We’re the ghosts of love / And we haunt this place
We’re the ghosts of love / In every face
In the ballroom of the crystal light / Everyone’s here with me tonight
Everyone but you
It’s Halloween, the sacred night when, historically, the dead have been remembered and honored on the eve of All Saints Day. In Medieval times, it was thought that the spirits of the dead wandered the earth. Church bells were rung in honor of departed souls and candles were lit to point the dead to their eternal rest.
Our contemporary culture has been disenchanted—that is, disconnected from any sense of the supernatural as an important part of life. In an age of scientific confidence, there is no room for the superstition of premodern times. As a consequence, our postmodern culture churns out literature, movies and art highlighting vampires, zombies and ghosts at an unprecedented rate, hoping to reconnect with something beyond the physical.
U2’s “The Crystal Ballroom” is a brilliant gift to a culture on a desperate search for the supernatural. Written in a neo-disco style, with shades of funk, the song transports us to a previous era of swirling lights and shimmering dance floors, color cascading from mirror balls and chandeliers.
But the characters in this ballroom aren’t the evil spirits of horror flicks. These are ghosts of love. These are the phantoms of life itself. We stand amidst the chaos of an unpredictable, sometimes unkind world, and end up “wondering why we’re here.” But the ghosts provide a clue. They remind us that the “human story is what love leaves behind.” The heart bells become our guide. The crystal light points the way.
Bono has been fairly revealing about this song. He told The Irish Times, “My mother and father used to dance together in the Crystal Ballroom, so that song... is me imagining I’m on the stage of McGonagles with this new band I’m in called U2.... And I look out into the audience and I see my mother and father dancing romantically together to U2 on the stage.” Wow. Honor. Remembrance. Sacred memory.
But this song goes deeper than just a reflection on a mother who died when Bono was 14 and a father who passed a few years ago. Erie and haunting, the Crystal Ballroom is a place for the gathering of souls—all souls. All of those who have come before us. All of those we pay tribute to. Not just a mother and a father, but a brother, a sister, a partner, a child, a mentor, a leader, a friend, a victim, a soldier, a martyr, a savior. When we look into each other’s faces we are reminded of those who are no longer with us. We might also catch a glimpse of the people we once were.
Even greater, the reflection we see isn’t merely human. It’s supernatural. It’s Divine. The Imago Dei—the image of God—seeps down across the millennia through the faces of his creation. “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NRSV). To Iris and Bob he whispered, “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:28).
We are connected, one to another, and to the Divine. There’s no escaping it. Our job is simply to recognize it, though it turns out that this is not such a simple task. Some never will.
Born for bliss, born for this / Every human life begins with a kiss
Kissed by every kind of possibility / And everyone is here tonight with me
Yes, “every kind of possibility.” The specters weave in and out of the dance floor, cheering us on. Unfortunately, we’ve been so ready to believe in the myth of certainty that we’ve mistakenly thought it was we who were leading them in the grand cosmic disco. (Ah, that reminds me of another song about Bono’s mum; I’ll save that for later.) But maybe there’s a larger cast of actors on the stage calling out to us. Is it possible that the ghosts of love don’t need our help, but that they themselves swirl above and around us, providing encouragement for the journey ahead?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us...” (Hebrews 12:1, NRSV).
There it is. The Crystal Ballroom—the dance floor of life. And death. And journey. Together. "Our life is shaped by another's hands."
Sometimes I’m on the floor. Sometimes I just sit in the balcony and watch. Either way it’s beautiful and divine and much, much more than what we can touch, feel, see and hold.
I'm pretty sure that’s what Tom Tom was thinking in The Million Dollar Hotel (co-written by Bono) as he crossed from this world to the next:
Wow, after I jumped it occurred to me, life is perfect, life is the best. It's full of magic, beauty, opportunity, and television, and surprises, lots of surprises, yeah. And then there's that stuff that everybody longs for, but they only real feel when it's gone. All that just kinda hit me. I guess you don't really see it all clearly when you're - ya know - alive.
Here’s to the disco ballroom. Here’s to being alive. Here’s to All Hallows Eve.
Lyrics available at www.atU2.com