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Be Thou My Vision

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”

~ Matthew 5:14

One of the things I remember about my grandmother is that we were always concerned with her eyesight. She had cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration on top of having worn glasses for the majority of her life. She loved to sew and crochet, both hobbies which require one to be able to see, and reading. We would go to a special Christian book store to get large print versions of the novels by her favorite authors and she had a special light with a magnifying glass to be able to see her projects. Her sight would get bad, she would have a surgery, and it would improve. Despite the complications, she never did completely lose her sight.

Several years ago, I went in for a routine eye exam. After several unsuccessful attempts to test the pressure in my right eye with that lovely machine that blows a puff of air into your eye, the doctor took a closer look. He wasn’t a specialist but could tell me something was going on with my cornea preventing him from getting an accurate reading for the pressure in my eye. A couple of weeks later, I found myself sitting in the office of a cornea specialist.

I ended up with a diagnosis of keratoconus which basically means my cornea is an odd shape due to it being too thin and not holding up to the pressure from the fluid inside my eyeball. For years the only treatment has been to wait until it gets bad enough to lose all functional vision and/or for the cornea to burst and then get a cornea transplant. Neither of those options sounded great to me. So I was left with signing up for an experimental procedure designed to strengthen my cornea and at least stop and maybe reverse the misshapen nature of my cornea.

The entire experience was a lesson on how much I value my vision. I take the time more often now to marvel at beauty. I find myself really looking at things more often. Should someday I find myself facing a cornea transplant or worse with my eyes, I want to be able to clearly “see” the faces of my family, the colors of a sunset, and the details of a flower in my imagination.

The words for the popular hymn Be Thou My Vision are most often credited to an Irish monk who lived in the 6th Century who went blind in his early adult years. It is a reality with make the first words of this poem set to music deeply personal:

Be Thou my Vision, Oh Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me save that Thou art

The words of the poem, by themselves, are beautiful. They are a plea and a prayer, a declaration of what is and what is hoped for. It wouldn’t be until 1919 that these words were set to the tune of “Slane Hill,” a tune which has an interesting story of its own.

Slane Hill is inspired by a story from the life of St. Patrick. Early in his ministry in Ireland, St. Patrick defied the kings orders that no fire should be lit on the night of a pagan feast so as to honor the pagan god king worshiped. This night also happened to end on Easter morning. Patrick went to the tallest hill in the region, Slane Hill, and in the pre-dawn hours of Easter morning, built and lit a bonfire. Because there was no other light that night, the bonfire could be clearly seen for miles. It was Patrick’s statement that God’s light shines brightly in the darkness of this world and God alone deserves to be praised. The kind was so impressed with Patrick’s bold move, he allowed Patrick to continue his missionary work in Ireland.

Between the words and the traditional melody, Be Thou My Vision has become a hymn sung by millions of people in the last century. It is a hymn which invites us to see the world and it contains through God’s eyes. It is a hymn which invites us to put God first and foremost in our thoughts, words, and actions. It is a hymn which reminds us that, as God’s people, as followers of Christ, we are to be like a city (or a bonfire) on a hill which cannot be hidden.

Follow Up:

- Enjoy this traditional version of Be Thou My Vision.

- Recently it is believed that the poem may have been mistranslated from the original Gaelic. Instead of a prayer – Be Thou My Vision – it might have been more intended as a declaration – You are My Vision. Listen to the song sung with this translation in mind. Does it change your experience of worship?

  1. Do you see yourself as God sees you? Check out these verses as just a start of the things God has to say about you:

  2. Ephesians 2:10

  3. 1 Corinthians 3:16

  4. Galatians 4:6-7

  5. John 1:12-13

  6. Romans 8:1

  7. John 15:15

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