Spring 1978—Grace
Valerie and I would fall in love with the Shakers only a couple of decades later, attending their worship service (the only one that day, anywhere, as far as I know) on the Fourth of July in the year 2000, at their community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. You may remember how a Shaker meeting went: a member, when so moved, would rise and announce, “An angel gave me this for you,” and would then teach the congregation a song and sometimes a dance, often complete with the angel’s name.

The Shakers were a modest lot, to the point of declining to put their names on their gravestones. They saw their rôle as angelic conduits as a blessing and as an act of humble obedience, not as a means to any sort of personal aggrandizement. They were careful to write down their revealed treasures, including many of surpassing beauty and a wide range of poetic and musical sophistication.
Arlington-Bergen Back in the spring of 1978, I woke up at Timbaloo in Arlington, Massachusetts, intending to fly to Bergen County, New Jersey for a meeting. My glance out the window stopped with a thud in solid New England pea-soup, penetrating only inches past the glass. A phone call to Logan Airport confirmed that I needed, as they say these days, to “seek alternative routes.” So, I packed up my research material, kissed Valerie, and jumped into Brunnhilde, our 1969 Volvo station wagon. Interstate 95 was navigable, despite the fog, and I ended up only an hour late.

While plummeting down the highway, though,1 I had what I can only describe
as a Shaker experience. Got to thinking about some lovely Folk Legacy recordings by Gordon Bok and friends. In particular, a Scots piece they called “Come by the hills.” Also about my recent efforts (by then fairly consistent over fifteen years or so) in daily, prayerful study of the Scriptures. Pretty soon, I’d put a pad of paper on the shotgun seat and was scribbling (yes, unsafely) on it with a ball-point pen.
A lot of my favorite scriptural passages just fell into the gentle, folky rhythm of the Celtic ballad. And by the time I pulled into the parking lot at my destination, I’d written down a hymn (if that’s the right term) of ten quatrains.

Named it “Exalting Grace.” Shared it around gingerly: how does a Latter-day Saint tell his friends (much less his ecclesiastical leaders) that he’s had a Shaker experience? Not much response.

1Don’t try this at home: I’m a highly-trained, professional distracted driver.
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