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Be Thou My Vision

"Be Thou My Vision" is a nineteenth-century hymn with lyrics that date back to eighth-century Ireland. I heard it first in 2000, and found tears streaming down my cheeks. It felt like meeting an old friend, but for the first time.

The words didn't register with me for a while. They seemed to go straight to my heart without stopping off first at my brain.

"Be Thou my vision." What a request. The humility wrapped up in the title seems intense to me. Most of us who enjoy the gift of sight steer our lives by what we see. The blind learn to navigate without sight, proving there are other ways to get around, but most of us choose our furniture, our clothes, our mates...in large measure, based on our eyes' vision.

Yet for all our reliance on it, that kind of vision is a faulty thing. We are fooled by mirages, faux painting, stick insects. I've read that we recognize the things we see, not because of the excellence of our eyesight, but because our brains supply a great deal of meaning to the colors and patterns our eyes are able to pick out. There's a lot of software supporting the hardware of physical sight. (Babies are born with the imprint of the human face, so that they can pick their mother's face out of the soup of colors and patterns their eyes behold after birth.)

We see through a glass, darkly. Yet physical sight draws us to things or repels us from them based on surfaces. We disdain superficiality, but the world of sight is a hard one to ignore, and it dotes on the superficial.

That's what so moves me about the hymn. Asking God to be my vision means letting Him steer me, not by my sight, but by His vision that cuts through surfaces like a torch and sees the heart. It means I give up control over where I go in life, and trust to Him I cannot see. Scary. Compelling. The stuff great adventure is made of.


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