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February Hymn: "Be Thou My Vision"

You may be surprised to learn that this popular and widely sung hymn is wholly Irish! (It was a surprise to me). As is the case for many great hymns of our faith, the lyrics and melody were attributed to each other long after they had been penned. The depth of truth evidenced in the five verses above was originally composed as a poem by Irish monk Dallan Forgaill in the 8th century. The poem was used in the monastic tradition for centuries before Mary E. Byrne translated it into English in the early 20th century. It wasn’t until 1912 that Eleanor H. Hull crafted the totality of the poem into the five verses we sing today.

The melody we most often associate with this text is derived from the Irish folk song, "Slane." The tune gets its name from a hill in Count Meath, Ireland on which St. Patrick lit an Easter fire in defiance of the king’s pagan rituals in the 5th century. Instead of inciting punishment, this act of rebellion and bravery impressed the king so much that he ultimately allowed St. Patrick the freedom to evangelize Ireland! The history of the melody is very much fitting of the lyrics eventually fixed to it, although this tune had no connection to the text prior to 1919. It was this year when they first appeared combined in the Irish Church Hymnal!

This hymn serves us as a reminder of the priority God should have in our lives. As we ask God to be our vision, wisdom, shield, and treasure, we are inviting him to have control over the entirety of our lives. How we perceive, how we think, how we act, and what we value all ought to be dependent on the Author of our faith. Also, and equally important in the lyrics, is the declaration of who God truly is: Lord, our best Thought, the true Word, our great Father, our Dignity, our Delight, our high Tower, our Inheritance, our High King. When we proclaim these things to ourselves and corporately as the body of Christ, we ingrain them deeper into the fabric of our hearts. They become truths we can cling to in the midst of the good of life, and the bad. This hymn can serve as both our plea for more of God and our exclamation of whom we already believe Him to be.

Be Thou My Vision (No. 532)

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 Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

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 Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.