How the Shakers keep it simple.They don't celebrate sacraments, they don't marry, and the last eight members live in a 200-hundred-year-old village in rural Maine. What could Shakers possibly have in common with Catholics?
The day starts early at Chosen Land, for some before sunrise. Solitary prayer and meditation at the world's only Shaker community precede and accompany solitary tasks. Some members do kitchen work or pay an early visit to the extensive herb gardens that sustain the principal industry of this rural Maine community. Others tend to sheep or wood-stoves or prepare a new volume for the family library.
The great bell atop the 100-year-old brick dwelling calls the men and women of the community to separate gathering rooms. Quiet greetings and conversation about the weather and the day's work (Naut.) the account or reckoning of a ship's course for twenty-four hours, from noon to noon.
See also: Day or friendly banter await the second bell that beckons them to enter the large dining room with a low ceiling. At the community's peak in the 19th century, nearly 100 shared their meals here.
Today, just eight members, together with ever-present friends and associates of the community, stand momentarily behind their chairs. All sit simultaneously and bow their heads in silent thanksgiving, concluding when Sister Frances Cart, the community's leader, offers an "Amen." A plain but always hardy and tasty breakfast is served by Carr, who is also the community's chief cook. Conversation is punctuated by comfortable periods of placid silence.
With these simple rubrics, the family of six sisters and two brothers of the Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine, who range in age from their 30s to their 80s, offer what they see as their first "eucharist" of the day.
The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing Noun 1. United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing - a celibate and communistic Christian sect in the United States
religious order, religious sect, sect - a subdivision of a larger religious group - the Shakers' official name - celebrate none of the seven sacraments of Catholic Christianity. They do not even practice Baptism or celebrate the Lord's Supper, recognized by most Protestant denominations as sacraments. Yet I have found among them the recognition of the eucharistic disposition that ought to characterize all table fellowship among Christians, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. many contemporary Catholic theologians.
Shakers believe in the real presence of Christ at their meals in each of them personally and as a community bound together in the shared gift of food. Union with Christ rests at the very center of the Shaker way, a center Believers - as Shakers call themselves - share with the Catholic mystics, from the Desert Fathers to Saint Francis Saint Francis, city, United States
Saint Francis, city (1990 pop. 9,245), Milwaukee co., SE Wis., a residential suburb of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan; inc. 1951. There is meat processing and the manufacture of plastic and metal products. to Thomas Merton Noun 1. Thomas Merton - United States religious and writer (1915-1968)
Moved by the Spirit
The lamentable la·men·ta·ble
Inspiring or deserving of lament or regret; deplorable or pitiable. See Synonyms at pathetic.
lamen·ta·bly adv. fact, however, is that antique collectors; historians and other academics; and students of the arts, architecture, craftswork, and music are more often aware of the significance of the Shakers for their disciplines than are many Christians. Christians, Catholics included, are often unaware of the Shaker's gifts to those who take the spiritual pilgrimage seriously.
In 1774 Mother Ann Mother Ann See Lee, Ann. Lee, founder of the community, brought eight followers to America from Manchester, England to escape persecution. Once this tiny community established a home for itself in the wilderness north of Albany, New York For other uses, see Albany.
Albany is the capital of the State of New York and the county seat of Albany County. Albany lies 136 miles (219 km) north of New York City, and slightly to the south of the juncture of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. , people began to seek them out - some to test their spiritual legitimacy, others to harass them as suspected British sympathizers, since they were recent arrivals from England and pacifists who would not join the Colonialists' cause.
Finally, these people - called "Shakers" because of the ecstatic dancing and twirling Twirling is any of several artforms, hobbies, or sport and recreational activities accomplished by spinning or rotating the twirled object either for exercise, or in a rhythmic, or otherwise artful manner. of the earliest members when they were "in the Spirit" - undertook missionary activity under Mother Ann's leadership. The fledgling sect required celibacy, verbal confession of sin to the elders, and the renunciation The Abandonment of a right; repudiation; rejection.
The renunciation of a right, power, or privilege involves a total divestment thereof; the right, power, or privilege cannot be transferred to anyone else. of the use of violence. Out of this one community, the United Society grew to 19 communities by the 1840s, spread over New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , New England New England, name applied to the region comprising six states of the NE United States—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The region is thought to have been so named by Capt. , and into Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Their numbers reached a peak of 6,000 in that decade.
Post-Civil War industrialism in·dus·tri·al·ism
An economic and social system based on the development of large-scale industries and marked by the production of large quantities of inexpensive manufactured goods and the concentration of employment in urban factories. , urbanization, and other social factors outweighed celibacy as reasons for the gradual decline in numbers in numbered parts; as, a book published in numbers.
See also: Number of members and communities among the Shakers. As it reached the 200th anniversary of its founding in April 1994, Chosen Land found itself the living repository of the Shakers' spiritual heritage. Its eight members are the same number of people Mother Ann brought with her from England in 1774.
