Text: Helen Howarth Lemmel (1864-1961) Tune: Helen Howarth Lemmel (1864-1961)
R/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.
1. Oh, soul are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There's light for a look at the Savior And life more abundant and free.
2. Through death into life everlasting He passed and we follow Him there O'er us sin no more hath dominion For more than conquerors we are.
3. His word shall not fail you, He promised Believe Him and all will be well Then go to a world that is dying His perfect salvation to tell.
Here we have a camp song chorus that has been sung around a campfire as people are meditating on Jesus, who he is, what he means to them, and how he relates to them.
We don’t really know the stanzas, it is the chorus we know by heart. The line, "Look full in his wonderful face" has always stuck with me. It sounds good with its alliteration and its statement. What does it mean to look full at a face? The face of Jesus?
Christian art is filled with images of Jesus from the first on the catacomb walls and ceilings to now. What do we see when we behold his face? Of course, we should see something of ourselves, for he became flesh to be like us, but also something divine. It is a difficult thing for an artist to create. It will end up showing probably as much about the artist as about Christ. I knew someone who had drawn the form of Jesus for an altar painting but the face was somewhat hidden. Another friend, upon looking at it, said, "He doesn’t quite get Jesus, does he?"
Who of us does? I spent last year writing a sonnet a day on Jesus. I ended up with 366. As I reflect on the year, rich beyond words, it feels like what I did was stand beside the Pacific Ocean and take out 366 teaspoons full of water. There is no fathoming Jesus. But each glimpse gives us something.
The great Japanese novelist Shushako Endo in his novel The Samurai describes the life of a Japanese warrior accompanying a Catholic missionary from Japan to Mexico, Spain and Rome on the command of his superior. He is not a Christian. The leader of the expedition, a Spanish priest, who has ambitions to become primate of a Catholic Japan, needs to have some converts in order to impress his superiors. He convinces the samurai to be baptized in Mexico. It won’t mean anything to you, he says. As they go from Mexico to Spain to Rome, the samurai sees more and more pictures of Jesus, whom he despises for his weakness.
Many years later when they finally return to Japan, things have changed. Christianity is being persecuted, it no longer has any standing in the society. The samurai who has never believed in Jesus is now accused of being a Christian since he was baptized. For that he will be martyred. As he goes to his death he sees a picture of the suffering Jesus. Then, he sees, that the only thing that makes any sense to him is that face.
Helen Howarth Lemmel has a fascinating story, filled with urban legends that are difficult to prove. We do know that she was born in England to a Methodist pastor and his wife. They emigrated to America in the 1870s to serve a church in Mississippi. They then moved to Wisconsin where Helen became an active part of the music scene, singing, composing and giving recitals. In her forties, after her marriage, she moved to Seattle where she became part of the music world, teaching and performing, and working as a music critic for the Seattle Intelligencer. One of her interviews was with Madam Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936), a famous diva at the time. She convinced Helen to go to Germany to study. Which she did, taking her teen-aged daughter with her, but her son was old enough to be on his own. While she was in Germany she sued for divorce on the grounds that her wealthy husband had deserted her. The divorce was not granted at the time because she was not in the country. She returned to America and began performing for the Chautauqua music circuit. She appeared in recitals around the country singing her own songs for children and other of her works. She then taught vocal music at Moody Institute in Chicago, preparing a hymnal for Billy Sunday, the revivalist of the day. An active composer and poet until her death, she wrote this hymn in 1922 after receiving a tract on looking at Jesus’ face. The rest is history, as they say. Some say her husband left her because she was going blind, which makes the hymn that much more compelling, but while she did go blind at the end of her life, it was long after he had abandoned her. Despite her travels and other jobs around the country, she called Seattle home from 1904 on and was an active member of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. There is no obituary for her in the Seattle papers as far as I could find. She was well known and even celebrated in the first decades of the 20th century. Still she lives on in this song. Once again, the contemporary Christian musicians have taken it as their own.
Living Stones https://youtu.be/zTZtKoAwf0U
Michael W. Smith
Allison Durham Speer, Steve Emerson, and Congregation
Alan Jackson/Country Western
Laura Daigle/soul https://youtu.be/L57ox0iQU7A