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“Shakerism, Its Meaning and Message”

Excerpts from: Chapter I, pages 14-27

The ORIGIN OF SHAKERISM


 

Ann Lee.

In a lowly cottage in a humble lane of Manchester had been growing up a bright, active little girl.  Born February 29, 1736, Ann Lee was the child of John Lee, an honest, industrious blacksmith.  She had five brothers and two sisters.  As a child, Ann was serious and thoughtful, subject to strong religious impressions and given to reverie and vision.  There were no free schools for the children of the poor in that day, and little Ann, like others of her class, learned to work instead of to read, and at an early age was busy in the mills.   Endowed with the spiritual organization which in that time sent some to the witch's gallows who today would be cherished and protected, this little factory girl told her visions of angels to the ear of an affectionate, God- fearing mother of piety and common sense, who, like another mother, “hid all these things in her heart.”   Intense desires for purity and holy living filled the heart of the child.  As she grew older she was deeply impressed by the depravity of human nature and showed a strong repugnance to marriage.  Pitiful were her pleas to her mother's love to protect her from impurity.  Useless your prayers, O little Ann!  Woman, in your day, had but one life before her, and at an early age Ann was married to Abraham Stanley, a blacksmith like her father, a kindly man, who loved his beef and beer, his chimney corner and seat in village tavern.  Four children came and passed away.  Ann Lee was a soul apart.  She is pictured in mature life as of average stature, well proportioned, with blue eyes, light brown hair and regular features.  With a mild, expressive countenance, she had a keen, penetrating glance and by many was called beautiful.  Strong and healthy, she possessed a sound constitution and remarkable powers of mind and body.

Always has it been true that a great religious movement has started with one person.  About this humble, unlettered woman centered some of the most remarkable spiritual phenomena the world has seen — electric streams from Deity using her as transmitter of spiritual force.  The usual verdicts accounting for extraordinary developments of this nature here will not serve.   Too healthy for hysteria, too well balanced for insanity, too practical for visionary or self-deceiving egotist, too real and well attested in all her manifestations of power, for hypocrisy.

Soul Struggles.

Ann had been induced to marry contrary to her own feelings and conscience; her early convictions returned, increased by the repugnance due to her sensitively organized spiritual nature.  Qualms of conscience troubled her; strong desires possessed her for a life of purity, for a knowledge of truth, for an understanding of the right relation of the soul to God; the sense of sin and the need of personal salvation oppressed her.  These feelings intensified as time wore on.  She must know the truth - how man came into his lost, helpless condition, the hidden cause of his sin and shame.  Like no other woman did she travail in soul and cry to God.  Burdened, not only for her own soul, but for that husband from whose physical embraces she shrank with sensitive repugnance, burdened for parents, friends, for all mankind, her prayers were unceasing for release from sin, for purity of heart.  In 1758, when twenty-two years old, she had united with the society of the Wardleys and, in accordance with their custom, had confessed her sins before her leaders, but her mental struggles continued.  Her own simple language, as repeated from time to time to her followers, best tells the tale: “Soon after I set out to travel in the way of God, I labored anights in the work of God.  Sometimes I labored all night, continually crying to God for my own redemption; sometimes I went to bed and slept; but in the morning I could not feel that sense of the work of God which I had before I slept.  This brought me into great tribulation.  Then I cried to God and promised Him that if He would give me the same sense that I had before I slept, I would labor all night.  This I did many nights; and in the day time I put my hands to work and my heart to God; and when I felt weary and in need of rest, I labored for the power of God and the refreshing operations of the power of God would release me, so that I would feel able to go to my work again.  Many times when I was about my work I felt my soul overwhelmed with sorrow; and I used to work as long as I could keep it concealed and then run to get out of sight, lest anyone should pity me with that pity which God did not.

“In my travail and tribulation my sufferings were so great that my flesh consumed upon my bones, bloody sweat pressed through the pores of my skin and I became as helpless as an infant.  And when I was brought through and born into the spiritual kingdom, I was like an infant just brought into the world.  They see colors and objects but they know not what they see; and so it was with me when I was brought into the spiritual world.  But before I was twenty-four hours old I saw and I knew what I saw.”

One who knew her well in these early years has testified that in these periods of mental suffering she wasted away like one in consumption and became so weak and emaciated that her friends had to feed and care for her as though she were an infant.  At times her skin was covered with a bloody perspiration and her groans and cries were such as to bring dismay to all who heard her.   For nine years this mental suffering and attendant physical anguish continued, with intervals when her strength would return and her heart be cheered by visions and revelations of divine light and glory.

There is something here worthy of consideration.  Ann could not read and the sermons, the whole body of divinity, as well as the philosophy, religious and infidel, of her time, were of no use to her; she knew not even their names.  Church and clergy helped her not.  She turned from them, for they lacked the knowledge and power of salvation.  The conditions of her problem were few and simple.  She, an unlettered woman, burdened with her sins, was one of a lost race; God, the Creator, was on high and to Him she went.  There was no doubt, apparently, of His being, nor of His power to grant her requests.  She had no psychologic mists to befog her; there is no record of any skepticism, none of the vagueness of mental perspective that prompted the infidel's famous prayer: “O God, if there be a God, save my soul if I have a soul!”  There were four elements intensely real to her — a double duality.  There were Ann Lee and sin; she was sure of them.  There were God and salvation; she believed in both as surely as she knew their human correlatives, and she went to work.

To one who would give herself, with such persistence and endurance, to the search for divine light, small wonder that the heavens opened and that she saw, as in a mirror, the facts about which man's fancies and interpretations had drifted like concealing clouds for centuries.

