“I see that hand!” No, we’re not talking about 1980s talk-show host Phil Donahue. We’re talking about old-time altar calls. Read on…
Christians of a certain generation cannot help but remember these two code words of the altar call: “I see that hand!” and “with every head bowed and every eye closed.” It used to be that after a sermon the preacher would invite everybody to close their eyes so that folks who wanted to recite a sinner’s prayer and raise their hand for prayer could do so with a little privacy.
Now I know some people used to sneak a peek out of the corner of their eye to see who was raising a hand. And maybe you’ve heard stories of preachers shouting out “I see that hand! And I see your hand too!” when in fact nobody was raising their hand. No doubt some preachers lied about how many hands they were seeing so that some of the shy people wouldn’t feel so alone. But once time I did hear this old bit of wisdom: if the preacher said he saw a total of three hands, but you didn’t see a single one, then the preacher was probably just looking at the clock and referring to the hour hand, the minute hand, and the second hand. Well now…
See below for the entries for both I see that hand and with every head bowed and every eye closed.
What other old-timey phrases did you used to hear when the evangelist came to church?
see that hand Used in the expression below.
¶ I see that hand An expression used by preachers after inviting people in the congregation to raise their hand if they want to become Christians.
Typically the preacher first instructs the entire congregation to close their eyes and lower their heads (see *every head bowed and every eye closed). Then he invites anyone who wants to become a Christian to silently repeat a prayer that he will say aloud (see *sinner’s prayer). After this prayer, and while the congregation’s eyes are still closed, he invites those who prayed with him to raise their hand into the air. The preacher acknowledges each raised hand by saying “I see that hand” as people slip their hand up. Finally the preacher will either invite those who raised their hand to come to the front of the church (see *altar call) or else he will follow up with them individually after the church service.
• 1957 Harper I Walk the Glory Road 37 : He asked that if there was anyone there who wanted to accept Christ as his Saviour—who wished to be “born again”—to raise his hand. I’d never—as far as I could remember—heard anything like that. Two or three must have raised their hands, for the preacher said, “God bless you. I see that hand”—or something to that effect. 1967 Hyles Hyles Church Manual (1982) 283 : With heads bowed and eyes closed … I wonder how many on the lower floor will say this morning, “Brother Hyles, I want to be a Christian. I want my sins forgiven.” … Lift your hands, please, all over the building…. God bless you, sir. I see your hand. Who else on the lower floor? God bless you, fellow. I see that hand. 1979 Crumrine Ritual Symbolism and Ceremonialism in the Americas 187 : I see that hand. And that hand. Praise the Lord. The Lord is working in this auditorium tonight and His Spirit is here. Now as we sing the second verse, every head bowed, every eye closed, I want the people who raised their hands to step out into the aisle and come to the altar. 1985 Fundamentalist J. vol. 4 66 : “God bless you. I see that hand” is quickly recognized by most Fundamentalists as part of the public invitation…. This practice is so common in Fundamentalist churches that some might believe tahtt soft organ music and the plaintive strains of “Just as I Am” date back to Philip’s revival in Samaria or Peter’s preaching at Pentecost. 1989 Balmer Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America 98 : All heads are bowed. All eyes closed…. Wyrtzen asks for a show of hands from those who prayed the prayer. A few timid arms reach upward. Wyrtzen acknowledges each one. “Yes, I see that hand. Is there another?” 2004 Turner The Christian Culture Survival Guide 8 : Tell-tale signs you’re about to encounter an “old-fashioned” meeting with the altar: If you hear the pastor say, “I see that hand” as he or she looks around the room for potential converts. 2008 Bell Velvet Elvis 176 : He told everybody to keep their eyes closed and heads bowed. He then asked for the people who had prayed the prayer to raise their hands wherever they were seated…. The pastor then said, “I see that hand over there. Thank you. I see a hand in the back.” 2010 Propp And with All Your Mind: A Novel About Evangelical Theology 8 : “Anyone who just prayed that prayer with me, I want you to raise your hand, and hold it up…. I see that hand; and yes, I see that hand, too.”
head bowed and every eye closed Used in the expression below.
¶ with every head bowed and with every eye closed An expression used by preachers to instruct everyone in the congregation to close their eyes in order to give some people the privacy to raise a hand and be prayed for.
See additional information at *see that hand.
• 1979 Crumrine Ritual Symbolism and Ceremonialism in the Americas 187 : I see that hand. And that hand. Praise the Lord. The Lord is working in this auditorium tonight and His Spirit is here. Now as we sing the second verse, every head bowed, every eye closed, I want the people who raised their hands to step out into the aisle and come to the altar. 2008 Turner Churched 210 : Pastor Nolan had just finished his sermon and was conducting his weekly invitation. “Every head bowed and every eye closed,” said Pastor Nolan. Nobody looking around…. Somebody might be here right now,” he said, “who would say, ‘Preacher, I don’t know Jesus as my Savior. But I want to know him, so would you pray for me?’ If that’s you, would you do me a favor and raise your hand so I can pray for you?” 2010 Pinky The Se7en Keys to the Kingdom 68 : The preacher might start … “With every head bowed, and with every eye closed … with nobody looking around … if you know there is some sin in your life … just slip your hand up real quick and you can put it right back down. Nobody here is going to embarrass you. I see that hand.”