Simple Gifts

Simple Gifts by Elder Joseph Brackett

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when you find yourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come ’round right.

This old Shaker hymn was written by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848. A simple verse, with a compellingly sweet tune, few outside of the Shaker communities had heard it until Aaron Copland adapted it for his score for Martha Graham’s ballet, Appalachian Spring.

Since then, Simple Gifts has been recorded by Weezer and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.Ā  It was a central theme in Michael Flately’s Lord of the Dance. It’s been sung by punk rock bands, played by drum corps and marching bands, performed at Presidential inaugurations and at memorial services.

Isn’t is fascinating that even at the most elaborate of occasions, we long for Simple Gifts. When Joseph Brackett penned this hymn, it only had one verse. Maybe the key to its popularity lies in the truth that we long for the simple, to be where we ought to be.

And maybe when we’re willing to bow and to bend, we will come ’round right.

An evening with George MacDonald and Appalachian Spring. ‘Tis a gift indeed. I hope MacDonald is on your shelf (or your Kindle). This is a short portion of the Simple Gifts section of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring, with photos by Ansel Adams.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

16 thoughts on “Simple Gifts”

  1. Thanks Deb! The photos are beautiful and simplicity is a beautiful (if elusive in our culture) value. I am just working through Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” again. I am focusing on the disciplines of solitude and simplicity. Thanks for the comfirmation!

    1. jelillie – I’m reading Nouwen’s Living a Spiritual Life in a Material World (Letters to Marc about Jesus) where, too, the focus is on solitude and simplicity. A wise and sweet reminder – and you’re so right, easily elusive.
      ~ Deb

  2. Debbie, I did not grow up in church or knowing Him. There are so many precious songs and hymns that I don’t know, but because of wonderful bloggers like you, I get to learn. Thank you sooo much for sharing this and blessing me! There is so much beauty here and I know it comes from Him through you. šŸ™‚

    1. Debbie – What a warm, gracious comment. My Dad had a soaring tenor voice and loved every old hymn – we spent hours and hours singing together. It was a simple gift and, along with his love, the most precious he ever gave me. You have a wonderful world of music ahead! šŸ˜€
      ~Debbie

  3. The simple things are the most majestic in life for me. I try my hardest to experience the simple everyday. I learned it from my Grandpa. He was a poor dirt farmer. As a small child I would ride on the back of his horse that pulled his plow in his field. He would stop along the way to show me the beauty of the earth. To him it was not dirty dirt – it was rich soil that would grow the crops. He once was offered a free tractor but turned it away. I asked him why. He told me that the Lord provided him a strong horse to help him and his God and horse never failed him. He would tell me to keep my life simple and enjoy what God provides. He found beauty wherever and whatever the circumstances. He had no car but as he always said he was blessed with 2 good feet. Every Sunday and Wednesday night he and Grandma would walk down to their country church. They never went empty handed. They either had items from their garden or from their fruit trees or something that Grandma canned. You see there were “poor” people in the Church. He didn’t even have electricity in his house as he couldn’t afford it but he fed the poor.

    In today’s world he would probably be called lazy and simple minded. He held no earthly possessions except for his small farm but he owed no debt. Everything he had – he gave away to someone who needed it worse than he did. He also was the happiest person I have ever met in my lifetime. He truly knew his God.

    Every Spring (except for this past Spring when we were gate guarding) I go by myself to the little cemetery across the dirt road from his old farm. You see almost 60 years ago my Grandpa and I planted lilacs in the cemetery and new sprout keep growing off the old bushes. My grandparents graves are under the lilacs.The simple beauty of the lilacs are still there along with the simple memories.

    I wish I was more like him but he did instill in me to stop and smell the lilacs and to keep my face toward heaven.

    1. Jill – What a completely beautiful story and what an amazing legacy your Grandpa left. You carry the sweet fragrance of lilacs everywhere you go. I’m privileged that you’ve come into my life. You are a gift.
      ~ Debbie

    1. Drusilla – I was listening to Appalachian Spring while reading last night and thought that the moment couldn’t have been much sweeter. There are simple gifts everywhere, like the gift of a simple song, planted in a young girls heart in jr high. šŸ˜€
      ~ Debbie

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