While there are significant dissimilarities between the traditions, Catholic spirituality The belief of the Roman Catholic Church is that, once one has accepted the faith (fides quae creditur) by making a personal act of faith (fides qua creditur), then one lives it out through spiritual practice. affirms much of what is at the heart of the Shaker faith. The practice of Shaker life continues to witness to values that are not at all alien to Catholicism, though they are values too often underemphasized.
As a Roman Catholic, a lay Franciscan, and a fellow traveler fellow traveler
One who sympathizes with or supports the tenets and program of an organized group, such as the Communist Party, without being a member.
Noun 1. of the Catholic Worker movement The Catholic Worker Movement is a Catholic organisation founded by Servant of God Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933. Its aim is to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ. , I have not found a new doctrine among Believers. What I have found in the Shakers' 200-year history, and at Chosen Land today, are brothers and sisters who have encouraged me to be faithful to the gospel by the witness of their own lives to the values and beliefs we do share.
No less a Catholic spiritual master than Thomas Merton recognized the Shakers as brothers and sisters in the life of Christ. Merton noted a kinship of spirit between Shakers and Benedictine monastics.
Hands to work, hearts to God
Formal prayer at Chosen Land today, especially the daily morning communal devotions that immediately follow breakfast, observe the pattern of the monastic office: the antiphonal an·tiph·o·nal
1. Relating to or resembling an antiphon.
2. Answering responsively, as in antiphony.
3. recitation rec·i·ta·tion
a. The act of reciting memorized materials in a public performance.
b. The material so presented.
a. Oral delivery of prepared lessons by a pupil.
b. of psalms, the reading of a passage from scripture, and finally prayers for the day. Intercessions are offered on behalf of the Shaker family, living and deceased, of the poor and suffering of the world, and for friends of the Shaker family. They pray for other religious communities "called out of the normal course of the world" - among which is Thomas Merton's own Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani The Abbey of Gethsemani is located at 3642 Monks Road in Trappist, Kentucky. It was founded in 1848 by monks from the Abbey of Melleray in Western France. Forty-four Trappist monks escaped overcrowding and political unrest in their home country to a farm that was purchased from the in Kentucky.
Mother Ann urged her disciples to put their "hands to work and hearts to God." Lee's motto is reminiscent of Saint Benedict's admonition Any formal verbal statement made during a trial by a judge to advise and caution the jury on their duty as jurors, on the admissibility or nonadmissibility of evidence, or on the purpose for which any evidence admitted may be considered by them. to his fellow monks to dedicate themselves to ora et labora - prayer and work. The Rule of Saint Benedict speaks of the Divine Office prayed by monks at various hours throughout the day as the opus Dei Opus Dei (ō`pəs dā`ē) [Lat.,=work of God], Roman Catholic organization, particularly influential in Spain, officially the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. - the work of God. But this phrase was used by monks before Benedict's time to refer to the whole of one's life, all of which was to contribute to one's continuous conversion and transformation in Christ. All work among the Shakers continues to be shaped by this same prayerful prayer·ful
1. Inclined or given to praying frequently; devout.
2. Typical or indicative of prayer, as a mannerism, gesture, or facial expression. spirit.
Those familiar with the ideas of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin (and the papal social encyclicals that formed them) will recognize here a Catholic work ethic. This ethic has much more to do with rediscovering the holiness of ordinary tasks than with increasing productivity to become more competitive. Among the small Shaker family today, the products of their labors - from the herbs and other fruits of the gardens to knitted and sewn goods, wool from their sheep, the publications of the print shop, and products of the kitchen - are more modest than those built by their spiritual forebears, which now command such exorbitant prices from antique collectors. Yet they continue to strive to witness to the holiness of the "daily round."
The exquisite simplicity of the work of Shaker hands, whether artifacts artifacts
see specimen artifacts. or architecture, reflect a complex of spiritual values. Not least among them is a concern for justice. As one 19th-century Shaker elder expressed it: "The divine man has no right to waste money upon what you would call beauty in his house or daily life, while there are people in misery."
Thomas Merton has pointed out that these sentiments echo Saint Bernard of Clairvaux's rationale in the 13th century for Cistercian austerity. They are equally in concert with the more radical gospel simplicity of Saint Francis of Assisi. In a similar vein, Dorothy Day once expressed the basis for Catholic Worker voluntary poverty by writing: "While our brothers suffer from lack of necessities, we will refuse to enjoy comforts."
The Benedictine and Franciscan elements in the spirit of the Shakers are among several correlations between the vision of the Shakers and that of the Catholic Worker movement. The convergences grow from common biblical and theological roots.
