Thursday, December 03, 2009

..and we almost drowned

I am guessing (and have guessed before) we have underestimated the Watchman Nee influence on U2.
I have long been reading U2 through the lens of NT Wright, Brueggemann, and of course Clive Staples....

..but maybe its time to jump in the wayback machine to Watchman.

....who most likely would never approve of U2 or their music and ministry.

Wait, he just might like everything about one of my main U2 songs, the Celtic-vibed prayer/word from God, "Drowning Man."

I had often tied the "drowning man" title to the classic preacher story, "you don't ask a drowning man if he wants to be saved," which Charlie Peacock once set to music.

The drowning man images are cliche and sometimes cheesy in fundagelicalism.

But as anyone can note of the U2  song in question:
"There's no reference to a drowning man in there."

Or is there?:

"It's a song written from the perspective of a loving God...its cup is overflowing with tenderness..and it addressed to Adam Clayton."
-Into the Heart, p, 43

Whether or not the song was (in part) an evangelistic word to Adam (eventually successful),
it has always been prophetic to me. Robert Vagacs develops a fascinating liturgy/midrash on the song by suggesting:

"a conversation develops when 'Drowning Man' is set alongside Psalm 13...the song not only undermines the power of the storm, it strips it of its absoluteness...It not only expands our horizons of possibility, but actually provides a horizon [my note: This is written before "No Line on the Horizon"], a navigational orientation, where none existed.
(Vagacs, 18-22)

Matt McGee has a great post on the Drowning Man motif throughout U2's canon and catalog.
Could be that (as Matt has suggested elsewhere)  Bono has been singing the recent encores in Drowning Man....sometimes literally clinging to a/swinging from a life preserver.

Of course, remember Bono's line, (5:41ff below) "We went down into the water and we almost drowned"

I was on tiptoe to hear them perform this almost thirty year old) song for the first time..ever (though it has been briefly snippeted in the old days, and more recently, see "Day 01" here)..this tour, but alas all we have so far are a few soundcheck/rehearsal tapes.

But I hadn't picked up a possible Nee connection.

So, thanks to Beth, who posted:

...Until "Unknown Caller," "Drowning Man" had the distinction of being the only U2 song which majored on lyrics obviously intended as the voice of God - who, however, quotes Isaiah along the way. It pictures an earnest Lover reaching out and appealing "take my hand," promising acceptance, steadiness, strength -- "if you can" bring yourself to accept the help and "hold on tightly." But again: why reference someone who is "drowning" for that appeal? Couldn't it apply to any addressee in any situation?

Well, here's what often seems plausible to me. I wager that the choice of a "drowning man" to characterize the addressee of the song may actually be a literary allusion. I would not be surprised to learn that this title draws on a striking and memorable image of the need to surrender completely to grace found in The Normal Christian Life, the best known work of early-U2-influence Watchman Nee:
When you are reduced to utter weakness and are persuaded that you can do nothing whatever, then God will do everything. We all need to come to the point where we say: 'Lord, I am unable to do anything for Thee, but I trust Thee to do everything in me.'

I was once staying in a place in China with some twenty other brothers. There was inadequate provision for bathing in the home where we stayed, so we went for a daily plunge in the river. On one occasion a brother had cramp in one leg, and I suddenly saw he was sinking fast, so I motioned to another brother, who was an expert swimmer, to hasten to his rescue. But to my astonishment he made no move. So I grew desperate and called out: 'Don't you see the man is drowning?' and the other brothers, about as agitated as I was, shouted vigorously too. But our good swimmer still did not move. Calm and collected, he remained just where he was, apparently postponing the unwelcome task. Meantime the voice of the poor drowning brother grew fainter and his efforts feebler. In my heart I said: 'I hate that man! Think of his letting a brother drown before his very eyes and not going to the rescue!'

But when the man was actually sinking, with a few swift strokes the swimmer was at his side, and both were safely ashore. When I got an opportunity I aired my views. 'I have never seen any Christian who loved his life quite as much as you do', I said. 'Think of the distress you would have saved that brother if you had considered yourself a little less and him a little more.' But the swimmer knew his business better than I did. 'Had I gone earlier', he said, 'he would have clutched me so fast that both of us would have gone under. A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.'
-Beth Maynard

Of course, every sermon is eventually about surrender.
And any U2 song is ultimately about such grace.
They all are sung into a steering wheel/life preserver.
Everywhere at all times.
Love, rescue me.

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!