Monday, March 13, 2017
St. Patrick's Day is later this week, and so it seems like a perfect time to write a post on a favorite hymn, Be Thou My Vision. I'm willing to bet that this is one of the most-sung traditional hymns apart from Amazing Grace. Legends abound about this song, and they are charming stories that add to my enjoyment of the hymn, but we don't know much about their veracity. Here's what we know for sure. The Old Irish text predates the song itself by centuries, and we have copies of manuscripts from the 10th or 11th centuries. There's a good chance that the text existed long before that time within the Irish monastic tradition. Mary Byrne wrote a modern English translation of the poem in 1905 and just a bit later, Eleanor Hull wrote a translation in metric verse. The first published version of the song set to the Irish folk tune Slane (which has charming legends of its own) was in 1909 in a collection called Old Irish Folk Tunes and Songs. The title leads me to believe that the text had been paired with that tune for some time.
The original poem has been attributed to a blind Irish monk named Dallán Forgaill. The request that God would be his vision is even more poignant if this is true.
I wish I could read it in Old Irish, but since I can't, I enjoy Mary Byrne's translation - it's much richer than the metrified verses we sing in the hymn.
Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart
None other is aught but the King of the seven heavens.
Be thou my meditation by day and night.
May it be thou that I behold even in my sleep.
Be thou my speech, be thou my understanding.
Be thou with me, be I with thee
Be thou my father, be I thy son.
Mayst thou be mine, may I be thine.
Be thou my battle-shield, be thou my sword.
Be thou my dignity, be thou my delight.
Be thou my shelter, be thou my stronghold.
Mayst thou raise me up to the company of the angels.
Be thou every good to my body and soul.
Be thou my kingdom in heaven and on earth.
Be thou solely chief love of my heart.
Let there be none other, O high King of Heaven.
Till I am able to pass into thy hands,
My treasure, my beloved through the greatness of thy love
Be thou alone my noble and wondrous estate.
I seek not men nor lifeless wealth.
Be thou the constant guardian of every possession and every life.
For our corrupt desires are dead at the mere sight of thee.
Thy love in my soul and in my heart --
Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens.
O King of the seven heavens grant me this --
Thy love to be in my heart and in my soul.
With the King of all, with him after victory won by piety,
May I be in the kingdom of heaven O brightness of the son.
Beloved Father, hear, hear my lamentations.
Timely is the cry of woe of this miserable wretch.
O heart of my heart, whatever befall me,
O ruler of all, be thou my vision.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
|Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel|
It's Ash Wednesday, the day on the liturgical calendar when we begin the season of Lent. Lent commemorates Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, and on Ash Wednesday, the church encourages us to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It's a time for self-examination and repentance. Of course, we are called to do these things daily, but I think we believe that in Lent we are supposed to repent... harder. Instead, what I feel today is relief and thankfulness to be mere dust. It means that I can give up the burden of saving the world and saving me and trust that God is doing both of those things. The great thing is that the examined life can become the unburdened life, if you're healthy about it. But for some, the call to self-examination can result in self-blame and a failure to truly experience the joy of being forgiven. While I appreciate the liturgical calendar and the rhythm it can supply to worship, I also think we need to guard against allowing the culture of an institution to suggest extra-biblical practices that seem to be more dark and heavy than light. If we're not careful, lent and Ash Wed observance can make us turn in on ourselves and try to repent harder than is necessary.
I'm protestant, but blessed to have served in a variety of denominations, including Catholic. They have a term that touches on what I'm trying to describe as over-repentance: scrupulosity. It's a sort of religious perfectionism in which someone feels they can never stop confessing or feel able to enjoy forgiveness. It's a sort of spiritual OCD. I think that at times, I've been like this. So, this year's Ash Wednesday when I feel relieved to be dust - feels like a victory.
The pressure to participate in church programs can result in a sort of scrupulosity, too. I have in the past felt a duty to participate in as much as my time would allow. I've cut back. WAY back. Right now, I'm attending only one thing - a spiritual formation class that has been like manna from heaven. We have great discussions, and yesterday we talked about the difference between doing "great things for God" versus simply living fully into every moment being fully ourselves as God created us and sharing the gifts of the Spirit's fruits - love, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, self-control, etc. These are greater gifts than any earthly skill or talent. We talked about the ripple effect something as small as a smile can have - the ministry of welcome and love to those we encounter. We talked about Jesus' lack of an agenda or program. He had no schedule like this: 9:00 am: Woman at the well. 1:00: Take on some Pharisees. 3:00: start a ministry to the leper colony. Instead, God incarnate walked through life ready to encounter whatever came his way. I'm not knocking ministry or relief programs. They do good work. I'm just giving up the idea that I have to adopt an agenda or join a program out of duty. God will put in front of me what he wants me to do in his time. I don't have to get ahead of him.
It's easy to elevate the value of the program or the institution and fail to embrace the wildness of the Spirit. Today, I could easily allow the cultural and institutional weight of Lent to weigh me down. But, I don't feel heavy today. I feel light. I don't feel dark. I feel light. I think it's appropriate. So does this poet.
by Louis Untermeyer