We cuddle together in the dark after the last book has been read. His 5-year-old limbs squirm as I whisper that it’s time for sleep.
“Can you sing me one more song?” he pleads.
I can’t resist. I’m a middle child, too. I know that in a family of many, you need to guard a few treasures for yourself. So we start to sing his lullaby, the one I sing only to him.
“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.”
Does he have any idea what these words mean? Do I?
“Be thou my vision.” Saints saw apparitions. Mystics were enraptured by encounters with the divine. What would it mean to see such a vision? Could you ever return to regular life?
My life is not mystical. Work, kids, home, errands. The visions of my days are ordinary: I see my spouse, my children, my office, my kitchen. I glimpse God here and there, on the edges and in the corners. But how would it feel to have full senses flooded with a blinding vision of God?
My son’s kicking distracts my dreaming. I kiss his forehead in the grainy dark and tiptoe out of the bedroom. But driving kids to school the next morning, I keep thinking about the hymn.
“Be thou my vision.”
The ancient Irish words capture what I want for myself and my children: to keep the vision of God at the center of our lives. But how? Some days it feels helpless and hard enough to cling to my own faith, let alone foster theirs.
And if I don’t have a clear vision of God — if my focus gets distracted or my eyes get clouded — can I hope to raise my children to believe, too?
But as I keep driving with the hymn rolling through my head, I realize what I’ve forgotten. Vision has two meanings: what we see and how we see it. The image we behold and the eyes we use to see.
Suddenly everything becomes clearer. Only God is both: the vision by which we see and the vision that we witness.
The beauty of the hymn captures both, too. God, be the vision I hold before me. God, guide the eyes by which I see.
As I pull away from the school drop-off lane, my son turns back. He is the only one who ever waves, the child who has to lock eyes with me through the car window and smile one more time before he goes. This is the vision we share each morning. Ordinary, tender, fleeting.
Only then do I realize that this is how God sees me, too. Move one comma and everything changes. “Be thou, my vision.” Be yourself. Be who I created you to be. Be the vision I have for you.
The hymn sings both ways.
This is God’s dream for every child: to be seen, to be cherished, to be beloved. This is love’s endless exchange: to keep seeing each other, back and forth as we grow.
Nurturing faith in a family tries to sink this truth into our stubborn bones. In every moment, we are beholding God — if only we keep our eyes open. Vision is this ordinary and this extraordinary.
“Heart of my own heart,” we sing again that night, and I start to see how true it is. “Whatever befall, still be my vision, O ruler of all.”
Fanucci is a mother, writer and director of a project on vocation at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota. She is the author of several books, including “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting,” and blogs at www.motheringspirit.com.
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