Caroline B. Piercy’s mother was a frequent visitor to a Shaker Community, back in the 19th Century. There she learnt many of the recipes in her daughter’s The Shaker Cook Book. But what attracted people to these celibate communities, and what kept them there? An interesting question a semi-detached member of a L’Arche community.
I would rule out celibacy as an over-riding motive for joining a community: many L’Arche members do remain celibate, but like many couples Mrs T and I met at L’Arche more than 40 years ago. We feel part of the family even though our lives are lived largely outside the community.
We come closer to answering our question when we read how, ‘These devout Shakers love one another as brothers and sisters. They have withdrawn from the world in order to establish villages where the Golden Rule is the one law by which they live. When their many tasks are completed, daily they gather at their meetings where they dance before the Lord for pure joy and gratitude for the countless good gifts He has bestowed upon His children and, also, in order to drive away any wrong thoughts or desires which may come to them.’
A good session of dancing might do more good than a couple of hours slumped in front of the television, but could the shakers have schooled my toes into something approaching co-ordination? Somehow I very much doubt it.
Celibacy, voluntary or involuntary, lifelong or temporary, enables a person to be available to others and to God, their Creator, in ways that married people cannot always manage. Rightly, the spouse puts their other half and their family above other obligations, and may have to say ‘no’ to interesting opportunities. That is one way to make the earth holy. Cheerfully accepted and faithfully lived celibacy gives different freedoms and different crosses, and it too makes the world holy by living out the Golden Rule.
Let’s thank the Lord for the contribution of faithful brothers and sisters living the celibate way in community or as singles, and pray that they may be happy and fruitful in their way of life, their following of Jesus’ footsteps.
We met the Shakers briefly when we were reflecting on Vocation in daily life, in particular the life and work of women in this 18th and 19th Century American community. But they started off in Manchester, about 1747. Faith in the city!
The shakers were influenced by the Quakers, they had been known as the Shaking Quakers, and a leader emerged in the person of Ann Lee, the illiterate daughter of a blacksmith. She was however a person of great spiritual intelligence, as well as the desire to know God and carry out his will. Her devotion led her group to accept her as a second embodiment of Christ, and she was known to them as Mother Ann.
There was still a great intolerance of religious dissenters in England at the time, which led to her leading a small band of Shakers to North America in 1774 to restore the Apostolic Church there. This was at the start of the American Revolution, and they were treated as spies for the British government and thrown into prison. After their release they set about establishing the Kingdom of God, and war-weary Americans began to join the movement, and the Shakers made room for them all. Communities of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming were thus established in rural areas, trying to live by the law of love, but celibate, as Jesus had been. A far cry from the mills of Manchester’s Industrial Revolution.
See Caroline B.Piercy, The Shaker Cook Book, New York, Crown Publishers, 1953, pp16-18.
The Shakers were North American Christians who lived in big celibate communities in the XIX Century. I happened on Caroline Piercy’s Shaker Cook Book a couple of months ago, and would like to share this passage about the vocation of daily life as they lived it.
According to the Shaker belief, work and worship are intricately intertwined: ‘give your hands to work and your heart to God,’ was their well-known motto. It is by the fruits of their labour that they became known as craftsmen of great skill and complete honesty.
To the Shakers, or Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, as they chose to call themselves, their sole purpose in life was to establish God’s Kingdom here upon earth. Their hands, their minds, their hearts were wholly dedicated to that end, and therefore their vast kitchens and numerous workshops were as sacred to them as were their meeting houses and assembly halls. Their religion taught that man was put into this world in order to establish ‘Heavens on Earth’ where universal peace, genuine brotherly love and complete honesty reigned.
Caroline B Piercy, The Shaker Cook Book, Not by Bread Alone: Crown Publishing, NY, 1953. p13.