I dropped my facebook account yesterday, after a wonderful trip to Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA. When we lived in CT, we went regularly to Sturbridge Village, our favourite local destination. Now, however, we are a bit far for a regular visit, so I needed a “replacement”. The Shaker Village is only 30 minutes from here, along a farm and green hill lined road. We passed what Little Crazy Matas called “a family of windmills”; their spinning heads atop tall skinny bodies.

The Village is awe inspiring, in similar ways to Sturbridge. Just one day in either place, and I am reinvigorated to declutter my life, and live in a more Plain and Simple way. The Shaker Village inspires in a more deeply spiritual way, however, as every aspect of their daily lives and work were dictated and formed by their Inner Life, and their Communal Spirit. Sturbridge is set up as Living History, to “teach” people about the past…but the Shaker Village is a spiritual community’s way of life preserved. It’s not just history if you are willing to look past the exhibit nature of some of the buildings. We learned that there are still three Shakers living, up in Maine (I assume Sabbathday Lake?) The public is invited to join them for worship on Sunday mornings. You’d better believe that’s at the top of my “to do” list now. I was also encouraged to hear that they have three novitiates there, who will most likely become Shakers themselves. It’s small, but it means this beautiful Way and Spiritual Tradition will not die or become an historical oddity just yet.

So…back to Facebook….I have always gone through cycles of dropping it, then picking it up again. Often, Facebook just feels like etheric clutter to me. I always question whether or not we are supposed to be in such constant “contact” with others, especially when we are not sharing a “real life”. I would need five sets of hands to count all the episodes of misunderstanding between myself and others, or similar stories from friends, that quick one sentence digital communications can cause.  The format allows us to think that we can have a sense of others lives through a collage of pictures, links, and “likes”, creating false intimacies.  My life cannot be shared through an electronic source, not even this one (where I can write paragraphs of personal thought as opposed to status updates).  Lives are only shared in person, side by side.  We need to look into each other’s eyes, hear each other’s voices and participate in both leisure and work together to share a life!  Now, these sources have come in handy to connect with others that are isolated in one way or another (there isn’t always going to be a neighour down the street that wants to talk about John Woolman, agrarian life, homesteading, homeschooling, Ancient Christianity, headcoverings, hormones and So You Think You Can Dance all over one bottle of wine….).  I always have the glimmer of hope that when I make these long distance connections, through blogs, Quaker Quaker, etc…that this will, at least once, turn into an in-person meeting.  At least a phone call!  No one even wants to talk on the phone anymore.  I routinely receive a text in response to a voice message I have left to someone.  I’ve even noticed that emails are looking more and more like texts.  I’ve had several people comment to me in response to a paragraph form email I have written, “wow, you type fast”, or “you are a good writer”…just because I used full sentences and separated topics into paragraphs.

But I digress…..(and you see a picture of my inner conflict over electronic media)….

These past two days, all of my list topics (beauty, health and well being, meaning, etc….) are all wrapped up into my visit to Hancock Shaker Village, and how I came out of that visit.

As you walk in, you first see huge herb and flower gardens.  The Shakers were prolific medicinal herb farmers, and marketed their remedies.  As the Tall Man and I are considering doing a medicinal herb and flower farm next year, this gave me many ideas. 

Through the herb gardens, to the round stone barn.

The inside of the stone barn is reminiscent of a Cathedral, but Plain.  Its posts and beams are magnificent in a circular pattern when you look above.  There is even a round loft surrounding the entire thing.  A wonderful example of making even the place to put animals an aesthetically beautiful environment.

We learned that the Shakers were actually fond of brighly painted buildings.  They even found evidence of bright yellow paint on the floors.

My children actually know several Shaker hymns.  We use them as part of circle on homeschool mornings.  The “Mother” talk fits right in with Orthodoxy, as we just consider this to be the Theotokos, as opposed to Mother Ann.  Also in Orthodoxy is the Divine Sophia, the feminine nature of G-d. We went to a demonstration of Shaker hymns and dancing (“labouring”), and the children were invited to dance with the instructors.  Here they are dancing to “Come Life, Shaker Life”  (Come life, Shaker life, come Life Eternal.  Shake, shake out of me all that is carnal.  I’ll take nimble steps, I’ll be a David.  I’ll show Michael twice how he behave-ed”

Another of our favourite hymns is:

“Little Children says Holy Mother, soothe and comfort one another. Bind the cords of Union stronger, wind and bind them around each other.  Make them feel your love and blessing.”

As always, I am inspired to continue simplifying our home, and what we really need to live.  We don’t have a microwave, wash our dishes by hand (well, in VT we have a dishwasher…but we just spent two years without one), and make most of our food from scratch.  We don’t have plastic bins and buckets as seen in many modern homes, and I try to have only what is beautiful and/or funtional.  There is something very satisfying  about actually having to engage with your work, instead of putting it into some device to do the work for you.  We look forward to hearth cooking in our 1734 hearth, and have already started getting into the rhythm of taking care of the goats every morning and evening.

 

The children enjoyed the little schoolhouse.  The Shakers made wooden letters on sticks, so the children could practice their spelling in a physical and cooperative way.  I might make some of these:

We listened to our CD of Shaker hymns on the way home, and I was struck by one in particular.  I have heard it a thousand times, but in this season of my life, when it seems so many things are being taken away, replaced, and overturned, it spoke to me the words I needed to hear.  G-d is certainly calling us to a new Life, and a new Way…but transitions are hard.  Having the ideals and dreams for this kind of life were easy and soothing, now to put our hands to the plow and bring it all to fruition is labour in its truest sense:

Who will bow and bend like the willow, who will turn and twist and reel

In the gale of simple freedom, from the bower of union flowing

Who will drink the wine of power, dropping down like a shower

Pride and bondage all forgetting, Mother’s wine is freely working

Oh ho, I will have it, I will bow and bend to get it

I’ll be reeling, turning, twisting, shake out all the starch and stiff’ning.

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