Hymn Spotlight: Be Thou My Vision
The true and complete story behind this hymn is hard to track down. Most information states it was written in 8th century Ireland, and I’ve found 3 different names of who possibly could have written the words. The story which comes up most often and my attention is this………..it is believed that St. Dallan lost his sight, which inspired the first line, “Be Thou our vision.” Legend has it that he recovered his sight after writing a poem praising St. Columba. Through all the passage of time, and lack of clarity as to who wrote this, the hymn text from Ireland is still meaningful for us today with its expression of a yearning for the presence and leading of God in our lives.
The earnest prayer is enhanced by such quaint but tender phrases as “Lord of my heart, Thy presence my light, and heart of my heart.” The text states that when we allow God to have first place in our lives, He becomes our treasure. And we no longer care for the pursuit of riches or man’s praise.
The entire Irish poem was first translated into English in 1905 by Mary Bryne, In Dublin, Ireland. It is very long…too much to share here…but very beautiful and meaningful.
Several years later, Eleanor Hull, a writer of English history and literature, penned the prose into verse form and included it in her 1912 book of poems, The Poem Book of the Gael. Her work offered a metrical, poetic version of Byrne’s work in twelve rhymed couplets that have been used by editors since to arrive at versions of the four-stanza hymn so widely treasured today. A five stanza version is shown below.
Around the same time as Ms. Hull’s working with the text, Patrick W. Joyce was publishing the traditional
tune SLANE (named for a hill near Tara where St. Patrick challenged druid priests in lighting the paschal fire.) Thus paired with the English text, the “Be Thou My Vision” sung today first appeared in the Irish Church Hymnal in 1919.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
The hymn is a prayer – a prayer that Christ will be our vision – our best thought – our presence – our light.
What would it mean if Christ were our vision? How would it change our lives?
It would mean simply this – that instead of seeing the world through the eyes of some advertising agency or a
Hollywood movie or a television newscaster, we would see the world through Christ’s eyes.
It would change our lives, because seeing the world through Christ’s eyes would cause us to love as Christ loved. It would cause us to focus less on getting the things that we want and more on giving what we can to help others. It would cause us to care less about other people’s opinions and more about the direction that God would have our lives to take.
In some ways it would complicate our lives, because we could no longer be as focused on the things that the
world considers important – more money, bigger houses, more prestigious cars. But in other ways it would
simplify our lives, because it would allow us to stop striving for ever-larger piles of things and would allow us
to focus on spiritual values. People who have come to see the world through Christ’s eyes tend to be centered
– less troubled than most – strong with a strength that comes from God.