be thou

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I think that most Christian music lovers have a song that anchors their soul. For some people, it’s an old hymn; for others, “Good, Good Father” is the instigator of peace. My song, as I was reminded this past weekend at Hymnfest–an hour-long concert of hymns–is “Be Thou My Vision.” While other worship songs have had varying meaning in my life–”Worn” by Tenth Avenue North was integral during my freshman year of high school–this hymn has been my favorite for as long as I can remember.

When CDs–”compact disks” for those of you who are too young to remember–were still the main mode of music-listening, my family had a black canvas CD case that we kept in the car. One of my favorite disks in that case was Celtic Worship by Eden’s Bridge. I liked it for exactly one song: “Be Thou My Vision.” It was everything I could have wanted as a little girl: chimes, a rain stick (possibly?), a powerful female singer (my favorite singer at that age was Celine Dion. I had high standards), and a sense of otherworldliness. Even re-listening to it right now, the same sense of hope overwhelms me.

Singing this hymn last weekend, surrounded by my fellow singers, backed by an organ, I was reminded of the power not only of this song but of music in general. Singing and music have always been important to me so that they are my favorite form of worship makes sense. There’s a quote painted on the wall of my high school choir classroom: “When words fail, music speaks.” Perhaps that’s why the Bible so often calls people to sing to the Lord: music transcends words. There’s not a good way to explain the sense of infallible security–and the joy that comes with it—that comes from singing, and from that song specifically.

Originally written in the 8th century, “Be Thou My Vision” reflects the eternal in a way that the music of modernity so rarely can. That’s why this song is so good: the tune and the words say what I can’t. It sings the prayer that floods the deepest corners of my self. It reaches towards the higher powers that are. It cries for anchoring in that which always is.

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