spent 6 harrowing weeks working in a feeding camp. This song was a personal response. It was only finished last year as part of the 20th anniversary re-release of The Joshua Tree (as he describes in the video below). It is quite simply heart-rending – you can somehow actually hear the heat-haze in the arrangement, as well as the sheer desperation and injustice of the situation. For while this was at first sight a natural disaster (the result of failed harvests several years running, and then to top it all, the tragic threat of rain on uncultivated and desiccated fields), there were plenty of culpable people involved as well – civil war in Ethiopia itself and Western indifference despite living in plenty.

 

What makes this song so powerful, though, is Bono’s contrast between modern Ethiopians forced into humiliating begging for food and the great and proud heritage of their ancient (and biblical) ancestors. For it was the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon (the “Son, of shepherd boy, now king” in the song) in Jerusalem (1 Kings 10). And it was Solomon who was famed for his wisdom – a divine wisdom, from which many of the Proverbs in the OT are derived. But the OT wisdom literature that this song most harks back to is the searching agony found in some of the Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes. Where is God’s wisdom to be found in the heat of famine, under the boot of oppression, in the despair of begging? “What wisdom can you bring? / What lyric would you sing? / Where is the music of the Seraphim?” If the rain comes it doesn’t just bring waves of flooding – but sorrow.

 

But this is the poetic genius of the song (and I do not use those words lightly, despite not being either a poet or a genius). For Bono (together with the Edge, when they collaborate, though i think this song is single-handedly Bono’s) is a profound lyricist. Not only do the sparing words evoke the horror and despair so searingly, but they also provide the hint (and in such circumstances, it is surely the only hint one can possibly make) of hope and light. The song’s conclusion is a radical application (rather than a straightforward updating) of Jesus’ Beatitudes in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). When Jesus originally taught the Beatitudes, I suspect that he was epitomizing the whole of that great sermon, in that he was articulating a fully-rounded picture of every Christian (rather than picking out lots of different types of people). What is clear, though, is that the poor and marginalised are those for whom God is profoundly concerned. And when humanity in its evil and idolatrous self-centredness ignores the plight of the poor, God is rightly furious… and he promises blessing. It is not for nothing that he is called the God of the Fatherless and the Widowed.

 

The point then is that Jesus, who is one greater than Solomon, is the only one who can bring eternal hope, a hope that endures, permeates and transforms the horrors of a cruel, cruel world. As Jesus said in Matthew 12, referring specifically to the Queen of Sheba herself:

The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

To miss Jesus is to miss his wisdom – which has devastating consequences. And his wisdom is one of both justice and judgment, AND love and blessing. But NEVER let this generate a laissez-faire attitude amongst those who have discovered his wisdom. This song won’t let us sit smugly in our favourite recliner chairs and bursting refrigerators and the churches which Bono frequently derides as ‘Bless Me’ clubs…  because GOD WON’T. This is surely a boot-up-the-proverbial-reminder that God is concerned with those trapped in sex-work, in tin-shacks, in voicelessness. Let this wave of sorrow flow into prayer and action:

The hearts of the people cry out to the Lord.
O wall of the Daughter of Zion,
let your tears flow like a river
day and night;
give yourself no relief,
your eyes no rest. (Lamentations 2:18)

To see Bono talking about the song (as well as singing and forgetting the words towards the end !), check out the video at the bottom.

WAVE OF SORROW
by Bono & U2

Heat haze rising /On hell’s own hill
You wake up this morning / It took an act of will
You walk through the night / To get here today
To bring your children / To give them away
Oh… oh this cruel sun /Is daylight never done?
Cruelty just begun / To make a shadow of everyone

And if the rain came… / And if the rain came…

Souls bent over without a breeze / Blankets on burning trees
I am sick without disease / Nobility on its knees

And if the rain came… / And if the rain came… now
Would it wash us all away
On a wave of sorrow? / Wave / On a wave of sorrow?

