“You got my head filled with Psalms, You got my shoelaces undone”

Original story (u2wanderer.org) by Christopher Jenkins (2015-08-09)

Νομω πειθου

As mentioned in our last article on thrown books, independent of the confetti, Bono has reportedly torn up and thrown copies of Alice in Wonderland and The Divine Comedy into the audience, but he hasn’t done the same with the Bible. But, the “praying and fasting and Psalm-singing,” child of Act I doesn’t believe anymore, has come “to extreme impiety,”[ i] – and in Bono’s case is crying out in abandonment of his faith, at the loss of his mother, at being forsaken by God – take your pick. And there, simultaneously is our third set of confetti pages falling from the ceiling, pages of the Psalms from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. At once a symbol of his faith is being shredded, but it is also a presentation of a book that parallels his circumstance. In Bono words, David “pens the first psalm, a song about being abandoned by God. A blues song.”[ii] “Abandonment, displacement, is the stuff of my favourite psalms,” and “it’s in his despair that the psalmist really reveals the nature of his special relationship with God.”[iii] Perhaps in reality at the time, or perhaps only in the stylized version of his childhood[iv] we are audience for, the comfort of his God and his faith is sought as he draws in Psalm 23 during Until the End of the World, but we feel not comfort, but abandonment, the insufficiency of the response in the moment. But, this is Act I, resolution may be in the wings.

The crying out in anger or at abandonment by God is an interesting bit of conversation, but communication itself isn’t tossed aside. It has become an archetype for similar communication. Allen Ginsberg, whose Howl and Essential Poems have been frequent members of the torn & tossed books club, wrote four Psalms of his own. They allude to or directly deal with Dante’s Divine Comedy, Cerebus, light, vision, Time, The Miracle, and William Blake, among other things.

On a divine level, the parallel to Bono’s confusion, pain, anger – however you label his frenzy might be Dies Irae[v] – the Day of Wrath, Judgment Day, but C.S. Lewis undermines that parallel slightly. While, as with the past articles, we don’t want to push too much in terms of interpretation of the content of the Psalms in the confetti, we’ll bring C.S. Lewis in here with a few other commentators for some broader observations. In his Reflections on the Psalms[vi], Clive observes that Judgment Day appears to be more a day of joy than one of dread for the writers of the Psalms[vii], and four of the Psalms he cites for this character are present in the fifteen pages of Psalms from the Message that we know are used in the shows: Psalms 67, 68, 72, and 143. This seems to stem from a point that is common among commentators on the Psalms[viii], that they show a love of Law. Some dwell on Law – what is it? Text? Not just a set of rules. A guiding lamp[ix]? Truth[x]? Light[xi]? The invisible underlying bedrock of reality?[xii] The ultimate unified yet multifaceted perspective?[xiii] Essentially God? Law, of course plays in this cosmic Judgment, but also has its role in “Justice,” which is brought up during the shows, and at the human level in a democracy is supposed to be the product of social consensus.

Let us not forget, that David is not a President, but a King, a proclaimer of laws. Of the Psalms scattered to the crowd three broad types catch my eye, and one is Psalms that would be considered “Royal Psalms” – interpretations vary, but potentially 41, 42, 43, 44, 62, 63, 72, 73, 89, 101, 142, and 143. His journey and roles before becoming King are significant though, and as Bono puts it, “before David could fulfill the prophecy and become king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating.”[xiv] He started at the bottom. He was a soldier – a pawn, an ace, and he was a wanted man on the run. Do these sound like similar roles to some found in Alice in Wonderland? What about in Dante? Just and Temperate Rulers?

David was also a musician, one Bono later compared to Elvis Presley in his poem Elvis: An American David. Music is touched on in at least one of the Psalms in the confetti, Psalm 43. Dietrich Boenhoeffer’s chapter on Music in Psalms – The Prayer Book of the Bible is worth a read, and C.S. Lewis has a nice passage tying the praising of God via music in various Psalms together, which includes this passage “Mere music is not enough. Let everyone, even the benighted gentiles, clap their hands. Let us have clashing cymbals, not only well tuned, but loud, and dances too.”

The second set of Psalms that caught my eye in the confetti are the Psalms of Thanksgiving – 65, 66, 67, 116, and 124. Of interest when we get to the next article, Psalm 1925, some of the focus of Thanksgiving is on food – harvest, consumption. It is just a sense, but like pages from Paradiso falling during Act I’s seeming Inferno, the Psalms falling speaking of Thanksgiving or a chief role like King may reflect a hope for the future that is being discarded in the moment.

