Spiritual Refreshment at the Shaker Village
What is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days…
--James Russell Lowell
My memoir group and I shared spiritual writing in the local park this perfect morning. Yet again, we affirmed and inspired each other. Then we edged into troubled waters. Personal losses and worries. Grotesqueries in the news. The future of our churches. “I can’t find a solid footing. The beach used to refresh me instantly – but no longer,” bemoaned a colleague, the usually upbeat one. We blamed Covid isolation. Doom scrolling. A
culture of anger. Age. We parted determined to “look for the helpers” (per Fred Rogers) and to believe that people are "intrinsically good" (per the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu). We refuse to give up, but now more than ever, spiritual refreshment seems elusive.
Perhaps this exchange moved me to spend the exquisite afternoon at the Canterbury (NH) Shaker Village where I have worked as a tour guide. The Shakers, aka the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, lived lives of sharing, celibacy, and pacifism here for 200 years. Their ingenuity entered many realms of American life. Most of all, here they lived out their ideals of simplicity, tolerance, and love. Though the last Shaker sister died in 1992, and the village has become a museum, many folks still discern Shaker serenity in their erstwhile home.
My village errand took but a moment, so I decided to roam the grounds, for in addition to buildings, the acreage includes leafy trails ideal for meditative walks. Since it was still early in the season, only a pair of garden volunteers and two guests seemed to be about. I strolled down to Boys’ Island, a small bosky peninsula bordered by the Mill Pond. Wild roses scented the light breeze (a true zephyr), which ruffled the green pasture grasses and exultation of wildflowers: yellow buttercups, pink clover, white yarrow and blackberry blossoms. Dollops of cloud drifted over a benign sky as blue as Wedgewood china. A rare day, indeed.
About 15 minutes into my walk, I sensed it: no noise. No human busyness. No machines. Only the taffeta rustle of leaves in the maples and apple trees. The squonk of a red-winged blackbird. A fluting motet of songbirds. The choked croak of a bull frog. Under a maple near the Mill Pond, I felt enfolded in the silken silence of natural life. The stillness of the pond perfectly reflected the sky. Time hung suspended.
Maybe a half-hour later, I walked back toward the village. A lichen encrusted bench under an elderly apple tree beckoned, lest I leave too soon. So I sat. I gazed at clouds, watched the wind tickle the rugosa roses, stroke the grass and clover. About 20 minutes into this meditation – what’s this? -- I cried for a few moments. Was I mourning a friend who had recently passed? Or unwinding at last? C.S. Lewis might have guessed I was “surprised by joy” as he often was.
I suppose I could escape noise and psychic static just as well elsewhere, say on a mountain hike or by lonesome water. Certainly, the White Mountains just up the road offer vistas of solitude and charm. But this perfect day in June, I prefer to refresh here where Shaker people have lived and worked and sung and prayed. Their gentle spirits keep me company still. ###