By Bishop Peggy Johnson
One of my favorite Sunday School songs when I was growing up was “Open My Eyes.” That was partly because it was easy to play. At age 9 I was the piano player for my church’s Sunday School junior department.
Its lilting melody and the allusion to the eyes, ears and voice also made this hymn ideal. Having sight in just one eye since birth made eyes very important to me. Hearing music and singing were also high on my list of favorite things. I was singing solos in church as soon as they could get a robe on me in the Cherub Choir.
The words and tune to this hymn were written by Clara Scott (1841-1897) She was a 19th century Midwesterner who taught music at a Ladies’ Seminary in Lyons, Iowa. Ms. Scott wrote and published many such hymns before her untimely death in a buggy accident.
According to Dr. C. Michael Hahn, “Scott has not only given us a list of organs (of the body) through which we may receive and project truth and love, but she 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 hearts), illumine me, Spirit divine.’”
When I began serving an all-Deaf congregation in Baltimore years ago, I quickly learned that talking about the use of ears, voices and mouths in hymnology did not translate so well for people who did not physically hear or speak verbally. We substituted words like “understand and proclaim” in order to be conceptually accurate. However, it is a fact that for all of us, no matter our physical abilities, the eyes, ears and mouth offer little more than mere senses without the discernment of the heart and mind. These allusions in poetry and hymnody actually speak of the deeper sense of spirituality and response.
Plight of immigrants in this country
Recently, I have been “seeing” with my eye’s heart the plight of immigrants in this country. This week our administration halted all immigration to the United States. Our country is also excluding all DACA recipients from COVID-19 relief packages. (DACA recipients are those young people with only temporary legal status in the United States, who were brought here as children by their undocumented parents.)
I am seeing that a large number of people on immigration journeys in this country are doing menial jobs and providing “essential services” in this country now during the “stay at home orders.” Many are doing the difficult and dangerous labor of cleaning, preparing and serving for long hours and getting sick themselves. I see the injustice here. The hymn is calling for us to see “glimpses of truth.”
Then there is the concept of “hearing voices of truth.” Recently I saw a documentary film titled “The Unafraid” which traces the lives and struggles here in the U.S. of three young adult DACA “Dreamers.” I heard their voices of pain from not knowing what their future will be.
Our federal government proclaimed an end to the DACA program; and the U.S. Supreme Court will announce any time now (by June at the latest) whether it was legal to end this program. Or the court could also say that they have no standing to rule on this case.
If the program ends this group of about 800,000 young people, who have grown up in our country with no prior knowledge of their birth country, may face the unthinkable specter of deportation or endless years of being processed in our immigration system at best.
In this documentary I heard the voices of undocumented parents who came to this country illegally because of impossible oppression in their countries of origin. I heard their fear of immigration authorities, their dire poverty, their inability to get lifesaving health care, their sadness for their children who face extreme difficulties getting into institutions of higher education, their difficult and low-wage employment options.
Voices of truth, compassion, justice
The “voice of truth” of their situation called me to the “voice of Truth” in the Word of God that in numerous places calls the people of God to show compassion and justice to immigrants.
Leviticus 18:33-34 says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
Similar wisdom is found in Exodus 23:9, Malachi 3:5 and numerous other places in Scripture. Could the Word of God be any clearer? We often quote Leviticus with great veracity when dealing with other social justice issues. I wish this one could be seen as equally worthy of our obedience and creative response.
Then there is the mouth. “Open my mouth and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere.” The warm truth of salvation through faith in Christ is our Great Commission. I would say using your mouth to speak truth about the plight of immigrants is also a responsibility of the sons and daughters of John Wesley. His movement was based on personal and social holiness.
Social holiness calls us to work for justice. Wesley fought against child labor, prison evils, slavery and any place where money and greed trumped mercy and equality. We can open our mouths by speaking to our lawmakers and our churches about the plight of people in our country who are literally starving for food but also dignity and respect.
Finally, this hymn would be complete if it included a verse about hands. Hands are a symbol for Christian service. We often call ourselves “the hands and feet of Christ.” Our hands can give from our abundance financially to those who are without the things that are needed for sustenance and good health.
Justice for Our Neighbors
Our hands can comfort and support those whose immigration struggles have left them with emotional stress and mental health concerns. Our hands can extend welcome into our churches’ fellowship and loving embrace neighbors in our communities who do not look like us.
We can support the UMC immigration services known as “Justice for Our Neighbors,” which is beginning a new chapter in the Delaware Valley soon. The possibilities are endless. Every one of us can do something.
Open my hands that I can do acts of compassion, grace and truth.Give me the wisdom that’s from above, to give our neighbors Christian love.Silently now I wait for Thee, ready my God, thy will to see.Open my hands and I will be partners with Thee.
1. Bishop Peggy Johnson is a member of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and has participated in some of its efforts to address immigration justice and mercy. She went with GBCS members to the U.S. Southwest border two years ago and saw first-hand migrant detainees locked in cages. She has talked with DACA “dreamers” she met through the Rev. Carlos Reyes Rodriguez, a deacon in the Peninsula- Delaware Conference and GBGM Hispanic Ministries Missionary. He works with the DACA community and leads his conference’s immigration justice Rapid Response Team.
2. View an April 22 GBCS panel discussion about DACA in a webinar that included viewing of film Unafraid. Bishop Johnson viewed the film and the panel discussion.
3. Here’s a few other ways you can take action:
The U.S. Supreme Court typically announces rulings on Mondays. Here are two recent articles on the DACA case:
We will report the court’s decision when it is announced.