The third set would seem to fit with being thankful for food – they are about thirst, but they turn us back to resolving Act I. They talk about spiritual thirst – Psalms 41 and 62[xv]. Christians may look on the Psalms as a source of prophecy[xvi] about Jesus that confirms his coming, and not because they thought it would be interesting, but because he said so[xvii], “all things must be fulfilled, which were in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44). So, to return to resolving Act I, a lack of the comfort of the rod & staff of Psalm 23 can be construed as the feeling of Jesus on the cross quoting Psalm 22:1 in Matthew 27:46 – “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?,” but, as noted by C.S. Lewis[xviii], it is his return as Christ that brings the “Comforter” – “if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). And then there is the King. “Thou sayest I am a King. To this end I was born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” (John 18:37). Boston saw this on screen, with “king yet” (the “yet” is not fully on screen, and I read as “still”). [see pictures below] Finally, thirst: “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (John 19:28) and he is given vinegar to drink, fitting Psalm 69:21.[xix] Whether you view the Psalms as just more “bomb debris,” as having inherent meaning, or having meaning connecting to the second and third Act in the same way the Psalms connect to the New Testament is up to you.

Neon crucifix with “King” text – Boston 1

Neon crucifix with “King Yet” text – Boston 1

A few other notes: Pascal’s Pensees, which will come up in the next article, quotes Psalms 41 and 143, which are part of the confetti. A point of consistency, the back cover of 1999’s Selections from the Book of Psalms, for which Bono wrote the introduction, quotes Psalms 66:1-3, which is also present in the confetti pages. The introduction also contains the now often heard “vision over visibility” line, a line that echoes through what we can hear on Songs of Innocence and this tour with their emphasis on the senses, and the seen and unseen. And, Eugene Peterson excerpted a subset of his version of the Psalms, the Songs of Ascents — a familiar title given the proposed, but unreleased, U2 album Songs of Ascent — in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction[xx].

The Message has been published in many, many versions and we’ve yet to identify the one that exactly matches the pages falling from the heavens, but the text is consistent across versions, so we can at least identify the content by identifying the specific lines involved. Pages are typical of about forty-five lines of text, and the bottom of each page in this version says: {The Message}. While the specific language of this translation may be relevant for interpretation [Note – and if you have an issue with Modern Translations, C.S. Lewis has some comments on such in his essay “Modern Translations of the Bible”], if you don’t have a copy, you can just consult the particular Psalm in any other Bible for at least some context. The tops of the pages in this unknown edition of The Message have the numbers of the Psalms on the page and a page number. Since The Message is copyrighted, we’ll just orient you with the top and bottom line or lines, as sense demands, for each page, and whatever additional information we may have, like page number, or Psalms known or suspected to be on the same page. If we only have the top or bottom, until we come across a fragment with the missing information, assume the other end is roughly forty-five lines away, as we haven’t yet detected any alterations or edits to these pages.

So far we have assembled 15 different pages from 58 fragments [the numbers and distribution, will be updated soon]. There are 150 Psalms spread over approximately 188 pages in The Message, and a distribution has been prepared based on that page count and the estimated position of the 15 pages in the text. [see pic] The Psalms are nominally ascribed to different authors, and there is also the group that is the Songs of the Ascents, but we’ll leave further distributions to the scholars. Again, please, if anyone can identify the exact edition or if you have images of confetti that you’d like to contribute or have us identify, please get in touch.

Page 1 Psalm 41, p. 828 Top: A David Psalm Dignify those who are down on their luck; Bottom: Yes. Yes. Yes. (Unconfirmed guess based on number of lines and Ulysses by James Joyce)

Page 2 Psalms 42-44, p. 830 Top: Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God, Bottom: Our fathers told us the stories

Page 3 Psalms 44, p. 831? Top: their fathers told them, (unconfirmed based on Page 2, and meets # of lines) Bottom: Do we deserve torture in a den of jackals?

Page 4 Psalms 62-62, p. 850 Top: Man as such is smoke, Bottom: But the king is glad in God;

Page 5 Psalms 65-66, p. 852 Top: We all arrive at your doorstep sooner Bottom: they slink off like scolded dogs.

Page 6 Psalms 66-68, p. ?? Top: the Lord would never have listened Bottom: lead prisoners to freedom,

Page 7 Psalms 72-73, p. 863 Top: springing from the city like grass from the earth. Bottom: a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.

Page 8 Psalms 84-85, p. 878 Top: One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, Bottom: and clears a path for his passage.

