I have said that the old hymns don’t seem to speak to my spirit like they used to. However, there are still a few that mean lots to me. “Be Thou My Vision” is one of these.
This hymn was first introduced to me while I was at college. It hit me, almost the first time I sang it, that I should always strive to keep the Lord at the forefront of my life. The words to this song were like a prayer to me.
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.
Well, up until about a year ago, that would have been about all I would have been able to say about this hymn. The only other thing I knew about this song was that it was an ancient Irish hymn and the melody had always seemed soothing to my spirit.
Since then I acquired some devotionals by Robert J Morgan. They are the stories behind some of our favorite hymns. I found the story behind this one in the final volume. It is based on some ancient lore.
The story begins with St Patrick who was born in 373 AD. It is believed he had a ‘vision’ of an Irishman that was begging for him to come to them; much like Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man in Acts 16:9. He went to the Druids of ancient Ireland and started over 200 churches.
Then an unknown poet, from one of these churches, in the 8th century wrote a prayer. That prayer asked God to be his vision, his wisdom and his best thought day or night.
In 1905, Mary Elizabeth Byrne translated that poem into English. Then Eleanor Hull took that translation, ‘cleaned it up’, and added the melody. Turns out the melody is an old Irish folk song named “Slane”; it is named after the area in Ireland that St Patrick went to witness to the Druids.
I found it most interesting that it was originally written as a prayer. Because that is exactly how I had always felt it was. Especially today, as the end is drawing near, it is more important than ever that we make God our vision (focus) everyday, all day!