U2 & the Holy Ghost iPod Shuffle
July 23, 2013 · Print This Article
Did you ever have the random shuffle on your music player speak to you in a profound way? We’re honored to have author & preacher Jonathan Martin share a U2 story about what he calls the “Holy Ghost iPod Shuffle,” an excerpt from his new book Prototype.
Like many people of my generation, I’ve spent far too much of my life with headphones on my ears. I have a big DJ-style pair that I use every day, because I love to be immersed in music—I love songs big enough to swim around in. That’s one reason why I’ve had a lifelong affinity for the Irish rock group U2. I know it’s a huge cliché for a thirtysomething pastor to be a massive U2 fan. But I don’t care. I was listening to their album Zooropa on endless repeat on my boom box long before I cared anything about ministry. They have always spoken the language of my spirit – and, thankfully, our communicative God is conversant in all of my dialects. More than once, He has used the music of U2 to touch me and guide me.
There was a particularly dark day several years ago when I was convinced that the life I had built for myself was crumbling around me. I had never felt more hurt or confused. Not knowing what else to do on that Saturday, I decided to go to a nearby gym to try to work off some of the tension I felt. As I stepped onto the elliptical machine, I turned on my iPod and set it on “shuffle.” (I’ve always liked that feature because it’s like having your own personal radio station – except all the bands are awesome and there are no commercials.)
As I began to work the elliptical machine, the anthem “Beautiful Day” came on. Being a U2 buff, I knew the history of that song: Lead singer Bono once said in an interview that he was inspired by the teaching of Christ that you have to lose your life in order to find it. It’s a song about losing everything you held dear, and yet somehow finding that you’ve gained everything that really counts:
Sky falls, you feel like
It’s a beautiful day,
Don’t let it get away
As I was listening to the music that day, something inside me broke. I felt a distinct inner confirmation – a virtual witness deep within me — that I was experiencing the truth of that song through my particular circumstances
What you don’t have you don’t need it now.
What you don’t know you can feel it somehow.
I had felt as if I was going to lose everything, but I was suddenly overwhelmed with the certainty that it was actually the beginning of something new and unspeakably beautiful. I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time, but I now believe that the distinct vision of the church we planted in Charlotte was birthed in that moment.
I had heard that song hundreds of times before, but that time I heard it differently. It was as if something had come to life inside me and was getting out, like the creature that bursts from the chest cavity of the guy in the first Alien movie. I felt so silly on that elliptical machine in the middle of a crowded gym on a Saturday morning.
This experience took place over the span of about four minutes. As the song was winding down, I was still overcome, but my emotions were starting to settle — that is until my iPod, still set on “shuffle” and crammed with thousands of songs to choose from, played a live version of “Beautiful Day” right on the heels of the studio cut. At that point, I really began to weep. It was as if the voice of Love was saying, “In case you didn’t recognize me the first time . . . . “
There may well be a rational explanation to the timing and sequencing of those songs on my iPod that day, but even if that were true, it wouldn’t change or diminish the impact of what I heard. My response was not irrational, but it transcended my capacity for reason. I wasn’t just hearing U2 play a rock song. I was hearing an ancient song. I was hearing the music of God’s love in the same way I believe David heard it in the field as a boy. It was the wonder that called me back to who I really am, that called me forward to who I am meant to become. That’s what music does; that’s what wonder does. God uses these things to remind us of who we really are. –Jonathan Martin