By day, C. Austin Miles (1868-1945) doled out crutches, ice packs, and pills. He sympathized with sick customers who came to the New Jersey pharmacy where he worked, seeking relief from pain.
By night, he indulged in his real passion — writing hymns.
When he was 24, Miles took a batch of hymns to a publisher who not only loved the songs, but hired him to work full time — writing, editing, composing, and promoting gospel hymns. His days of working as a pharmacist were over.
One day in March, 1912, a letter arrived in the mail with a request from the head of a music publishing company.
Please write a hymn that is sympathetic in tone, breathing tenderness in every line; one that will bring hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, and downy pillows to dying beds.
Miles had a windowless darkroom in the basement, which he used both for his hobby as a photographer and for a place to pray and meditate. There, he sat down in an old armchair, opened his Bible, and read the story of Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb. Miles imagined himself in the garden beside Mary, as she heard Jesus speak her name and the shock of resurrection washed over her.
Miles later wrote of his experience,
It was as if I were there in the garden with Mary Magdalene. The joy was overwhelming. And when I heard the voice of Jesus speak Mary’s name, it was such an amazing moment, everything became silent in the garden. Even the birds hushed their singing. I woke as if from a dream and wrote the words quickly — just as you know them. That same evening, I wrote the music.
IN THE GARDEN is imagined in the voice of Mary Magdalene. We are there with her, walking and talking with the risen savior.
But what garden is this? In another garden we struggled to stay awake, pay attention. Money changed hands. The soldiers stormed in to make an arrest. Swords were drawn. How is it possible that we fell asleep? Where have they taken the Savior?
Awakened, we cry, “Stop the crucifixions.” But they don’t stop — and now Jesus is shivering in line at the local food pantry, running for his life in Ferguson, doubled over in pain after drinking dirty water from a polluted lake. What have we done?
Listen. In this garden something is stirring. Turning, we find that love is alive. Like sunlight, it washes over us, renews our defeated spirits. It can be difficult to see the resurrections through our tears, but look — new life is budding all around us. Again we rise up, singing. There is work to be done. We are resurrected to build a new world. The good news is that Jesus still walks with us.
TO GO DEEPER
Mahalia Jackson singing “I Come to the Garden Alone”