U2'S SACRED PILGRIMAGE: 'I found grace, it's all that I found'

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Without a line on the horizon, we may feel like there is no limit to how far we can go. But it also makes the seas difficult to navigate.

That is, in many ways, where we find ourselves today. It's as infinitely terrifying as it is exciting. Where do we go from here and how do we find our way?

U2's 12th studio album, "No Line on the Horizon," gives a few great answers, if you have the ears to hear and the eyes to see them. (I hope you do.)

More than 25 years ago, when I dropped the needle on a U2 album for the first time, I heard the words of a familiar liturgy -- "Gloria in te domine, Gloria exultate!" punctuated by the keening sound of the Edge's guitar and followed by Bono's gnarly tenor shout-singing, "O Lord, loosen my lips!"

My soul did a back-flip and kept on tumbling ...

Earlier this week, while listening to "No Line on the Horizon," I felt that familiar movement in my spirit over and over again. First with the sacred anthem, "Magnificent," which tossed me in the air and sent me soaring. Listen to the words:

I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice
But to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry
It was a joyful noise...
Justified until we die
You and I will magnify

Some misled critics have booed Bono for that song, misinterpreting "I was born to sing for you" as a boast to his audience, rather than the prayer to his Maker that it is. (Mind you, this is the same lyricist who later on the album seemingly refers to himself as a "Napoleon" and cautions, "be careful of small men with big ideas.")

There is plenty of rock-n-roll levity and grandeur on "No Line on the Horizon," but it is eclipsed by the heart and soul of this album -- perhaps the most dynamic gospel music I've ever heard.

With The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., and Adam Clayton, Bono began the odyssey that became "No Line on the Horizon," at a rented riad in Fez, Morocco in June 2007 during the international Festival of Sacred Music.

"[Bono] thought that our job was to create contemporary gospel music ... that we are essentially soul musicians that look for soul in what we do," Daniel Lanois, one of several producers on the new album, told Rolling Stone magazine recently.

Fez is "a holy city for music and musicians," Bono said, and the band was on a pilgrimage -- to listen and to learn -- to go wherever the music (and the Spirit) took them.

As he has for years, but not as explicitly so since 1991's "Achtung Baby," Bono, the band's chief lyricist, has laced "No Line on the Horizon" with the language and images of his humble Christian faith.

The result, however, is a work of gospel music -- "gospel" in its literal sense as "good news" -- for people of all faiths and none. The ecstatic language and imagery Bono evokes throughout could have been penned by the Hebrew King David or Sufi Muslim poets Rumi or Hafez, as much as by a latter-day Christ-follower from Dublin.

One of the most eloquent examples is "Moment of Surrender," which says in part:

My body's now a begging bowl
That's begging to get back
Begging to get back to my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

Faced with a horizon-less journey, isn't that what so many of us want right now -- to have someone else steer the ship? To lose control and surrender?

The Spirit feels like the unnamed fifth member of the band on this album more than any other. Its presence is subtle, but powerful.

Whether it's as an unknown caller (or perhaps the one the unknown caller is dialing), a comforting father who frees us "from the dark dream" and hands us "candy floss" and "ice cream," to the one who challenges us to walk into the frightening world with open arms (and hearts), God's love and grace is present.

"God is love, and love is evolution's very best day," Bono sings in "Stand Up Comedy." "I've found grace inside a sound, I found grace, it's all that I found," he sings on "Breathe."

In a beautifully confessional song (with a tune based on the 16th-century hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"), Bono seems to say that even when it feels like we've lost sight of what matters, what's real and enduring, it's right there. "White As Snow," which Bono says was written about a dying soldier's last moments in Afghanistan, says:

Once I knew there was a love divine
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
Only the lamb as white as snow

U2 intends to release another album by years end, one tentatively called, "Songs of Ascent." Bono has said it will be "a more meditative album on the theme of pilgrimage."

I'd guess it'll be for a place that has to be believed to be seen.

My bags are packed.