Christ has come again
At the heart of Shaker theology is what contemporary theologians call "realized eschatology." The eschaton is the end time, when Christ will come again to raise the dead to new life, to be with him "in the Resurrection." The Book of Revelation proclaims "a new heaven and a new earth" (21:1) for that day. Theologians find, especially in the Gospel according to John Noun 1. Gospel According to John - the last of the four Gospels in the New Testament
New Testament - the collection of books of the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline and other epistles, and Revelation; composed soon after Christ's death; the , the promise that this new life is in some sense available now to those who embrace a "new life in Christ." In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes this experience by writing: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (2:20).
After her own experience of mystical union with Christ (which she recounted in language reminiscent of Saint Catherine of Siena Catherine of Si·en·a , Saint 1347-1380.
Italian religious leader who mediated a peace between the Florentines and Pope Urban VI in 1378. ), Mother Ann made Saint Paul's claim her own. This experience, she taught, was the Second Appearing of Christ. This was life "in the Resurrection." Lee's "gospel," like John's, was that this Resurrection life was available in spirit to any believer who embraced the cross of Christ. Mother Ann taught that the "Second Coming of Christ is in his church." In Catholic terms, Christ is present in the members of the church as his Mystical Body.
The Shaker practices of simplicity, celibacy, equality of the sexes and races, communal sharing, hospitality, nonviolence, and the holiness even of life's most ordinary labors grew from this belief that they were living now the Resurrection life.
One finds echoes of this realized eschatology in Peter Maurin's Easy Essays (Franciscan Herald, 1977). Maurin wrote of "creating a new society within the shell of the old." He envisioned a society "where it will be easier for people to be good." This new society, he said, would center on the integration of worship, learning, labor and craft-work, and life on the land.
Maurin envisioned a society remarkably close to the kind of life members of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing have labored to live for more than 200 years. The Shakers have been sustained in their efforts by the same belief in the indwelling indwelling /in·dwell·ing/ (in´dwel-ing) pertaining to a catheter or other tube left within an organ or body passage for drainage, to maintain patency, or for the administration of drugs or nutrients. presence of the Spirit of Christ in their personal and communal lives that has vivified the Catholic Worker witness and those inspired by it for more than 60 years. Shaker life, like that of the Catholic Worker, has sought to embody "a new earth, where justice is at home" (2 Pet. 3:13).
In lines often quoted by Dorothy Day, William James wrote, "I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny invisible molecular moral forces . . . which, if you give them time, will rend rend
v. rent or rend·ed, rend·ing, rends
1. To tear or split apart or into pieces violently. See Synonyms at tear1.
2. the hardest monuments of man's pride." In the vast plain of Christian history, the Shakers have never been more than one of those "molecular moral forces."
Today some see in their small numbers the sign of their imminent demise. Yet I find reason for hope. In the 19th century, when the Sabbathday Lake community was given the spiritual name of Chosen Land, it was sometimes gently chided as the "least of Mother's children" because of its remote location. For those of us who find wisdom in the way of the Poor Man of Assisi, or in the Little Way of Saint Therese of Lisieux that so inspired Day, the testimony of the small Shaker family at Chosen Land, and that of the heritage to which they are heirs, speaks of God's propensity for choosing witnesses and even prophets from among the least of us.
As once-thriving parishes are forced to close and once-flourishing religious orders find their ministries curtailed by diminished numbers, perhaps Catholics can find inspiration in the Shaker's gift to be simple. The Shakers at Chosen Land continue to put their hands to work and their hearts to God in the power of their awareness of their union with Christ. They labor to share that union with the Christians and non-Christians who come alone and in groups for retreats or to pray or study among them, and with school children and church and civic organizations with whom they speak of the Shaker heritage and sing of simple gifts. They strive to exhibit their union with Christ and with one another, even to patrons at country fairs to whom they sell the works of their hands.
And they celebrate their union with Christ and with all of their sisters and brothers in Christ when they reach out the hand of hospitality. Recently they welcomed a victim of AIDS, who was drawn to them by their spiritual heritage, and offered him an anointing a·noint
tr.v. a·noint·ed, a·noint·ing, a·noints
1. To apply oil, ointment, or a similar substance to.
2. To put oil on during a religious ceremony as a sign of sanctification or consecration.
3. , not with oil, but with the balm balm, name for any balsam resin and for several plants, e.g., the bee balm.
Any of several fragrant herbs of the mint family, particularly Melissa officinalis (balm gentle, or lemon balm), cultivated in temperate climates for its fragrant of acceptance. Each week the Shakers of Chosen Land prepare and share in a supper for the people of a nearby shelter for the homeless. Here they celebrate another eucharist, a thanksgiving that Christ is still at work among them.
Carr and her small family of Believers live beyond the presumption that they are the last Shakers. She does not expect that great numbers will once again fill the brick dwelling house, but she is confident that God will continue to use the "least of Mother's children" in God's own way. One hears a hint of Mother Teresa's often-quoted dictum: "Our job is not success. We leave success to God. Our job is faithfulness."
Walt Chura, founder of a Catholic Worker bookstore and a writer and teacher in Albany, New York.