Many years ago, I was introduced to an old Shaker melody called “Simple Gifts.” Perhaps you are familiar with it as well. I like the simplicity (no pun intended) of the words and the melody. It is easy to remember and to sing. I think there are some valuable lessons that can be obtained by contemplating upon the words.
by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. (1797-1882)
‘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.
Alternative verses that came along later:
‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together, and we’ll all learn to say,
‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.
Note: Many arrangements have been made using this work of music. One famous arrangement was by Aaron Copland in 1950 on a recording called Appalachian Spring, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. You can find several recordings of it on YouTube.
The words of this melody are not just about living a simple uncluttered life. Yes, the Shaker way of life does do that, but to them, real simplicity was about being true and simple in their faith, devotion, and service to God. This is the freedom we seek.
I believe the right place to come down is to find ourselves in the Kingdom of God. We should be constantly keeping that goal in front of our minds. That means doing what we can to obey what has been given us and to continue to endure to the end. Then we will be in the “valley of love and delight.” That love and delight will be a deeper relationship with each other and with our God. We are directed into that deeper relationship by the Holy Spirit. We are allowed into that Holy Place by the grace of God and the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The words to the melody claim that we will not be ashamed to bow and to bend. We will rejoice in this opportunity because we have bent our ways towards His ways.
It is said in D&C 85:31a, b:
“ and this shall be the sound of his trump, saying to all people, both in heaven and in earth, and that are under the earth; for every ear shall hear it, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, while they hear the sound of the trump, saying, Fear God, and give glory to him who sitteth upon the throne, for ever and ever: for the hour of his judgment is come.”
I hope that we find joy in the thought of His return. If we have given ourselves to Him, it will be.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Feb. 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945), who died at the hands of the Nazis party just 4 weeks before the Nazis surrender said: (in his book called Ethics)
“To be simple is to fix one’s eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted, and turned upside down.” Certainly, we are in a time like that now. Granted, we are not in a situation that was as chaotic as was Bonhoeffer, but we still feel that things are not normal for us. In all times, what is most important for us is to keep our eye on God.
I have been greatly impressed by the ministry we have received through the classes and services we have participated in via our phones and as seen on our broadcast. Even though we are not face to face, we are being blessed and we are continuing to draw closer to God and to each other. Also, many of us have found quiet moments to spend in meditation and in scripture study. All this helps us to “come-round-right.” The church is not just a building that we meet in, it is the people who meet there who have committed themselves to the gospel.
In Revelations 22:14, we read: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Verse 2 tell us that the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations.
As we continue through our mortal lives, may we keep our eyes focused straight ahead, ever turning toward the gospel message. Let us continue to hold on to the iron rod. Let us continue to praise Him in all things so, that for us, the end will be sweet and glorious.