Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Simple Gifts

I love the Shakers' music. Hardly a day goes by that I don't sing for myself "Simple Gifts" and one or two other Shaker songs. I was very pleased when "Simple Gifts" made it into the Episcopal hymnbook.

And so I was extremely pleased to hear it played in an arrangement by John Williams, "Air and Simple Gifts", for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano at today's inaugural ceremony. An extra pleasure was that the violinist was Itzhak Perlman and the cellist was Yo-Yo Ma, who always visibly enjoys himself and his collaboration with other musicians so much -- and the clarinetist, whom I hadn't heard of before, played with a beautiful tone as befits a principal of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra.

When George W. Bush was campaigning in 2000, he said "I think the United States must be humble" in its dealings with other nations. Right.

Now comes Barack Obama who has pledged to expand the forces and the fighting in Afghanistan. Still, in his inaugural speech, he balanced a bit of toughness with offers of friendship and cooperation, and a recommitment to high national ideals.

I pray that he does better with the theme of "Simple Gifts" than Bush did with his version of humility. For "Simple Gifts" is all about humility. Great Powers need humility, especially when the limits of power have been made painfully clear. The temptation to overcompensate with a display of armed machismo is hard to resist. To bow, to bend, to adapt -- that's such a comedown. As Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, that's for girlie men. Like Jesus.

So -- here are words to sing and to live by:

'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.

(Repeat -- almost all Shaker songs repeat each stanza)

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till in turning, turning, we come round right.


"Turning", of course, means repentance. In turning, we come round right, heading in the right direction for following the right Way. The gift is to be free of avarice, covetousness, envy, and pride. And the love and exercise of domination and power.

KISS -- Keep it simple, uh, Shakers.

1 comment:

Capital District said...

I also love that song, and what it represents. I only recently learned that there were still shakers around.