Homespun Tales by Kate Douglas Wiggin - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
6. Susanna Speaks in Meeting
It was the Sabbath day and the Believers were gathered in the meetinghouse, Brethren and Sisters seated quietly on their separate benches, with the children by themselves in their own place. As the men entered the room they removed their hats and coats and hung them upon wooden pegs that lined the sides of the room, while the women took off their bonnets; then, after standing for a moment of perfect silence, they seated themselves.
In Susanna's time the Sunday costume for the men included trousers of deep blue cloth with a white line and a vest of darker blue, exposing a full- bosomed shirt that had a wide turned-down collar fastened with three buttons. The Sisters were in pure white dresses, with neck and shoulders covered with snowy kerchiefs, their heads crowned with their white net caps, and a large white pocket handkerchief hung over the left arm. Their feet were shod with curious pointed-toed cloth shoes of ultramarine blue--a fashion long since gone by.
Susanna had now become accustomed to the curious solemn march or dance in which of course none but the Believers ever joined, and found in her present exalted mood the songs and the exhortations strangely interesting and not unprofitable.
Tabitha, the most aged of the group of Albion Sisters, confessed that she missed the old times when visions were common, when the Spirit manifested itself in extraordinary ways, and the gift of tongues descended. Sometimes, in the Western Settlement where she was gathered in, the whole North Family would march into the highway in the fresh morning hours, and while singing some sacred hymn, would pass on to the Center Family, and together in solemn yet glad procession they would mount the hillside to "Jehovah's Chosen Square," there to sing and dance before the Lord.
"I wish we could do something like that now!" sighed Hetty Arnold, a pretty young creature who had moments of longing for the pomps and vanities. "If we have to give up all worldly pleasures, I think we might have more religious ones!"
"We were a younger church in those old times of which Sister Tabitha speaks," said Eldress Abby. "You must remember, Hetty, that we were children in faith, and needed signs and manifestations, pictures and object-lessons. We've been trained to think and reason now, and we've put away some of our picture-books. There have been revelations to tell us we needed movements and exercises to quicken our spiritual powers, and to give energy and unity to our worship, and there have been revelations telling us to give them up; revelations bidding us to sing more, revelations telling us to use wordless songs. Then anthems were given us, and so it has gone on, for we have been led of the Spirit."
"I'd like more picture-books," pouted Hetty under her breath. Today the service began with a solemn song, followed by speaking and prayer from a visiting elder. Then, after a long and profound silence, the company rose and joined in a rhythmic dance which signified the onward travel of the soul to full redemption; the opening and closing of the hands meaning the scattering and gathering of blessing. There was no accompaniment, and both the music and the words were the artless expression of fervent devotion.
Susanna sat in her corner beside the aged Tabitha, who would never dance again before the Lord, though her quavering voice joined in the chorus. The spring floor rose and fell under the quick rhythmic tread of the worshipers, and with each revolution about the room the song gained in power and fervor.
I am never weary bringing my life unto God, I am never weary singing His way is good. With the voice of an angel with power from above, I would publish the blessing of soul-saving love.The steps grew slower and more sedate, the voices died away, the arms sank slowly by the sides, and the hands ceased their movement. Susanna rose to her feet, she knew not how or why. Her cheeks were flushed, her head bent.
"Dear friends," she said, "I have now been among you for nearly three months, sharing your life, your work, and your worship. You may well wish to know whether I have made up my mind to join this Community, and I can only say that although I have prayed for light, I cannot yet see my way clearly. I am happy here with you, and although I have been a church member for years, I have never before longed so ardently to present my body and soul as a sacrifice unto the Lord. I have tried not to be a burden to you. The small weekly sum that I put into the treasury I will not speak of, lest I seem to think that the 'gift of God may be purchased with money,' as the Scriptures say; but I have endeavored to be loyal to your rules and customs, your aims and ideals, and to the confidence you have reposed in me. Oh, my dear Sisters and Brothers, pray for me that I be enabled to see my duty more plainly. It is not the fleshpots that will call me back to the world; if I go, it will be because the duties I have left behind take such shape that they draw me out of his shelter in spite of myself. I thank you for the help you have given me these last weeks; God knows my gratitude can never be spoken in words."
Elder Gray's voice broke the silence that followed Susanna's speech. "I only echo the sentiments of the Family when I say that our Sister Susanna shall have such time as she requires before deciding to unite with this body of Believers. No pressure shall be brought to bear upon her, and she will be, as she ever has been, a welcome guest under our roof. She has been an inspiration to the children, a comfort and aid to the Sisters, an intelligent comrade to the Brethren, and a sincere and earnest student of the truth. May the Spirit draw her into the Virgin Church of the New Creation!"
"Yee and amen!" exclaimed Eldress Abby, devoutly: "'For thus saith the Lord of hosts: I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.'"
Then Brother Issachar rose from his corner, saying: "Jesus called upon his disciples to give up everything: houses, lands, relationships, and even the selfishness of their own lives. They could not call their lives their own. 'Lo! we have left all and followed thee,' said Peter; 'fathers, mothers, wives, children, houses, lands, and even our own lives also.' It is a great price to pay, but we buy Heaven with it!""Yee, we do," said Brother Thomas Scattergood, devoutly. "To him that overcometh shall the great prize be given."
"God help the weaker brethren!" murmured young Brother Nathan, in so low a voice that few could hear him. Moved by the same impulse, Tabitha, Abby, and Martha burst into one of the most triumphant of the Shaker songs, one that was never sung save when the meeting was "full of the Spirit":--
"I draw no blank nor miss the prize,
I see the work, the sacrifice,
And I'll be loyal, I'll be wise, A faithful overcomer!"
The company rose and began again to march in a circle around the center of the room, the Brethren two abreast leading the column, the Sisters following after. There was a waving movement of the hands by drawing inward as if gathering in spiritual good and storing it up for future need. In the marching and countermarching the worshipers frequently changed their positions, ultimately forming into four circles, symbolical of the four dispensations as expounded in Shakerism, the first from Adam to Abraham; the second from Abraham to Jesus; the third from Jesus to Mother Ann Lee; and the fourth the millennial era.
The marching grew livelier; the bodies of the singers swayed lightly with emotion, the faces glowed with feeling.
Over and over the hymn was sung, gathering strength and fullness as the Believers entered more and more into the spirit of their worship. Whenever the refrain came in with its militant fervor, crude, but sincere and effective, the singers seenled faithintoxicated; and Sister Martha in particular might have been treading the heavenly streets instead of the meetinghouse floor, so complete was her absorption. The voices at length grew softer, and the movement slower, and after a few moments' reverent silence the company filed out of the room solemnly and without speech.
I am as sure that heav'n is mine As though my vision could define Or pencil draw the boundary line Where love and truth shall con quer.
"The Lord ain't shaken Susanna hard enough yet," thought Brother Ansel shrewdly from his place in the rear. "She ain't altogether gathered in, not by no manner o' means, because of that unregenerate son of Adam she's left behind; but there's the makin's of a pow'ful good Shaker in Susanna, if she finally takes holt!"
"What manner of life is my husband living, now that I have deserted him? Who is being a mother to Jack?" These were the thoughts that troubled Susanna Hathaway's soul as she crossed the grass to her own building.