I’m sure many of you have heard the hymn “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles (d. 1946). The song has always given me the creeps. Here are a few lyrics.
“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…he speaks, 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. …and the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”
That gives me the creeps – roses, sweet voices, intimacy like “none other has ever known” – these just scream to me the notes of enlightenment deism, rationalism, and mysticism, not to mention the fact that a Mormon could sing this song with a clear conscience. Here’s another solid reason why the hymn just plain scares me: Miles’ account of how he penned the hymn. I have to summarize it a bit, but I’ll include a few quotes, so pay attention to those.
In April, 1912, Miles was sitting in his dark room – a photography room with his organ inside it. He was reading John 20 there, the text where the risen Christ meets the weeping Mary. Miles wrote, “I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life…. 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.” Miles then recounts the scene unfold as he saw it, somewhat similar to John 20.
Miles continues: Mary’s word “Rabboni!” ends the vision. “I awakened in sun 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.”
There are 100 things I could say about this, but I’ll have to save it for later posts on a closed canon, the regulative principle of worship, mysticism, rationalism, deism, revivalism, and so on.
Almost forgot: I got the above quote from Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 365 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 113.