If singing is praying twice, then singing while dancing must be praying thrice!  The Shakers composed thousands of songs and dances for worship.   Their 19th-century hymn “Simple Gifts” continues to be reimagined by contemporary musicians such as this blissful version performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss.

Fifteen years ago, on a family visit to a Shaker Museum in New England, a docent taught us the choreography for “Simple Gifts.”  The movements were simple and graceful and enhanced the song’s lyrics.  I have never forgotten singing and dancing in this Shaker meeting house.  (The lavender-blueberry cobbler served at the museum café was also transcendent!)

Beginning in 1774, the Shakers settled more than twenty utopian communities in America.   “The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing” was  often called “Shakers” because of their charismatic worship style.  They lived a celibate and communal lifestyle, were pacifists and believed in gender equality.  Their functional furniture designs, and inventions (mail-order seed packets, condensed milk, circular saw, flat brooms, Shaker peg) are still used today.

‘Tis the gift to be simple

‘Tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down

Where we ought to be

And when we find ourselves

In the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley

Of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend

We shall not be ashamed

To turn, turn

Will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning

We come round right