Sometime in the ’90s, I wrote an article for Image magazine in which I gave a personal “top 10” list of high-quality hymns. My point was to encourage congregational attention to content. Number 1 on my list was “Be Thou My Vision.”
I’d been introduced to that song as #604 in the supplement to Great Songs of the Church, No. 2. My congregation continued to sing the song from the subsequent hymnal, Great Songs of the Church, Revised. Personally, I had to ignore a typo on the last line of the fourth stanza in #578.
I consider Be Thou My Vision” lyrically well constructed, and its Celtic text is reportedly more than 1,200 years old. As for musical features, the melody strikes me as a mild, gentle, Irish one, which in a quicker, flowing tempo might be considered “lilting.” I suppose the song has never fully caught on in most a cappella churches because harmonization is somewhat difficult, and also because the melody has a fairly large range—an octave and a fourth.
Today “in church,” when the worship leaders began the song, I was encouraged, and I began to sing this worship-filled song with some heart. This, you see, was my only chance to participate in congregational worship all day. I knew the song! For these four minutes, I wouldn’t be an excluded casualty of the presumption that it’s all about the people on stage. I was soon distracted, however, by people buzzing around across the room with gluten-free pastries, coffee, and water bottles in the refrigerator. “Be Thou My Vision” provides for genuine worship . . . yet these Martha-types were keeping me from my only opportunity.
Life’s pressures and pains converged. My vision of the High King of Heaven became clouded—to my disappointment and to my detriment . . . and also, I think, to my shame. I was unable to focus.
– B. Casey, 6/6/21
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 lightBe thou my wisdom, and thou my true word
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, and I thy true son
Thou in me dwelling and I with thee oneRiches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and thou only first in my heart
High King of heaven, my treasure thou artHigh 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