Where now the holy cities? / Where the ancient holy scrolls?
Where now Emperor Menelek / And the Queen of Sheba’s gold?
You’re my bride, you wear her crown /And on your finger precious stones
As every good thing now been sold
Son, of shepherd boy, now king / What wisdom can you bring?
What lyric would you sing? / Where is the music of the Seraphim?

And if the rain came… / And if the rain came… now
Would it wash us all away
On a wave of sorrow? / Wave / On a wave of sorrow?

Blessed are the meek who scratch in the dirt / For they shall inherit what’s left of the earth
Blessed are the kings who’ve left their thrones / They are buried in this valley of dry bones
Blessed all of you with an empty heart / For you got nothing from which you cannot part
Blessed is the ego / It’s all we got this hour

Blessed is the voice that speaks truth to power
Blessed is the sex worker who sold her body tonight /She used what she got /To save her children’s life

Blessed are you, the deaf cannot hear a scream
Blessed are the stupid who can dream
Blessed are the tin canned cardboard slums
Blessed is the spirit that overcomes

 

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Fra von Massow
    May 20 2008

    To Bono & U2 on Wave of Sorrow – it’s brilliant, moving, reminiscent of all I saw and knew in Ethiopia in 1984.

    Reply
  2. leonecomm
    Sep 3 2008

    One of the scriptures that Jesus used to address the Pharisees and Sadducees of his time is found in Mark 12:24 “And Jesus answering said unto them, ye therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?”(KJV).
    This goes to the heart of your editorial titled Why Prosperity Gospel Is Not As Relevant Today As The Book Of Job. What we have here is a commentary by someone who never provided a simple scripture for the basis of his argument but a bunch of run down, tired clichés that are used many times but lack a solid biblical foundation.
    1Corinthians 2:14 says this “But the natural man received not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
    If you go back at Abraham in Genesis 22 :17-18 In blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore. And your Seed (Heir) will possess the gate of His enemies, 18 And in your Seed [Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed and [by Him] bless themselves, because you have heard and obeyed My voice.
    The word bless means “empowered to prosper” and that blessing extended from him all the way to Isaac, Jacob and Christ and the Bible says if you are in Christ, then are you Abraham’s seed and therefore heir according to the promise. What promise? That we will be blessed.
    If suffering teaches us a lesson, how come all poor people are not wise. Poverty does not teach anything. The word of God teacheth.

    Before you can meaningfully comment on anything whether it is a book, a movie or a doctrine, you owe it to your audience to study it out.
    I suggest that you download free Podcasts from these ministers, study it out and see if you will not reach the same conclusion.
    I use to think the same way until I took this challenge and the Bible is right, in John 8:31-32 “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
    32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
    Unto the question of being rich. What is rich? How do you define rich? Assuming you got to a company to apply for a janitorial job of $5/Hr and you happen to see the CEO and he/she offers you a corporate position paying $1M, are you going to turn it down because according to some people, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. God doesn’t mind us becoming rich so long as we do not do anything desperate to get it. That is what Christ preached against.” The Love of Money is the root of all evil.”
    It is a fool that will go to these reality shows and eat worm to get rich. Now that is the love of money that Paul was talking about in 1 Timothy 6:10. When Paul made the statement he was talking to the Jewish unbelieving bunch. After all, he is the seed of Abraham, and David and he said that he did not come to abolish the old covenant but to affirm it.
    Did you know that Christ had a treasurer and that his name is Judas? Did you read John 13:29 “For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.” Now why did they think that? Because Jesus had done that many times before. How many poor people do you know that sends out their treasury in the middle of the night to give alms to the poor? The fact that they used the term “the poor” means they themselves were not poor and it makes sense. These men had trade before they were converted and Christ had rich friends ministering to him their funds. He had Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh as gifts as a new born baby.
    Trust me there are going to be a bunch of poor people in hell. Poor mean, sexually perverted, lustful, lying and cursing, fornicating, adultery etc people are not going to heaven because they are poor.
    Thanks and God bless you.
    Remember Proverbs 4:7 “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”
    Leon

    Reply

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