Though Kim and I grew up not far from each other in Connecticut, we didn’t meet until we sang together in a chamber group in Boston. Though she is living in another state now, I am so glad to have such a wise, caring, and humorous friend (who also happens to be a fellow fan of UConn hoops!) . As part of the How Can I Keep from Singing? series Kim writes about Be Thou My Vision, which I know will be stuck in my head all day. I hope you’ll be singing it too!
As a person who both attends and works at religious institutions, I have always found dichotomy in my religious life. I began to sing in the quaint New England church of my childhood as a precocious three year old while my mother directed from the piano. As the years passed, I have been fortunate to find myself not only in houses of worship with doctrine that spoke deeply to me, but also with varying musical styles. Although I have sometimes found myself at odds with priests and pastors while listening to their sermons, the music I sang at those jobs still filled my soul with great solace and comfort and I learned what it truly meant to use my musical gift for God’s purpose.
I believe the Bible itself is a living and breathing document, constantly challenging its reader and providing new revelations. Throughout these many years, from my Puritan childhood home to my Pentecostal church in graduate school, one song has woven its way in and out of my life, sung in every imaginable style, every imaginable key, and every imaginable language.
To me, the traditional Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision” does the same thing. The hauntingly beautiful melody brings tears to my eyes, as I know the words to follow.
Though each and every word is perfectly crafted, in any translation or language, the last two verses in particular speak to me.
The second to last verse reads as follows:
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thine mine inheritance now and always
Thou and thou only first in my heart
High king of heaven, my treasure thou art.
I believe that materialism is a common struggle for members of any socioeconomic class growing up in America. The sign of our success is how much we have acquired, whether in terms of material possession, money, friendship, or praise. As creative people who go into the arts, we know that it is not so much a choice, but rather a calling. One bad review or bad performance can alter our self-image, just as having the wrong shoes or wrong bag might for some. Luke 12:34 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NIV) Jesus says this so that we may be reminded that we cannot serve two masters – whether the other master be money or praise, neither of those will provide us everlasting joy. The true treasure, the only riches we need come through salvation and connection to our Maker. This verse, while often challenging for me, reminds me that my one true treasure is Christ.
The last line of the hymn reads,
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.
Inevitably, we will all struggle throughout life — no one goes on this journey without ups and downs. It is also inevitable that we will struggle between our desires and alliances; we may not always be faithful to God, we may turn our backs on Him, we may give into temptations. However, no matter what happens, we can be secure and trust in the fact that even when we are lost, God knows where we are and is there with us.
God has been, and always will be, my vision. He will lead me on the path that is set before me, and I believe this with my whole heart. As I have moved through different times and parts of my life, this beautiful hymn plays in the background. Its melody weaves its way throughout my experiences, just as God Himself is always there.
Connecticut native and former Bostonian Kim Soby currently lives in Miami, where she is active as a performer and teacher. She loves discussing theology over delicious craft beer, and has special fondness in her heart for the Old Testament, cupcakes, and UConn basketball. She is the host of Opus Affair Miami, about which you can learn at www.opusaffair.org. If you want to read more about her life as a musician, visit www.kimberlysoby.com.