Learning From the Shakers

Linda and I recently returned from a wonderful two-week vacation in New England and one of the highlights of our journey was a visit to the last community of Shakers, a grand total of two women and one man, located on a bucolic village farm called Chosen Land in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I even had the opportunity to chat briefly with the lone male, Brother Arnold Hadd, whom I had corresponded with earlier.

Shakers are often confused with Quakers, from whom they are descended but who may marry, and the Amish, who eschew modern technology to live separate from the world. Yet even as Shakers embrace technological tools, their future existence is limited by their celibate lifestyle to converts from the outside world. Suffice it to say that they have their work cut out for them.

In her book God Among the Shakers: A Search for Stillness and Faith at Sabbathday Lake, author Suzanne Skees also visits the Maine Shaker Village and writes: “Current society loves what we perceive as the simple, pure life of Shakers because it stands in stark contrast to everything we have become.” In other words, people settle for admiring the Shaker lifestyle rather than adopting it.

And she continues, “Shakers seemed beyond the reach of attachment, while we other Americans lived immersed in material goods that lost their value almost as soon as they were acquired, scrambling in a flurry of activity that amounted to less than nothing at death.” As the Shakers love to sing, “Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free.” That is simply the truth.

Finally she concludes: “Our entire culture has been built upon the material. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ usually means money, property, food, and romance—the whole lot of which the Shakers have tossed out their two-hundred-year-old farmhouse window.” While converts to the Shaker lifestyle may be lacking, the rest of us could stand to learn from their simple ways of being and operating in the world.