Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yesterday, as part of the Presidential Inauguration, a cello/violin/clarinet/piano quartet played a piece composed by John Williams and based on the old Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts." NPR replayed the performance on their morning radio program today. The Marine Corp Band also played an arrangement of this hymn in their prelude to the Inauguration yesterday. Is there a theme here?

A couple of years ago, on a trip to New England, we stopped at the Canterbury Shaker Village, and I was so enthralled with the simple life style of these quiet people. The words of the hymn are as follows:

'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 shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come'round right.

I think the "turning" metaphor is in reference to the woodworker shaping the legs of a chair (for which the Shakers are famous). It brings to mind a vision of the simple Shaker furniture, beautiful in its absolute balance.

Whenever I come home from being away (as I was for two weeks of this month), I always have a desire to clear away the clutter of my home and my life, to get back to simple basics in eating, dressing and just everyday living. It seems to me that the chemical poisoning of our world is a result of our complicated lives. And in turn, our lives are complicated by the chemicals. If we were to simplify our eating (natural foods, grown locally as much as possible), if we were to simplify our clothing (wearing less, using natural fibers and dyes), if we were to simply our homes (less adornment, less space to heat and cool, less pretension), if we were to simply our activities (less running from place to place), would we not use less chemicals? Would we not all be healthier?

Something to think about.

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