Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
Although most of the hymns we sing were written over the past couple of hundred years, Be Thou My Vision is one which carries with it the patina of centuries. It would appear to have come from the pen of one Dallán Forgaill, a sixth century Irish poet who eventually lost his sight due to his love of studying. He wrote an influential biography of St Columba.
If you were to travel to Dublin, and gain access to the manuscript collections of the National Library you would find a fourteenth century copy of the poem. If you then visited the Royal Irish Academy you will find copy dating from three centuries earlier, and these bear witness both the the appeal and popularity of the poem.
The version we sing was translated by Eleanor Hull in 1912, and midway through we find echoes of a traditional prayer for protection which was popular in early Irish Christianity. Drawing on imagery from the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we pray that God would be our breastplate and sword, our whole armour.
The joy of this hymn, and no doubt the reason why it has remained popular for a millennia and a half, is the vastness of the vision. As we sing, we pray that God would be all in all for us, that he alone would be our treasure. If we place all our hope, trust and value in God we will never be disappointed.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Be all else but naught to me, save that Thou art;
Be Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
Be Thou ever with me, and I with Thee, Lord;
Be Thou my great Father, and I Thy true son;
Be Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my Breastplate, my Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my whole Armor, be Thou my true Might;
Be Thou my soul's Shelter, be Thou my strong Tow’r,
O raise Thou me heav’nward, great Pow’r of my pow’r.
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise;
Be Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Be Thou and Thou only the first in my heart,
O high King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of heaven, Thou heaven's bright Sun,
O grant me its joys, after vict'ry is won;
Great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be Thou my vision, O Ruler of all.