Saturday, January 18, 2014

"In the Garden"

Today while cooking I was listening to a hymns CD by the Booth Brothers, one of my favorite Gospel music groups. Unfortunately not nearly enough of their music is available on-line. So I can't link the version of Michael Booth singing "In the Garden." I harmonized with him while cooking. It sounded pretty, at least to me. (But I have to share a link, because it's the Booth Brothers, so here is Michael singing "Look for Me at Jesus' Feet," which is really wonderful.)

Anyway, I was thinking about "In the Garden," because it gets a certain amount of hatin' from the hymn purists. Here's how the position roughly goes: Hymns are fine provided you go way, way back. Like, to Bach. Or maybe to Wesley. But all that 19th century stuff, like Fanny Crosby and such, is more or less sentimental schlock unfit for manly singing. In such statements, inevitably "In the Garden" comes in for a whack.

Or there's an attempted tu quoque if a traditional hymn lover like yours truly makes some mention of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" tendency in all too many contemporary worship songs. "Oh, yeah! Well, what about 'In the Garden'? Huh?"

So here are the words to "In the Garden."


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.


Now, as sentimental lyrics go, those beat many a Jesus is my boyfriend song hollow and then some. It's not the greatest poetry in the world, but it's perfectly respectable poetry. (How many people in 2014 even know that "discloses" can be used that way?) Moreover, the meaning is not actually romantic at all. The allusion is clearly to the book of Genesis where it is said that God walked with Adam in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day. (Though here it is the early morning rather than the evening.) The impression is of a deep and close friendship but not a romantic relationship. The third verse deepens the meaning by bringing back in the voice of the world outside the garden with its worries and woes. The speaker comes to the garden to spend time with the Lord in order to be strengthened to go out and endure what must be endured. Jesus' voice, heard clearly in the quiet of the garden, will continue to sound through the voice of woe outside.

As I read the lyrics, too, I think of how many great saints of God have arisen early in the morning to pray and read the Bible. I love my own sleep, making sloth one of my besetting vices. I tried getting up early to pray for a brief time in my ardent youth but wouldn't even think of such a thing now in middle age, unless truly convinced that the eternal fate of my soul depended on it. Now I try to pray when more awake, later in the day. But many do not have that luxury.

At this point I am reminded of a scene I saw almost three years ago. My mother had passed away, and when I went to the funeral (in a different city) I stayed overnight for several days with my mother's pastor and wife. I did not sleep well with all that was on my mind, so I was up unwontedly early, sending a flurry of practical e-mails back home to my family. One morning I arose while it was still dark around 6 a.m., an hour at which I would usually be fast asleep. I saw the pastor's wife sitting quietly by a lamp with her Bible in her lap. She was a wonderful hostess and one of the sweetest, busiest, and hardest-working ladies it's been my privilege to know. (Just after her devotions, still very early, she put on her coat and went over to clean the church nursery in preparation for the next day's services.) But that time belonged to the Lord. She sat there quite still and read and prayed. I have not the slightest doubt that she was hearing His voice and gathering spiritual strength for the day ahead.

Even if we do not come to the garden literally while the dew is still on the roses, let's be sure that, at some time, we do come.


William Luse said...

This woman would agree with you. It's a beautiful song and anyone who disagrees is aesthetically crippled.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks much, Bill. Good recording. It's an adjustment for me to make to the fact that it's a country music standard, because as a child I thought of it strictly "in church" and as a hymn rather than as a performance number.

Lydia McGrew said...

I like the fact that in the chorus when singing with her daughter as backup she has a couple of chords (on "tarry there," for example) that are different from the usual. Very nice.

Lydia McGrew said...

By the way, I thought my old links to Booth Brothers music at Grooveshark in an old post were not working, but it appears to have been merely a display issue with my flash player. The links are still here:

Josh McKibben said...

Actually this song doesn't have anything to do with God walking in the garden of Eden. According to the hymn-writer, it's a first-person imagining of Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus in John 20 after he was raised from the dead. A simple Google search and you'll find quotes from Miles that explains the motivation for writing the song.

Amy said...

Thank you for these beautiful thoughts. They have been very peace-giving to me tonight. I needed this. I know that I need Him more -- I need to make that time for Him. I want to have time that belongs to the Lord... That's so beautiful. Thank you. Truly.

Jdc said...