History of Hymns: 'Open Our Eyes, Lord'
By Ryan Giraldi, Guest Contributor
“Open Our Eyes, Lord”
by Bob Cull
The Faith We Sing, 2086
Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus,
To reach out and touch him, and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus
© 1976 Marantha! Music. All rights reserved.
“They came to Philip, who was from Bethesda in Galilee, with a request, ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’” (John 12:21, NIV)
Songwriter Robert Marcus Cull (b. 1949) was born in Los Angeles, California. His parents encouraged him to begin piano study at age six, and he soon began playing music in his church. Cull learned to play more than a dozen instruments. He attended Southern California College (now Vanguard University of Southern California), Costa Mesa, an Assemblies of God institution. During college, Cull attended campus concerts that included songwriters and performers from the emerging Jesus Movement— Andraé Crouch and Pat Boone. He also attended events at the nearby Calvary Chapel that featured this style of worship music.
Cull joined the Accents, a group dedicated to performing new Christian songs published Maranatha! Music. This publisher released Cull’s first two albums in the early 1970s. Cull was married to Joy Strange, a singer with Maranatha! Music and the Christian band, Parable. They recorded four albums together between 1979 and 1984 before their divorce.
Cull became the pastor of Midcoast Country Chapel, Wiscasset, Maine, from which he retired in September 2014. The congregation has since closed.
Maranatha! Music Publishing was founded in 1971 by Chuck Smith (1927–2013) as a nonprofit outreach of his church, the Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa (or CCCM), Today, Calvary Chapel is an association of autonomous nondenominational evangelical churches worldwide. Historically, Calvary Chapel became a spiritual home for members of the Jesus Movement or “Jesus Freaks” and the musical style they developed.
The Jesus Movement was a response to two groups: hippies and evangelicals. While these two groups might seem incompatible, both consisted of people who did not feel represented by the broader Christian community. Some who had embraced the hippie lifestyle felt their lives remained unfulfilled in some way. Congruently, some evangelicals felt the exclusionary attitudes of other Christians were not in the spirit of their faith. This sentiment resulted in a more inclusive evangelicalism. While CCCM adhered to most traditional evangelical doctrines, they saw no reason to exclude groups of people who felt rejected by the mainline church. They focused on growing their community and bringing more people to the faith. Music played a pivotal role in this message. Calvary Chapel adopted the musical styles and forms of their new congregants and, in the process, added to the canon of congregational song.
Cull describes the context for the composition of “Open Our Eyes, Lord”:
I was touring in Hawaii as a soloist and had been invited to a parochial school to give a concert. I just assumed I would find a lot of Christians there since it was run by a religious organization. I arrived early for the concert, which was to be held for one hour in the middle of the day. I wanted to walk around and get acquainted with some of the people and talk about Jesus with them. I talked with every faculty member I could find, and none of them wanted to talk about Jesus. . .
About thirty minutes prior to the concert, I was sitting at the piano thinking, if nobody wants to hear about Jesus, then I will just bore them to death because that is all I am going to sing about. I’m going to sing love songs to him. I remember praying, “Lord, what we need to see is the real Jesus. There is this religious school, but nobody seems to know you.” Then suddenly, a simple little song fell into my head. I quickly put it on paper. It took about ten minutes to write it. I then sang [it] for that school gathering and for the very first time. (cited Terry, 2008, p. 197)
By the time Cull returned to his home church, Calvary Chapel, someone who had heard his song in Hawaii had brought it back and taught it to the California congregation. Maranatha! Music asked Cull to prepare orchestrations for a recording, Praise II (1976), and his song was on the list. (Cull, uncertain who introduced the song in California, had not given the publisher the song.) It has become his most widely sung and published composition.
“Open Our Eyes, Lord” grew in popularity through recordings and non-worship settings, slowly finding its way into the corpus of the wider church. It first appeared in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (1986), edited by Tom Fettke, and has been published in about twenty hymnals since then. Like most songs in the contemporary praise chorus model, “Open Our Eyes, Lord” is not a strophic hymn but a short refrain meant to be repeated. Its melodic stepwise motion and limited vocal range make it ideal for rote learning without using printed materials.
While the text of the hymn is quite simple, it connects the personal experience of faith with several biblical references, with the singers taking the roles of the blind man (Mark 8:23–26), the woman who touches the hem of Jesus’ robe (Luke 8:43–48), and the man who is deaf and mute (Mark 7:32–37). The use of blindness as a symbol for sin was likely a familiar theological metaphor for the song’s early listeners and performers. Musicians may want to use this metaphor more carefully in the twenty-first century due to its ableist implications. The Jesus Movement and the music it produced, such as the hymn “Open Our Eyes, Lord” and other praise songs, left a lasting impact on the development of music in contemporary worship today.
Robert Cull, “Midcoast Country Chapel,” http://www.midcoastcountrychapel.us/ (accessed June 7, 2023).
Lim Swee Hong, and Lester Ruth. Lovin' on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship. (Abingdon Press, 2017).
Amy D. MacDowell, “Contemporary Christian Music.” Grove Music Online, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2234810 (accessed June 7, 2023).
Lindsay Terry, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever: The Stories Behind 100 of the World’s Most Popular Worship Songs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008).
Carlton R. Young and Bert Polman, “Robert M. Cull,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/r/robert-m-cull (accessed June 7, 2023).
Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Ryan Giraldi is an undergraduate organ performance major at the University of North Texas College of Music, where he studies sacred music with Dr. Michael Conrady and Dr. Joshua Taylor.