The Shakers danced, either with their arms bent and hands held palm up or clasped in prayer near their hearts. They danced in straight lines, women on one side of the large meeting room facing the men standing in rows on the other side. Several Shaker manuscripts show that Simple Gifts is a Dancing Song or a Quick Dance. In fact the word turning in the last two lines is a dance instruction embedded right in the lyrics.
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
Think about it for a moment. The Shakers danced during church services in the mid 1700’s. Yes they started out in proper lines as was the custom in proper society’s ball rooms but this was not stiff, stilted dancing. The Shakers dancing evolved into an expression of ecstatic joy. The joy of the Lord does feel like a powerful surge of energy that rises up from deep within you. Often I have trembled, shook and laughed all at the same time. When you have humbly embraced simplicity, you can dance in complete abandonment like King David did before the Ark of the Covenant, thousands of years ago.
Did you realize that the plain, hard-working, communal Shakers literally shook and fell down under the Power during church services? Can you imagine how these Shakers shocked the rest of the religious establishment? I can hardly fathom how this sect even existed. The only answer for me is that people were so staid and frozen in fear as a result of the Puritans and the witch burnings, that God had to physically shake off fear and self-righteous piety off His people.
The Shakers following the lead of the Spirit and became free and humble. They were free to embrace simplicity and humble enough to discover joy
(Simple Gifts by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine.)