Tuesday, August 19, 2008

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple: a soul-healing day

I believe there are places in the world that are healing places. Spaces that have a special energy about them - a spirit of calm and renewal that can enfold those who enter and banish troubled thoughts, at least for a while.

I am away from work for a week, and that's a good thing. Work has been stormy; even with time and space away, in sunny, breezy weather near mountains and a gorgeous lake, it's been hard not to be affected by the malignant energy churning around lately. But I'm here now, with the people I love most in the world; I'm going to try to take a real rest.

Canterbury Shaker Village, which we visited today, is a great place to find long-lost tranquility, especially on a clear summer day that's cool enough to feel like fall. (See here for some beautiful black-and-white photographs of the place.)

We tried some home-made bread in the kitchen, and were reminded that the daily work of keeping a home can be a form of prayer.

We danced in the chapel, men and boys facing women and girls.

We admired artifacts that showed the Shakers' inventiveness and ability to unite beauty with usefulness.

We heard the touching story of Alberta Kirkpatrick, the last person to be welcomed to the Canterbury community as a child and raised there. She had had such terrible experiences in other foster homes that at the age of eleven she was suicidal. She described seeing her Shaker foster-mother-to-be running to meet her for the first time and dispelling all her fear and self-doubt by embracing her with genuine warmth and unconditional love. She felt that her self-concept was reborn, created anew, at that moment.

We were impressed by descriptions of the community's diligence, efficiency, and extraordinary organization. Clothes were labeled with building numbers, room numbers, and initials so they could be promptly returned to the right place after being laundered. Tools from a common list were likewise labeled so they wound up back in the appropriate drawers. Everyone, young and old, was expected to work hard - "Hands to work and hearts to God" - to create and maintain their little piece of heaven on earth, their village.

We walked the beautiful grounds and rang the bell at the school house. My daughter tried her hand at weaving. My son climbed the ruins of the long barn. We learned about some herbs commonly used by the Shakers (I didn't know lavender could be used as a moth repellent!). We learned the origin of expressions like "Sleep tight" and "Knock it off" (which shaker women would call out if the laundry got tangled up and the leather conveyor belts had to be knocked off their pulleys temporarily, to halt the work and allow them to undo the mess).

I especially enjoyed seeing the infirmary, which had an apothecary, a few patient bedrooms, one room devoted to assisted living of the elderly, and even a rudimentary operating room where village women would assist visiting surgeons - even give anesthesia! The placard outside the room said, "Shaker sisters assisted in surgery as 'scrubs' or 'etherizers.' "

It was a healing place.

Back home I was inspired to make an apple pie, much to my children's delight and satisfaction. There is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your children eat well and feel content during and after a meal. It's one of my greatest pleasures in life. It's those simplest of pleasures that bring heaven a little closer to earth, I think, lending the work to create them a special beauty and dignity, tedious though some of the steps may be.

"Do all your work as if you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow." Mother Ann Lee.


Kjersten, Steve, Aitugan & Nurai said...


I am glad you enjoyed my photos from Canterbury. How did you happen to find them. I am always fascinated by the links, networks, and 'six-degree' type things that bring people together. I scrolled down your blog postings and found them very interesting. If you don't mind I think I will bookmark it and check in again later.

I hope you have a little time away from the hospital to enjoy some of this great weather we are having after so much rain these last weeks. Take Care.


T. said...

Hi Steve - I think I found you by going to Google --> "more," on the search options --> blogs --> typing in canterbury shaker village. Glad I did!

Thanks so much for stopping by.