Saturday, July 28, 2012

In the Garden

Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?
John 20:15

Among the most precious experiences for any believer is peaceful communion with our Savior. Through the Word and prayer we can walk and talk with Him in those quiet moments at the beginning or end of the day, or even with the noise and tumult of the workaday world swirling about us. For many such communion is most sublime when one is surrounded by the glories of God's creation, as in a beautiful garden.

C. Austin Miles
Such a moment is poignantly captured in the beloved hymn In the Garden. The text and music were composed and first published in 1912 by American pharmacist-turned-Christian music publisher C. Austin Miles (1868-1946). While the hymn presents a vision of perfect peace and contentment, it was inspired by the heart-rending experience of Mary Magdalene, related in John 19:41-42 and 20:11-18 when, while searching with broken heart for His body, she encounters Jesus at the garden sepulcher on the morning of His resurrection. Moreover, according to Miles' great-granddaughter, the song "was written on a cold, dreary day in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in New Jersey that didn't even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden."  Miles himself gave this account:
One day in March, 1912, I was seated in the dark room, where I kept my photographic equipment and organ. I drew my Bible toward me; it opened at my favorite chapter, John 20-whether by chance or inspiration let each reader decide. That meeting of Jesus and Mary had lost none of its power to charm.

As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary's life, when she knelt before her Lord, and cried, "Rabboni!"

My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary. As she came to the tomb, upon which she place her hand, she bent over to look in, and hurried away.

John, in flowing robe, appeared, looking at the tomb; then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John.

As they departed, Mary reappeared; leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing, so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched and looking into His face cried "Rabboni!"

I awakened in full light, gripping the Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating. Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music. (
as related in 25 Most Treasured Gospel Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck)
Here are the words to this simple and most comforting hymn:
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.


And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.


I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.


Being from outside the Protestant music tradition, my first encounter with In the Garden came when I saw the Academy Award-winning movie Places in the Heart in 1984. In my last post, I featured the hymn Blessed Assurance, which opened that same remarkable movie. In its final scene, the congregation of a small country church in mid-1930s Texas is taking communion as the minister reads 1 Corinthians 13, and the choir strikes up In the Garden behind him. Communion is gently passed from person to person, and the viewer suddenly realizes that some of these people are living and some are dead; some were hurt or mistreated in the film's story, and others passing them communion were the ones who did the hurting or mistreating--including the last pair, the late husband of Sally Fields' character and the young black boy who had shot him in a drunken stupor and was lynched for it--and who seems to whisper "Peace of God” to him as he takes communion from the older man. It is one of the most moving scenes I've ever seen in any film, and maybe the best for conveying the power of forgiveness, as well as the truth of eternal life. Here is that scene:

In the Garden lends itself to moving solo performance as a "gospel song," as well. One of the best I've seen is by country music legend Loretta Lynn:

Yet another touching rendition is by the golden-voiced Jim Reeves, graced (appropriately enough) with lovely garden scenes:

Other fine performances available on video include those by Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, Alan Jackson, and Elvis Presley.

When confounded by the problems and stresses of everyday life, it's a priceless comfort to know that we can walk and talk with our Savior any time, In the Garden or anywhere else!

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
~ Psalm 23:1-3

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely post. And yes, our "Garden" is anywhere we seek and feel the Lord. Thank you for the reminder!