LOOK: Canyon by Augustus Vincent Tack
The text of this song is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, compiled and edited by Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975) from various seventeenth- through nineteenth-century sources. (Learn more about this wonderful little prayerbook here.) The opening prayer—the only one written by the editor and therefore the only modern one—is titled “The Valley of Vision,” and it appears in the book as follows:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.
The title of this prayer and its musical setting comes from the heading that is Isaiah 22:1: “The burden of the valley of vision.” The valley here refers to Jerusalem, a city located in the middle of a range of low mountains (it’s surrounded by seven peaks higher than itself) and a seat of divine revelation—where prophetic visions were given, and where God manifested himself in the temple. And in the context of the chapter, “burden” means a mournful oracle, as Isaiah warns of Jerusalem’s destruction.
Bennett extracts the phrase “valley of vision” from the Isaiah context, using it as a metaphor for the low, dark places where we can see God most clearly. “The way down is the way up,” he writes—one of the several paradoxes of the Christian faith. In God’s kingdom the lowly are uplifted; to admit defeat is to win the victory; and to die is to live.
Author Edna Hong refers to Lent as a “downward ascent” in which we go down into the depths of ourselves, acknowledging our fragility and examining and confessing our sins, in order that we might rise anew with Christ, with a refreshed understanding and experience of his love, power, and grace. May you find that refreshment this Lenten season. May your vision of God and self come into clearer, more glorious focus.