Learning from the Shakers
One of the things I admire is fine craftsmanship. The kind that gives deep consideration to every step of the process. I particularly find it enjoyable when the aim is not only producing a fine craft, but producing a fine craftsman. The Shakers embody this in deep and profound ways.
A few years ago we had the chance to visit the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky. It’s a wonderful place that is a time portal to an age long removed from the bustle of today. The distinct architecture, approaches to agriculture, and emphasis on community life are all drawn from their theology. It is a joy to visit a place that was built out of an uncompromising system of beliefs.
This gives me pause. How are we living in a way that reflects our beliefs? What are we “producing” that gives testimony to our core convictions? If people were to visit our home, live with us a while, see what we “produce,” what would it say about who we are and what we believe?
Below are some attributes that the Shakers aimed to embody:
Simplicity: never add anything that isn’t integral to usefulness or necessity.
Quality: everything they made should be at the highest level. They were fond of saying, “You never know when we may be entertaining angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2).
Functionality: the floor boards in their buildings were made of a hard wood for durability that also secreted an oil to repel insects. Brilliant!
Innovation: they we’re constantly looking for new ways to improve upon the previous attributes without compromise.
Here are some pictures I took when we visited the place back in 2004 (click on an image to enlarge).
Shaker hymn: Simple Gifts
‘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 gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.