Recently I asked my mother what her favorite hymn is. Without hesitation, she named In the Garden. This hymn--perhaps better described as a "gospel song"--was written by pharmacist-turned-Christian music publisher C. Austin Miles (1868-1946), and was first published in 1912. 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 related that the song was inspired by his reflections on Mary's experience at Jesus' tomb on the morning of Christ's resurrection.
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 . . . Mary reappeared; leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing, so did I. . . .Here are the words to this simple, beautiful, and most comforting hymn:
. . . 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.
I come to the garden aloneFor your viewing and listening pleasure, here is a fine video featuring In the Garden sung by contemporary country artist Alan Jackson:
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.
I, too, have a special affection for In the Garden. In the closing scene of Sally Field's Academy Award-winning film Places in the Heart, the congregation of a small country church is taking communion as the minister reads 1 Corinth. 13 and the choir sings In the Garden. Communion is 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 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 who whispers "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.
One more thing--if you haven't already, tell me what YOUR favorite hymn or gospel song is, and I'll devote a post to it!