by Suzanne Skees ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 20, 1998
Skees weaves together a popular history of Shakerism with an account of her month-long visit to Sabbathday Lake in Maine, the last living community of Shaker sisters and brethren. Skees, a journalist who writes on women's spirituality, studied comparative religion at Harvard Divinity School--a kindly, open-minded institution whose intersecting currents of academic study, pastoral training, and spiritual probing amply prepared the author for her work. The chapters are structured around themes central to Shaker life--including celibacy, God, communion with spirits, relation with the outside world, prospects for survival--and based on both research in the community's library and conversations with its eight permanent residents. Skees contrasts the intensities of Shakers past with the wise mellowness of Sabbathday's current members. There are instructive sections on Shaker dance, music, and ritual observance. Perhaps from a wish for heightened contrast, Skees presents herself, a married woman with three sons, as too grounded in worldliness and sex (""I loved men with abandon"") ever to take up the Shaker path. But the authorial persona, which tends toward exaggeration and sentimentality, intrudes on the discussion. ""Lusty phalluses and looming egos"" do not, pace Ms. Skees, define men of the world. Card cataloging, a task that the librarian, Sister June, performs, is not an ""ancient process."" And people today do not use words like ""verily"" and ""elsetimes,"" as the author quaintly insists on doing occasionally in her own speech. Skees's surprise over the outward ordinariness of deeply religious people, and over the loss of self that sometimes occurs there, seems disingenuous--what else, after all, had she been learning at Harvard Divinity School? The Shaker voices communicate over the author's annoying obtrusiveness so that despite herself her work fills a gap in the growing genre of reportage on the inner life of modern religious communities.
Pub Date: March 20, 1998
Page Count: 288
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998
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