History of Hymns: “Open My Eyes, That I May See”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Open My Eyes, That I May See"
Clara Scott
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 454

Clara Scott

Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
place in my hand the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.


Clara H. Scott (1841-1897) provides us with a hymn of consecration that has been sung for over 100 years. A Midwesterner, she was born in Illinois and died in Iowa. 

In 1856, Scott attended the first Music Institute held by C.M. Cady in Chicago, Ill. By 1859, she was teaching music at the Ladies' Seminary, Lyons, Iowa. She married Henry Clay Scott in 1861, and published in 1882 the Royal Anthem Book, the first volume of choir anthems published by a woman. 

Horatio R. Palmer, an influential church musician in Chicago and later New York City, was a source of encouragement for Scott, and helped her publish many of her songs. Three collections were issued before her untimely death, when a runaway horse caused a buggy accident in Dubuque, Iowa. 

The text of "Open My Eyes" was written in 1895 shortly before Scott's death. Each stanza reveals an increasing receptiveness to the "Spirit divine." Open eyes lead to "glimpses of truth." Open ears lead to "voices of truth." An open mouth leads to sharing the "warm truth everywhere." An open heart leads to sharing "love to thy children." 

The image of open eyes is common in the Bible. In some cases, this is a sign of Christ's healing power, as when Jesus gave sight to the blind man at the pool of Siloam in John 9. Closed eyes, on the other hand, could be a metaphor for avoiding the truth as in the case of John 12:40, a passage following the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem and beginning his journey to the cross: "He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them." 

The image of open ears is also significant in the biblical witness. Matthew often reprises the theme "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." Closed ears become a metaphor for a lack of understanding: "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15). 

While the eyes and the ears are receptive organs, the mouth has the capacity to project. The mouth may project "cursing and deceit and fraud" (Psalm 10:7), or it may be an organ that projects praise, as Psalm 51:15 exhorts us: "O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise." 

The heart is the only organ included in this hymn that is not visible. It may harbor deceit. Jesus asks in Matthew 9:4, "Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?" But Jesus also realized that the heart has the capacity for purity: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). 

Scott has given us not only a list of organs through which we may receive and project truth and love, but also provides the method in her refrain: 

Silently now I wait for thee,
ready my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes, ears, and heart,
illumine me, Spirit divine! 


Learning to use these organs requires patience and reflection. The gentle 6/8 meter of Scott's music provides a subtle sense of dancing in tune with the Spirit as we learn to see, hear and speak the truth from our hearts. 
 

Dr. Hawn is director of the sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology.
 

Categories: History of Hymns

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