Monday, September 3, 2012

Be Thou My Vision

       The fall equinox may be a few weeks away still, but the Labour Day weekend marks the end of summer for most people on the Saanich Peninsula.  We go on one last camping trip,  or take in the  Saanich Fair, or start clearing the annuals out of the flower beds.       
    Kids go back to school, church programs kick into gear, music lessons start up, choirs reassemble, the calendar fills with appointments.  We are at the end of one season and the beginning of another.

     Phyllis Lindsay chose "Be Thou My Vision" as one of the hymns at her farewell service.  I think it's a great poem to consider at the start of the Fall term.

Essay by Dr. Cecil Kirk:

Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 2. 1 - 13

This hymn, a translation from the ancient Irish, is the work of two women who together have produced one of the finest hymns written in this century. Mary Byrne was born in Dublin and educated at the Dominican Convent there. She entered the Royal University of Ireland and graduated in 1905. She became a research worker in Irish for the Board of Intermediate Education. Her contribution to the Dictionary of the Irish Language was noted for its erudition. An old Irish poem from the 8th century was translated by her into English prose in the journal called "Erin" in 1905. In 1912 that translation was versified by Eleanor Hull who was born in Manchester and founded the Irish Text Society in 1899. In 1931 she received an Honourary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland.

The Celtic Church existed from the fifth to the twelfth centuries and flourished in Ireland from the fifth to the seventh century. It was a church noted for its mystical fervour and its ascetic rigour. Its unique contribution to Christianity lay in its fervent missionary activity and its devotion to learning, so much so that Ireland became known as the land of saints and scholars. Missionaries went out to Scotland, England and many parts of the continent of Europe. The study of Greek was preserved and Celtic Christian art developed. During its time it kept Christianity alive while the so-called Dark Ages were casting their shadows across Europe.

It is out of this tradition that our hymn comes. Jesus Christ is viewed, first of all, as the Vision that draws us. The word is used to designate not only what we focus on but also what we strive for. When we set a goal before us we are enabled to develop a long-range perspective that helps us to see the disappointments and defeats of today as of little consequence when viewed against the heavenly vision. He is also called Wisdom, something dear to the Celtic Christian and highly regarded in the Old Testament.

Throughout the hymn there are constant reminders of things associated with this period in Irish history. It was a tumultuous time and Christians frequently had to fight for their very existence. It was the period of the Viking invasions from the north so it is not surprising that we have references to battle shields, swords, round towers, high kings and such like. As we have already noted, the Celtic Church was famed for its asceticism and so we sing "riches I heed not nor man's empty praise". These are fleeting things of no worth. It is Jesus Christ who is our inheritance, he alone can be "first in our heart" and of him we can say "My treasure Thou art".

As the people of the coastal areas of Ireland fled for refuge to the high towers when they saw the high-prowed Viking ships approaching, so we flee to Jesus for "my soul's shelter". He is our high tower; he is "Power of my power". The day will come, however, when "after victory won" we shall enter into the joys of heaven and we shall bask in the light and warmth of "heav'n's Sun". Until that day dawns we ask him to be our vision and the one who is "Ruler of all" in our life.

This is a hymn that throbs throughout with a sense of devotion and love to God and as such it has few equals. Everything is focussed on the climactic phrase, "thou and thou only, first in my heart" just as everything in our daily lives must have this goal also.

Ed. Note.  Thanks to Edna Kirk for sharing Dr. Kirk's writing with this blog.

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