Way back in early 2014, before Songs of Innocence was released and before I’d even warmed up to Vertigo, I found October in the used bookstore. I was actually looking for a Proclaimers album (and my brother was infinitely glad that I didn’t find one that day), but I came across a tiny cache of U2 albums instead. There were four or five albums there, but being low on pocket change, I decided to limit myself to two. I chose to get Boy because I figured that, as the first and oldest album there, it would be the hardest to find later on. And then, after several difficult minutes deliberating, I finally chose to get October, and the only reason I chose it was because I liked the title “Gloria.”
Achtung Baby didn’t make the cut that time around, but I knew I made the right choice when I heard Bono’s beautiful Latin praises and Adam’s gorgeous bass solo.
There are many days when I feel like the song could have been written for me, because it expresses the feeling of being certain and uncertain at the same time.
According to our good friend Wikipedia, a book called Race of Angels quotes Bono as saying: “I actually really like that lyric. It was written really quickly. I think it expresses the thing of language again, this thing of speaking in tongues, looking for a way out of language. ‘I try to sing this song… I try to stand up but I can’t find my feet.'”
Bono goes on to say that the song is about God, but also “is about a woman in the Van Morrison sense.”
That really explains why Bono sometimes shouts “G-L-O-R-I-A” while performing it, doesn’t it?
For this one, I watched videos of a performance from the Vertigo Tour, the classic performance at Red Rocks, and the completely perfect performance in Chicago from the Innocence + Experience Tour that broke a long hiatus. I was a little surprised at how similar the live versions were to the album version. Very few lyric changes, no crazy dancing… Bono stands at the microphone, sometimes pulling it around, and sings the song. I like it that way. I think it means a lot that this song goes so unchanged. In a lot of ways, this song is like a prayer.
The first verse is this:
“I try to sing this song, I
I try to stand up, but I can’t find my feet.
I try, I try to speak up, but only in you I’m complete.”
This verse speaks very strongly to me, since I often have thoughts to express and no words with which to express them (writer’s block, anyone?).
But Bono has a solution for that problem, according to this quote from U2 By U2:
“But I believed – and I still do – that the way to unlock yourself, creatively and spiritually and pretty much every other way, is to be truthful. It’s the hardest thing to do, to be truthful with yourself. And if you’ve nothing to say, that’s the first line of the song: ‘I’ve nothing to say.’ So I started to write about that.”
The Bible has a solution for this problem as well: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)
Even if we don’t know what it is we’re trying to say, the words are there somewhere.
“Only in you I’m complete.” We’re fallible human beings. We can’t depend on just ourselves in this world. We have to have someone else to depend on. For me, that’s God. And I think that’s true for Bono, too.
Colossians 2:10 says: “For in [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And in Him you are complete.”
(Thanks to AtU2.com for helping me find that verse.)
Without Him, all of my words—and all of Bono’s, too—would be empty. But knowing that everything happens for a reason gives life, and music, relevance and resonance.
Although, if you interpret this song “in the Van Morrison sense,” it’s also nice to have a better half to support you and defend you. No man lives in a vacuum. We’re all connected in this world together, men and women alike.
The next verse is similar to the first one, but instead of talking about speaking up, Bono sings about looking for the door. “The door is open, you’re standing there, you let me in…”
In some ways, I think this relates back to that old expression that says that when one door closes, another door opens. Sometimes the world seems closed-off to us—opportunities and people seem unreachable until God opens the door. He leads us down the path that’s right for us—even when it’s not necessarily what we had planned—and He opens people’s hearts to us and to others.
The door also sounds like it represents Heaven’s gates. Jesus opened the door for us and lets us into Heaven. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6)
Even if we think we can’t find the door, God knows exactly where we are, and He’ll bring us safely inside when it’s time for us to come in, whether it’s to a new opportunity in this life or to the life beyond this one.
The chorus, if you haven’t already heard the translation, is Latin for, “Glory in You, Lord. Glory, exalt Him.”
The chorus sounds very like a prayer to me. Giving praise and thanks to God is an important part of a prayer: just look at the examples of David giving thanks in Psalms, and look at the way Jesus praised God at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer.
Bono has said many times before that he’s inspired by King David and the Psalms, and a theme of many Psalms is that David praised God even if he wasn’t really sure God would give him what he wanted. (Psalm 40 is a really good example of this, but we’ll get to that when I cover “40” down the road.)
David praised God through times of adversity and uncertainty because he knew that God knows what He’s doing even if we don’t, and in my opinion, that thought is very comforting.
In this song, there are also a couple of lines that don’t really fit into either the verse or the chorus, which makes it kind of unique in terms of structure. Between the first chorus and the second verse, Bono asks for God to loosen his lips. And after the second chorus, but before the part where the chorus repeats at the end of the song, he says, “Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all, I’d give it to you.”
Asking God to loosen his lips is a pretty straightforward thing; like I mentioned earlier, the Holy Spirit speaks through us when it’s needed, and, as I’m sure many other people do, I pray for God to give me the right words very, very frequently.
But that second remark is a lot more interesting.
The idea of giving things to God isn’t new; if you’ve ever read even part of the Bible, then you’ve probably heard about the sacrifices the Israelites made in the Old Testament to thank God and to purge their sins. And you’ve probably heard about Jesus being the Lamb of God—the ultimate sacrifice, to wash away all our sins ever if we accept His gift.
But this line that Bono came up with is interesting because it points out that nothing we can give to God would ever, ever, *ever* be enough; and that we don’t really have anything we could give God because, well, He created everything. Patented, copyrighted, trademarked, and owned. Nothing belongs to us; not really.
I kind of rebelled against that at first. What about my talents? I can give God my talents. ….No, wait. He gave me those. Okay, how about my time and effort? I can give that! …..No, wait. He’s the one who gave me this time, and He can decide at any moment that my time is up. Okay, so how about my compassion for other people? …No, wait. He’s the one that gave me the free will and the personality to try to be compassionate. …Et cetera, et cetera.
It’s kind of like buying a Mother’s Day gift for the mama who has it all. What are you even supposed to do?
Well, you can try playing a mind-blowing slap bass solo (thank you, Adam Clayton!!!), but you can also go back to the chorus: say thank you. For everything.
In the end, Gloria is part rock anthem and part praise music. It’s beautiful and spiritual, just like the rest of October. And it’s a reminder that, even if we have no idea what to say or where we’re going, the door is open, and someone is there to let us in.