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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Be Thou My Vision - A Retrospective

Last week I wrote about the old hymn, Be Thou My Vision. As I thought about it later, I wondered about a particular phrase in that song.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Now, being a "wordsmith" (sorry -- inside joke), I found myself having problems with the phrase. Oh, I got the words. "Naught" -- "Let nothing". "Save" -- "except". "Art" -- not "music and painting", but an old English "are". That's all okay. But the word that had me stumped in that phrase was "that".

You see, it is possible that the song means one of a few things. Perhaps he was saying, "Nothing means as much to me as You do." Perhaps. That's a lot of convolution to say something so simple, but, hey, it's poetry, right? Still, I think, without putting much thought to it, this is the most common idea of what the author meant. Another possibility is "Let nothing else mean anything to me except what You are." Or, "Let what you are mean more to me than anything else." But I would have used the word "what" there; he used the word "that". It looks like he's saying "Let nothing else mean as much to me as the fact that You exist." Or, "The fact that You simply exist should mean everything to me."

If you recall it was believed to have been written by Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century. That's one problem. He didn't write it in English ... not our English. It was translated by Mary E. Byrne in 1905 and put to verse by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912. And it's not like we can ask the author, "Hey, Dallán, what did you mean by that?" So we can't get a definitive answer. Still, I wonder.

Mulling further, though, I found myself coming around to an unexpected answer. Which did he mean? I would answer, "Yes ... all of the above." "Let nothing mean as much to me as the fact that You are what You are." Or, "You are Who You are; let that mean more to me than anything." Ultimately, "That You are, Who You are, above all I want You to mean more to me than anything else."

We are interesting beings. We tend to think in terms of "me". So when we think of God we think of what He means "to me". What does He do for me? What do I get from Him? How much does He love me? And I'm not saying that's all bad. Still, this phrase has me bound for the moment. In this phrase it's not about what He does for me, but simply Who He is. All of Him. More than we can contemplate. Not all of it is pleasant for us (like His wrath, His judgment, even His holiness), but all of it is to His glory. And I want to embrace that -- Who He is and that He is -- above all else -- to His glory. Certainly above myself.

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