The time was almost here. I had practiced my heart out and was so proud of how I had prepared for this missions trip. So much so that I had sat down with the translator to show her what we were going to be singing.
She took the paper from me and said everything I had expected. How great it was we had taken the time to learn these. How much they were going to love them. And I, in all my 14 years, had never been more proud.
The teacher in her came next as she shared with me what every word translated to, line by line. At first I wanted to assure her I knew it well as we sang it in church often. But the words she was saying didn’t sound at all like the song I knew. In fact, some of my favorite phrases were missing completely.
As we stood up there to perform, I went numb. It was either that or throw a tantrum right on that stage, screaming in a language they didn’t understand that there was so much more.
Six years later was the next time I felt that urge. This time from a different teacher. My piano professor insisted we write a history paper on every piece we played. And when I researched one of my favorite hymns, I was floored.
All this time, I had no idea there was more. That the author’s message was somewhat lost in translation.
You know the one. But do you know the real words — the ones translated word-for-word directly from the 6th century Old Irish?
- 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.
I realize we can’t sing it this way in English. The fluidity is missing. But there are lines of this I feel are lost in translation. Do you see them, too?
It’s clear to me the author knew the love affair Christ offers to everyone. And they wanted in. All in. Nothing held back. Not even their dreams. Their possessions. Their family. Their pride. Nothing withheld in hopes perspective would be gained.
Friends, this is what I think of when we sing this in church. When I play it on the piano. When I hear it on the radio.
I want in. More of Him. Less of me.
How about you? What does the song mean to you? I’d love to hear.
The way Ginny Owens sings this hymn resonates with me the most. I love her voice. But more importantly, I hear her heart. And I don’t think it’s simply because she’s blind that she gets it. The desire to see through His eyes… You can listen in HERE.
Thanks for sharing your time with me.