Saturday, September 27, 2008

Be Thou My Vision - Dallan Forgaill?

The classic hymn “Be Thou My Vision” has a theme based on sight. This song’s history likewise has a similar sentiment. The words may have been written by Dallan Forgaill, a Christian Irish poet who lived in the sixth century. It’s said that he studied so much that he lost his sight, so perhaps the song’s words were an actual physical request that he was making to God. His first name ‘Dallan’ was a nickname in his native tongue that means “little blind one”. The song’s tune is based on an 8th Century Irish folk melody, called Slane. Notice on perhaps any page printing this particular song that the word ‘Slane’ may be written somewhere, telling us that’s the tune which was adopted for use with the words in the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” in the Middle Ages. The story of Slane (perhaps a legend) involves St. Patrick and a confrontation he had with a pagan king in Ireland in the 5th Century. Patrick was a great Christian missionary to Ireland, whom you may have heard in folklore drove the snakes out of the country, and used a Shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. The first Easter that Patrick was in Ireland, he wanted to celebrate the holiday by lighting an Easter fire on the hill of Slane, not far from High King Laoghaire’s castle. This drew the king’s ire (no pun intended), who was also intent upon celebrating a pagan holiday in the same fashion by lighting a fire in the castle. The Druid priests (a pre-Christian religious order in the Middle Ages) advising Laoghaire warned him Patrick’s fire must be quenched or it would never die out, and would in fact spread a foreign doctrine. Patrick is said to have escaped Laoghaire’s death sentence, and in fact history records that Patrick did a great deal to organize Christianity and overthrow paganism in Ireland. Notice the words in “Be Thou My Vision” seem to echo what Patrick stood for, and entreat us to do the same. He celebrated Christ in his life, exhibiting it for all to see - -like a fire on the hill of Slane – no matter what threats others around him used to try to silence him. Verses 3 and 4 of the hymn tell us the true High King is in heaven, and Patrick most certainly knew this also, refusing to bow to King Laoghaire in 5th Century Ireland. The priests in old Israel offered, even before they entered Canaan, sacrifices to God by fire. And God was a pillar of fire to lead the people out of the wilderness. Moses records in Exodus (13:22), “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” Lord, when my own fire dies, I thank you that yours does not. May I be like Patrick, brave, with my vision lit by your presence. Information on the song was developed from an encyclopedia and two Wikipedia sites:

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