One Song, Two Women

How do two women who never met write a song? Discover how the song, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus," was created and shared with the world.

By 

Mary Zahorik

 on 

August 31, 2020

What inspires songwriters to feel the words and music deep within their souls and to transform those thoughts and feelings into written form?  There must be some personal experience and deep journey, yearning, and swelling of heart that moves the soul to bring it to life.

There is a well-known song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”  Most of us will recognize it. But, what may not be known is that it also has another name, “The Heavenly Vision.” This classic song was written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1918 (1863-1961), after having been inspired by a woman that she never met.  That woman’s name was Lilias Trotter (1853-1928).

Helen was born in Wardle, England and Lilias was born in Marylebone, London, a mere 3.52 hour car ride in present time; and a decade apart.  Helen came to the United States in 1875 when she was 12, Lilias stayed in Europe until 1888 when she moved to North Africa to be a missionary in Algeria when she was 34 years old and remained there until her death.

Helen and Lilias were both artistically gifted.  Helen was a great musical talent, having written over 500 hymns and poems, and Lilias was gifted in art, linguistics, and writing.  During Lilias 40 years in missionary work, she journaled a page every day illustrating the world around her with sketches, watercolors, and in her writings.  She wrote about her daily experiences of desperately depending on the divine resources of the Holy Spirit.  She would often go off alone in nature to pray, write, and draw the things she saw in nature.

So how did they “connect.”  In 1918, a missionary friend of Helen’s sent her a tract written by Lilias entitled, “Focused.”  Within that published work (dated 1901 as Lilia was sitting in a field of dandelions) were a few words that forever changed Helen.  “Turn your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him.”  Helen was so moved by that sentence that she could not shake it from her mind.  She immediately wrote the song and the lyrics within one week’s time.

So, now you know.  Two women who never met, living two worlds apart, brought together through time, by a journal entry and a song written almost two decades apart, with words that are timeless.

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