IN The Garden
Austin Miles, 1868-1946
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.
Austin Miles used the -word vision to describe the encounter that led to his writing "In the Garden." The setting was Philadelphia, where Miles was employed as an editor for a music publisher. March 1912. At home Miles sat in a window-less room of his own-—-a combination study, photo lab, and music parlor. He reached for his Bible. "It opened at my favorite chapter, John 20," he later explained.
"It opened." One wonders at the passive construction. Was the binding bent because he so frequently turned to this passage? Was the Spirit turning the pages?
John 20. What's the story? John's account of the Resurrection: two angels and then a "gardener" ask a distraught Mary Magdalene why she is crying. Because "they"-—-or is it "you"?—have taken my Lord away.
And then gardener Jesus says one word that transforms the scene: "Mary."
He speaks her name, and she knows who he is. Rabboni.
As Miles read the familiar story, he felt as if he were a bystander on-site. In another century, as if this were an episode of the old Walter Cronkite television series: "You Are There: At the' Garden Tomb."
"Under the inspiration of this vision," Miles explained, he wrote "In the Garden," the words coming to mind as quickly as he could write them down. (And the text stands as first written, never being revised.) Later in the day Miles wrote the music.
Miles described his activity as "reading" John 20; some would say he was praying. Scripture reading as prayer? It's an ancient art lost on many Christians intent on studying the Scripture. One prayer pattern involves imagining oneself in a gospel scene. "You Are There." Ignatius of Loyola advised believers to "see the [gospel] persons in [your] imagination, contemplating and meditating in detail the circumstances surrounding them, and [you] will then draw some spiritual profit from this scene." He goes on, suggesting that we imagine the sounds, smells, tastes, and touch "always endeavoring to draw some spiritual fruit from this" application of the senses.
In his classic Lord, Teach Us to Pray, Alexander Whyte says,
"You open your New Testament And, by your imagination,
that moment you are one of Christ's disciples on the spot
At another time, you are Mary Magdalene"—in the garden recognizing the voice of her Lord as he speaks her name.
Though Austin Miles described himself as an observer in the story, he wrote "In the Garden" in first person, as if he had stepped into Mary's shoes: Jesus is walking and talking directly with him—and you and me. Calling us by name.
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.
Consider placing yourself in the garden scene described in John 20. Read and meditate. Don't expect an experience of visionary proportions; don't expect to be given a song that captivates a country. Expect personal, spiritual fruit. Give God permission to speak to your heart through your imagination.
Lord, you physically walked this earth for just a few years, but you graciously left us an account of your life and ministij. As I read the Gospels, allow me to see Christ relating to me; allow me to respond with an open heart. I also pray that you would guard my imagination. Keep me centered on the truth of your Word.
From the book:
"Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence