Review: Eden

Here I review Phil Wickham’s ‘Eden’ (Heaven and Earth, 2009), also covered on several occasions by my dear Marc Kim.

When the first light brightened the dark,
Before the breaking of the human heart,
There was You and there was me.
Innocence was all I knew,
’Cause all I had to know was You;
We were running underneath the trees.

A strong affirmation of the goodness, peace and intimacy that man once enjoyed in the Garden, as well as the traumatic entrance of sin, death and broken fellowship. The imagery’s biblically simple: there’s the reference to first light in allusion to the Creation and to pristine leisure in running underneath the trees; the Hebraic  juxtaposition in there was You and there was me implies the togetherness of the Deity and the human soul. The innocence evoked almost sounds like the noble savage image called forth by the likes of the Gilgamesh epic and Amerigo Vespucci (contrast Hobbes’ Leviathan). Radical primitivism is problematic, but the sense of freedom in holiness, and the sense of goodness in nature, is refreshing, particularly in light of the world’s many illusory promises of progress.

Another of Phil Wickham’s strengths here, I think, is the sense of corporate identity that emerges in the phrase breaking of the human heart, that in a sense there is but one human heart, one that was broken for all in the fall of Adam. The phrase also mirrors a phrase in ‘True Love’, all creation felt the Father’s broken heart. Taken together intertextually, the phrases are two parts of a whole – not to say that the Fall, though it doomed us, could have made God anything other than independent, perfect and whole, but that the rupture in Creation needed a response from within the very being of God to be repaired. I’m a little concerned about the potential for propagating panentheism, but I hope people can pay attention and learn through Wickham’s songs how essential being is as well as action, how essential the Incarnation as well as the Crucifixion.

The speaker can’t literally be whoever’s singing the song, and whoever sings this song must be aware of this fact: by the time the song was written, Adam and Eve were both dead. There’s an interesting ambiguity, then, this early in the song, as you hear it: is the speaker Adam or Eve? Now, before you run away screaming sophistry and hair-splitting… the ‘you’ that the speaker addresses (hear the song and forget about capitalization for now) may be either God or Adam, because the Fall tore both the fellowship between Man and God and the one-flesh unity between Man and Woman (in which are the seeds of unity in human society). This ambiguity’s potentially a big problem, as we’ve seen too many times in the many Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs written in the past few decades: the individual human soul isn’t meant to have an erotic relationship with God, ever. Fortunately, the song resolves this issue later on.

I wanna see You face to face
Where being in Your arms is the permanent state;
I want it like it was back then:
I wanna be in Eden.

Who doesn’t? There’s a reason Milton wrote an epic called Paradise Lost. But again, father-son? husband-wife? The ambiguity continues, and the tension increases: the song will snap if there’s no way to work this out. Keep reading.

I remember how You’d call my name
And I would meet You at the garden gate,
How the glory of Your love would shine.
And I remember, when the stars were young,
You breathed life into my lungs:
Oh, I never felt so alive!

The garden gate, in the second line of the strophe just like the breaking of the human heart, bittersweetly suggests again the reality of sin when the hearer recalls the Expulsion: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. But also: A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. ‘Remember the gate,’ the line seems to say; ‘remember the glory from Israel departed.’

The motif of newness is here again, as with innocence earlier.

I wanna see You face to face
Where being in Your arms is the permanent state;
I want it like it was back then:
I wanna be in Eden.

To be naked and unashamed
In a sweet downpour of innocent rain!
I want it like it was back then:
I wanna be in Eden,

Where my eyes can see the colours of glory,
My hands can reach the heaven before me –
Oh, my God, I wanna be there with You,
Where our hearts will beat with joy together
And love will reign forever and ever –
Oh, my God, I wanna be there with You.

As far as naked and unashamed goes, I think credit has to go to Moses, not to Phil Wickham, but the placement seems just right, and the yearning is a sweet expression of faith (because nakedness is the poverty of faith before God). With the transferred epithet innocent, it becomes a childlike faith, and the very world is recognized as something that, before sin, was innocent.

At last, a stanza in the future tense, and at the end of that road is God. The ‘you’ is God: the One addressed is God the Father of Adam and Christ the Second Adam, the Husband of the Church (for Mary, the Church, is the Second Eve), and so in Christ the ambiguity is two dimensions of one love. And Love will reign for ever and ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As Adam, the speaker’s an individual; as Eve, the speaker’s the Church.

I wanna see You face to face
Where being in Your arms is the permanent state;
I want it like it was back then:
I wanna be in Eden.

To be naked and unashamed
In a sweet downpour of innocent rain!
I want it like it was back then:
I wanna be in Eden.

All in all, I think this song succeeds quite well. The lyrics are good and neither weird nor overwrought (unlike ‘I am an arrow; I am a rocket; / I am a river and nothing can stop it’), and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a song that uses Genesis as its biblical material. The final-syllable assonance provides some structure in the sound while also being lighter than a rigid rhyme scheme.

With the very informal language, this song may not be good for corporate worship, but both the range of the notes and the rhythm tell me it’s not for congregational singing anyway. It would be a shame, though, for such a song, in which the speaker in one aspect is the Church, to be confined entirely to individualistic contexts. Phil Wickham, please let somebody use this song as an aria in a larger work, something like a 21st-century cantata to be performed outside of corporate worship, and I think it’ll be edifying and decent in that use.

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