Be Thou My Vision, the Royal Wedding & Theosis
At the Royal Wedding yesterday, there was a brief moment when everyone in attendance, including the royal couple, sang together. What they were singing was Be Thou My Vision, one of the most beautiful hymns ever written. The hymn has origins deep in Irish history—perhaps even tracing back to Saint Patrick himself.
But what may be even more beautiful than the haunting Celtic melody, is its profound meaning. This song, more than any other I can think of, evokes the ancient Christian concept of theosis.
Theosis literally means “divinization”. In Christian thought, it means becoming a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4)—being united with God, such that God’s nature permeates and transforms your own.
This is what we enact in Communion or Eucharist, symbolically consuming Christ’s body and blood, that we may be transformed into Christ’s body and blood.
This is why Christ came, according to the church fathers. “God became what we are, that we might become what he is.”
One of the most poignant statements about this is in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The image is of vision—of seeing face to face. In ancient times, according to Paul, people had covered their faces when approaching God. They could not see him, could not understand him. There was no intimate relationship.
They longed to cross that chasm.
My eyes shall see him, mine and not another, echo the heart-wrenching words of Job.
In the biblical story, humans were made in the image of God, made to reflect God’s glory to all creation. Thus, to see God dimly, through a covering, was to be disconnected from what we really are. It was to fall short of the glory of God.
In Christ, according to Paul, that covering has been ripped away. Now, we can look at God face to face. Now, in contemplating God, we are transformed into a vision of God.
Every relationship transforms us. We become part of the other person, and they become part of us. We become increasingly like each other. The more clearly we see the other person, the more deeply they become part of who we are.
To see God face-to-face is to be in a relationship deeper and more intimate than you can imagine. It is to know that God is within you, transforming you into God’s image and glory.
The desire to look upon God, to have that relationship fill you and transform you in every way, to feel it as deep as love, and as strong as power—is what this song is about.
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, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
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.