A Musical Note — Summer 2010


In the sixth century of the Common Era, a blind monk named Dallán Forgaill wrote the poem Rop tú mo baile. This poem is a submission to the complex and infinitely incomprehensible will of God. It is also a plea to Him to guide a person with limited means to use his or her gifts to the utmost ability. This Irish monk recognizes that God grants us many daily and life-long blessings, while challenging us with severe limitations at the same time. Since the monk did not see in the physical sense (in fact, his name, “Dallán,” means “little blind one”), he probably submitted to God’s guidance even more than if he were sighted.

Rop tú mo baile was translated to English in 1905 by Mary Byrne, and versified in 1918 by Eleanor Hull. Then it was set to the Irish folk song, Slane, and we know it best today as the hymn, “Be Thou my Vision.” The text of the first stanza is:

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.

Since blindness is the incapacity to perceive light, the last line magnifies the monk’s handicap. However, it incorporates the sense that God is our other senses, as well, namely, our thinking, or sense of reasoning. Most importantly, when one sings this hymn the idea is that God simply exists and that is enough, as in the second line.

The adult choir sang a very moving arrangement of this hymn in June by Philip Stopford. Ellen Hamilton provided the flute obbligato and Norma Vande Bunte sang the soprano solo. This is one of the anthems that the adult choir considers one of its “own.” We have grown to love the text, the music, and the composer. We sang it in September, but I thought that it was beautiful enough to bring it out again. Needless to say, we learned many new things about it the second time around. Needless to say, if we sing it a third time in the future, we will learn even more about its tremendously powerful and far-reaching text.

At First Reformed Church we know that God is not going to do something for us when we think we need Him to act. We must be confident that God is present in every action and every sense that we express every day. His mere presence is enough to provide the energy and senses that allow us to live every day. We can often live without seemingly essential equipment, even our sight (or smell, hearing, taste, feeling, memory, etc.). This is because we know that God is all of this equipment to us, and He exists eternally, including the present moment, and everywhere. Praise Him, and rejoice in the blessing of God’s existence.

Let Him guide all of your actions and know that His will is being executed in each moment.

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