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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus / Be Thou My Vision

This week’s blog is actually about two hymns, because I chose to do a medley on the Hallelujah album for track #13. (A simple way to squeeze in more hymns on the album and create some fun arrangements!) So let’s journey together back in time and discover the stories behind these two gems. I’ll first share a little of why I picked these songs! 


September 12, 2015 was the most beautiful, glorious day. It felt like a fairy tale dream come true—God’s grace was just radiant and the blessings were abundant. In a pine grove outside a historic church on the coast of Maine we said our vows, and committed our lives to one another, until death do us part. Our wedding hymn, led by my father-in-law, with voices ringing out in the wind a capella, was “Be Thou My Vision.” It was truly a holy moment; I may overuse that phrase, but I believe there are no better words to describe what took place as we lifted our voices in praise on our wedding day, sun beaming down upon us and our worship rising to the heavens. 

Fifteen months later, on December 7, 2016, our miracle baby boy was born. Every night since that night we have sung a special hymn together as a family before bedtime, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” These two hymns have become anthems for our family, their message the anchors in the waves of life. In this busy, distracted, stressful world, it is so good for us to quiet our hearts each evening and call to mind the true source of our hope—Jesus. It is vital for us to turn our eyes away from the things of this world—our selfish ambitions, our fears, our regrets, those things that seek to take precedence in our hearts over what truly matters, and to fix our thoughts and vision back toward Christ our Savior and Lord. Over a decade ago, when I was on the Power House worship band in college, I remember singing these songs together as a medley, so it just seemed to be fitting to do the same on this album. They’ve always gone hand in hand in my heart, and they are the two hymns that mean the most to my little family. 


If we travel back 1600 years, we will find one of my favorite heroes in history—St. Patrick. When most of the western world thinks of his name, shamrocks and green come to mind. However, St. Patrick’s story is one beyond incredible that every believer should know. I’m sad to say I first got to know his true story through a children’s book (it’s a fantastic children’s book by The Voice of the Martyrs, though, and I encourage you to read it with the kids in your life!) When I was in my recliner post brain-surgery, with icepacks on my head and could only hear out of one ear, I listened to St. Patrick’s autobiography, Confession, on audio book. I can’t tell you how much this ancient autobiography inspired me during that difficult time and lifted my spirits! (You can also read it online here.)


In the year 373 A.D., Patrick was born near the River Clyde in Scotland. Around the age of 16 years old Patrick was suddenly kidnapped by pirates who raided his town and burned down his home. They took him aboard a ship to Ireland, and it was there that he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. In his time of peril, he turned to the Lord with his whole heart and total trust. Patrick had a rich spiritual heritage, which laid the foundation for his faith (his grandfather was a priest and his father a church deacon), but faith had never fully taken hold of his own heart until this dramatic turn of events in his life.

This brave young man eventually escaped and returned home, but one night in a dream, Patrick was compelled to return to Ireland to share the gospel with his captors and the lost souls of that land. He was about 30 years old when he returned, sharing the gospel and carrying his Latin Bible across the vast countryside of Ireland. He was pursued and persecuted by both the Druids and King Logaire of Tara, as men hunted down his life. However, God used Patrick’s bold mission to baptize about 100,000 new Christians and plant an estimated 200 churches. 

No one is completely certain who the author of “Be Thou My Vision” is, but it is most often given credit to Dallán (Eochaid) Forgaill who lived in the 6thCentury A.D. Many believe that this poem ("Rop tú mo baile" in the original Gaelic) was a tribute to St. Patrick’s zealous loyalty to God. Forgaill is now remembered by Catholics as a Saint, along with Patrick. Although his story is more obscure and not as well known, with many legends surrounding his life and death, we do know that he was a devoted man to Christ and an avid poet and scholar of Latin Scripture.

Born around 530 A.D. in Magh Slécht, County Cavan, Ireland, he was descended from Irish royalty. He went blind as a young man and that is where his nickname, Dallán came from: “little blind one.” People claimed that he lost his sight due to too much reading and studying. Helping preserve the Gaelic language in his time, Forgaill became chief bard and poet of Ireland in 575, around the age of 45 years old. In the year 598 A.D., Forgaill was beheaded and martyred during an attack by pirates on the island monastery of Inniskeel, County Donegal.

Over 1300 years later, in 1905, “Be Thou My Vision” was translated into English by a scholar in Dublin, Mary E. Byrne. In 1912 another female scholar in Manchester, Eleanor H. Hull, arranged it into the verses we recognize today. The music is set to the ancient Irish folk tune called SLANE. Slane was an area in Ireland where Patrick was particularly up against fierce persecution and a place where he unashamedly shared the gospel. St. Patrick’s legacy lives on in many ways, and just one of those is through this beloved hymn, which was written in Ireland about 200 years after he swept through the country with the Word of God, sharing the visionary hope of Jesus Christ. 

Helen Howarth Lemmel

A contemporary of Mary E. Byrne and Eleanor H. Hull, Helen Howarth Lemmel, like Dalláin Forgaill, faced the great challenge of being blind, but her blindness came later in life. Born in 1863 in England to a Wesleyan Methodist minister and his wife, their family immigrated to America when she was about 12 years old. Helen was a gifted young woman, and throughout her life she was known as a concert soloist, doing concerts at churches throughout the Midwest.

She studied voice in Germany for four years, and married a wealthy European man, but found heartache when he left her after she became blind. She struggled with heartache throughout her long life of 97 years, but she also poured herself into worshipping the Lord. She taught music at Moody Bible Institute and at the Bible institute of Los Angeles. She also wrote about music pieces for the Seattle Post. She directed a woman’s choral group which performed in the Billy Sunday evangelical meetings. Lemmel wrote somewhere between 400 and 500 hymns and poems throughout her life.


In 1918, Lemmel wrote “The Heavenly Vision,” which we know today as “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Helen’s inspiration for the song was the writings of Isabella Lilias Trotter, in her tract “Focused.” Trotter was a talented and ardent woman who laid aside her love for art and all the wealth and influence it afforded her, to pursue a life of 38 years in the mission field, sharing the gospel to Muslims in Algeria. Trotter wrote, “Turn full your soul's vision to Jesus, and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him." 

When we look back on the amazing lives of St. Patrick, Dállan Forgaill, Helen Howarth Lemmel, and Isabella Lilias Trotter, we see brave men and women who sacrificed everything to share the gospel around the globe and who used gifts of songwriting to worship the Lord. We are reminded that the riches of this world will leave us wanting, but that Jesus will always and ever satisfy. The light of His grace will fill us to overflowing, when we turn our gaze toward the Savior.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(Hebrews 12:1-3)


Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4)


Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

-----------------------

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

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




Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.

Peterson, Randy. Be Still My Soul:The Inspiring Stories Behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns.Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014.


“Dallan Forgaill.” https://hymnary.org/person/Forgaill_D

“Helen Lemmel (1863-1961)” http://womenofchristianity.com/hymn-writers/helen-lemmel-1863-1961/

“Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961)” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/l/e/m/lemmel_hh.htm