Be Thou My Vision
Only one missionary is honored with a global holiday, and only one is known by his own distinct color of green – St. Patrick, of course, missionary to Ireland.
Patrick was born in AD 373, along the banks of the river Clyde in what is now called Scotland. His father was a deacon, and his grandfather a priest. When Patrick was about 16, raiders descended on his little town and torched his home. When one of the pirates spotted him in the bushes, he was seized, hauled aboard ship, and taken to Ireland as a slave. There he gave his life to the Lord Jesus.
“The Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief,” he later wrote, “in order that I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.”
Patrick eventually escaped and returned home. His overjoyed family begged him to never leave again. But one night, in a dream reminiscent of Paul’s vision of the Macedonian Man in Acts 16, Patrick saw an Irishman pleading with him to come evangelize Ireland.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but Patrick, about 30, returned to his former captors with only one book, the Latin Bible, in his hand. As he evangelized the countryside, multitudes came to listen. The superstitious Druids opposed him and sought his death. But his preaching was powerful, and Patrick became one of the most fruitful evangelists of all time, planting 200 churches and baptizing 100,000 converts.
His work endured, and several centuries later, the Irish church was still producing hymns, prayers, sermons, and songs of worship. In the eighth century, an unknown poet wrote a prayer asking God to be his Vision, his Wisdom, and his Best Thought by day or night.
In 1905, Mary Elizabeth Byrne, a scholar in Dublin, Ireland, translated this ancient Irish poem into English. Another scholar, Eleanor Hull, of Manchester, England, took Byrne’s translation and crafted it into verses with rhyme and meter. Shortly thereafter it was set to a traditional Irish folk song, “Slane,” named for an area in Ireland where Patrick reportedly challenged local Druids with the Gospel.
It is one of our oldest and most moving hymns:
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 light.
Be 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 one.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.
High 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.
This hymn and its history are excerpts from Then Sings My Soul by Robert J.Morgan.