Page 9 Psalms 88-89, p. 881 Top: sunk me in a pitch black-abyss Bottom: God! Let the cosmos praise your wonderful ways,

Page 10 Psalms 94-95, p. 888 Top: never desert his precious people. Bottom: for forty years they watched me at work among them,

Page 11 Psalms 99-101, p. 892 Top: You set down the foundations in Jacob, Bottom: The crooked in heart keep their distance;

Page 11 Top and Bottom

Page 12 Psalm 105, p. 898 Top: Tell everyone you meet what he has done! Bottom: To personally instruct his princes

Page 13 Psalm 116, p ?? Top: as I laid out my case before him Bottom: In the place of worship, in God’s house, in Jerusalem, God’s city. Hallelujah

Page 14 Psalms 123-125, p. 924 Top: I look to you, heaven-dwelling God, (after “A Pilgrim Song”) Bottom: Mountains encircle Jerusalem,

Page 15 Psalms 142-143, p. 936 Top: and spell out my troubles in detail: Bottom: That would be certain death.

© Christopher Jenkins and Aaron Sams, 2015.

[ i] The Promised Land by Mary Antin, Centennial Edition, Penguin Books 1997, p.190, and chapter XIII “A Child’s Paradise” has a bit to do with reading books…

[ii] Race of Angels – The Genesis of U2 by John Waters

[iii] Selections from the book of Psalms

[iv] I’ll note this is only an aspect of what it has become – the original usage was in response to the present and ongoing pain of the loss of Dennis Sheehan in Los Angeles. It is strange to think this seemingly spontaneous emotion has a built in Act I / Act II, but such is the nature of the Bible and it’s echoes of prophecy and fulfillment.

[v] The echo you are hearing is the musical allusion in “Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk,” the B-side we mentioned in the book throwing article, to the 13th century hymn. Two lines are borrowed from the hymn and the descent into hell (remember the harrowing of hell from our piece on Dante) is added: Dies irae, dies illa / Dies irae, dies illa / Tuba mirum spargens sonum / Descendit in Inferno – The Day of Wrath, that day / The Day of Wrath, that day / the trumpet cast forth a wonderous sound / He descended into Hell. Yes, I frequently confuse Dies (day) with Deus (God) and mistakenly evoke the Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny novel.

[vi] Reflections – thought, light – these will become important in the next article.

[vii] There are several, but our goal here is not analyzing the Psalms themselves in detail, but providing a general level of information about the specific ones used in the performances to facilitate discussion. When drawing on detail for this article I’ve tended to look to The Oxford Bible Commentary edited by John Barton and John Muddiman.

[viii] See Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis with its “pleasures of good conscience” and law as “sweeter than honey,”primarily in pages 54-65, Praying the Psalms p. 25-26 and Bread in the Wilderness p. 99-104 by Thomas Merton with discussion of the Law of Flesh, the Law of Liberty and the Law of Love, Psalms – The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Boenhoeffer pages 31-33, and by St. Augustine in his Expositions on the Book of Psalms. As point of interest I’ll also mention the apparent interest in Civil Rights by Boenhoeffer (see pages 71-72 in the biographical sketch Psalms – The Prayer Book of the Bible, or Boehoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas), Merton (see Seeds of Destruction ‘s Part One: Black Revolution), and Lewis in his earlier attempt at discussing the Psalms in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection: Faith Christianity and the Church with his discussion of oppression by the law, particularly “the White Man’s offence,” which was whittled to obscurity in Reflections on the Psalms. Lastly, to return to the destruction of books, censorship, and the like, Boenhoeffer’s Psalms – The Prayer Book of the Bible was his last book before the Nazi’s banned him from publishing.

[ix] As in Psalm 105, part of the confetti, in C.S. Lewis’s Reflection on the Psalms, p. 60.

[x] As in Psalm 142, part of the confetti, in C.S. Lewis’s Reflection on the Psalms, p. 60.

[xi] As in Psalm 19, in C.S. Lewis’s Reflection on the Psalms, p. 60.

[xii] C.S. Lewis Reflections on the Psalms, p. 61

[xiii] When you look at the world what is it that you see?

[xiv] Selections from the book of Psalms

[xv] Praying the Psalms by Thomas Merton, p. 35-36.

[xvi] They are “the songs of prophets inspired by God” according to Thomas Merton. Praying the Psalms, p. 8.

[xvii] Boenhoeffer, p.20

[xviii] C.S. Lewis Reflections on the Psalms, p. 126

[xix] Boenhoeffer considers this dying with “the words of the Psalter on his lips” Psalms – The Prayer Book of the Bible p. 26

[xx] You may recognize the title, Bono has quoted it before.

Larger view of the distribution

Our other articles on the book pages dropped during the show: Part I: “Curiouser and Curiouser!” cried Alice. Part II: Dante’s Paradiso from the Skies Part III: “You got my head filled with Psalms, You got my shoelaces undone”

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