Saturday, May 12, 2018

Heaven Holds All to Me -- Tillit Sydney Teddlie

He evidently wanted his own gravestone to be a signpost, substituting for his voice in the time after which he expected to be gone. This fellow was pretty thoughtful, intentional, and hopeful that what words he crafted might survive his own mortal existence, and so it was when Tillit Sydney Teddlie wrote “Earth Holds No Treasures” (perhaps more commonly known as “Heaven Holds All to Me”) early in his life. He lived his entire life in Texas, but that wasn’t the home he thought about, and so he spent a notable amount of his time poetically reminding himself and others where he thought home would be. He couldn’t have known how many years into the future this expectation would endure before bearing fruit, but that’s how dreams affix themselves in one’s consciousness – over time. This poet demonstrated, well-past an average person’s retirement age, that a patience while awaiting one’s inheritance for many decades after first envisioning it doesn’t mean standing still.   

Tillit and his wife had the words of “Heaven Holds All…” inscribed on the memorial stone marking the site of their burial ground. It’s a shortened, bumper-sticker-like phrase that points to the longer version of what Teddlie thought about this eternity subject. Tillit was a 30-year old, still relatively young and less than one-third of the way toward his goal, as it would turn out, in 1915; he lived until 1987, having passed the century-mark two years earlier. Tillit was most likely somewhere in northeast Texas, in one of several small towns or perhaps in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, when he wrote about the abode where he would go some 70 years into the future. He was frequently engaged in teaching singing, a skill he’d first begun as a teenager over a decade earlier, though his talents weren’t limited to music. He preached at half a dozen churches in this region over his lifetime, while writing approximately 130 songs and publishing more than a dozen songbooks. His part in singing schools, where he taught others how use their vocal skills via reading shape notes in printed music, must have touched the lives of thousands of people over the course of six decades. How many more people would have encountered Tillit and his heavenward message while sitting near a pulpit or by using a songbook? He didn’t complicate it too much, but showed some unpretentious words were golden. The ‘treasures (that)…perish’ (v.1) and ‘world(ly)…sorrows’ (v.3) just didn’t stack up against a ‘joy without measure’ (refrain) he aimed to inherit. What he sought was invaluable. No one can calculate a songwriter’s impact, especially when his subject is so universally true for all of us. 

Though Tillit did not share the particular episode that inspired his poem, we can guess its words grew out of his everyday perspective. After all, what else would a preacher-songwriter, who was engaged in spreading good news, be thinking about virtually every day? He must have known of the adage regarding how to catch flies – you attract them to something (like honey), rather than trying to chase them away from where you don’t want them to be. Tillit must have known that no one could argue with or run away from being ‘happy, contented, and free’ (v. 2). He called it a ‘wonderful country’. My everyday life in America is pretty nice, but there are frustrations too, routinely. Tillit would, no doubt, have recommended an alternative.       

A more thorough portrayal of composer’s life is here:

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