Not in one revelation, but many, in repeated openings of the unseen world, Ann, prepared by abstinence from personal indulgence of any kind, by her mighty faith, her directness of aim and her tense soul absorption, was met as such a nature must be met.  She testified, in the most solemn, though humble way, over and over, both in England and America, that Jesus Christ revealed himself to her, showed her things not yet apprehended among men and anointed her, Ann Lee, blacksmith's daughter and blacksmith's wife, with the Spirit of Christ.

Among these revelations were two striking at the root of the constitution of things in church and state.  One was the duality of Deity, God both Father and Mother; one in essence — one God, not two; but God who possesses the two natures, the masculine, the feminine, each distinct in function yet one in being, Co-equals in Deity.  The second was that the secret of man's sin, the hidden cause of man's fall from uprightness, his loss of purity, lay in the premature and self-indulgent use of sexual union.  With the story of the Garden of Eden in her mind, not as an eastern tale, but as a divinely revealed, historic fact, Ann Lee saw in vision the act of the first pair performed, not as a natural function, under divine control in a proper time and sequence, for the divinely directed purpose of propagation, but as an act of self-indulgence and therefore of sin.  This symbolic vision portrays the truth that underlies humanity's actual history.  The natural function, which was intended in each individual to subserve its purpose and then to be left behind as higher spiritual development was attained, became, in fact, for all humanity, a constant curse, the source of crimes of all degrees of hideousness, of wars and sufferings untold.   Woman, under its sway, became in all lands and among all races, the abject slave, burdened not only with the weight of her lord's cruelties and passions, but with her own vile passions as well.

The view of the cause of man's defilement brought also in clear light the command to abstain from such indulgence.   Jesus, the Revealer, was in his human life pure and undefiled; such were his early followers.  Such must all become, said Ann Lee, after this revelation and anointing, who would be true followers of Jesus Christ.

As these revelations were accorded her, she told them to the society where she obeyed, as head and elders, the two guides of her youth.  The latest and most complete unfoldings were experienced in 1770, when she was in jail at Manchester, where religious persecution had placed her.  On her release from prison she related in full the experiences she had undergone and her story was accompanied by such displays of the Divine presence and approval, with so much of light and glory in her soul and person and with such keen, searching power in discovering hidden sins and works of darkness, that every one was filled with fear and trembling.   In the language of her followers: “They saw at once that the candle of the Lord was in her hand and that she was able by the light thereof to search every heart and try every soul among them.  From that time she was received and acknowledged as the first visible leader of the church of God upon earth.”

Ann, by her obedience to the voice of God in her soul, through faith and suffering had become fitted, as a pure temple, to receive the spirit of Christ.  The Christ Spirit, emanation from, manifestation of the invisible God, Father-Mother, had descended upon the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who in a similar way had prepared himself, a temple fit to receive the indwelling Spirit.   This anointing by the Eternal Spirit of Christ occurred at the baptism by John and Jesus became, henceforth, Jesus the Anointed.  He became the second Adam.  It was necessary that the Christ Spirit should come again and in a woman complete the spiritual, as Eve had completed the natural, human creation, the image of the Divine.   This baptism, received not at the hands of man but from the person of the risen and divine Jesus, gave to Ann Lee the authority as well as the spirit of the Maternal Presence-the Mother in Deity.  Henceforth, Ann Lee was recognized among the humble band of  “poor in spirit,” “pure in heart,” who in England's hidden by-ways were waiting for “the consolation of Israel,” as the living, visible Head, the one in whom dwelt the Divine Mother.

There is something sublime in the simplicity and directness of this unlettered woman, for whom the usual joys of womanhood had faded and fallen like autumn leaves from off the swelling buds of a new year.   When she united with the society of the Wardleys, she determined to know God for herself and she strove until she found Him.  Not turning away from her humble duties in any quest of a mission, but in her solitude, in the midst of toil, striving as did Jacob of old through midnight hours with the angel of mystery, gaining from the conflict recognition, truth and a name and nature filled with the Divine.  From the depths of woman's secret life, bearing the untold wrongs, the unwhispered shames of all womankind, of her to whom it was said and by whom it has been bitterly fulfilled, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee,” out of the dregs of society, knowing the pangs of ignorance, the toils and burdens, the pinching poverty of the downtrodden poor,— she conquered all by her mighty reliance on God, her soul uplift for herself and all womankind.

Why was Ann Lee so unlike all the other poor women of Manchester, her neighbors in Toad Lane?  Because she was called of God and obeyed the call, and thus became the Chosen, the Daughter of God, of whom it may be said, “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.”

Ministration — Persecution.

The life of a religious enthusiast is not easy at any time or place.  The experiences of one whose ideas are so radically at variance with the established ways of mankind as were those of Ann Lee will be sure to meet with hostility, varying from the smile and shrug of contempt and indifference to more pointed expressions of disfavor and disgust, demonstrations growing in point and force as the habit of expression among a people is simple and unrepressed.

In 1770, among the English townsfolk of Manchester, brutally frank and outspoken, the fact of a woman presuming to preach and teach, and to preach and teach against the natural life, against the good old Bible command to “Multiply and replenish the earth,” was cause enough for decisive action.  No matter if the earth were already replenished to repletion, till annual starvation threatened themselves and their children with death, that command they would adhere to, no matter what others were broken!  Ann Lee herself was as direct in her earnest zeal as her outraged neighbors and talked plainly and pointedly, to all who would listen, of the sins of the flesh and the lusts thereof.

Finally, goaded to distraction by her persistent rebukes and, perhaps, pierced by their own aroused consciences — they thought to silence her voice by prison walls, with what result we have seen.  Ann Lee came forth from Manchester jail an instrument more finely attuned, keyed to a truer pitch than ever before,— a mouth-piece for the Divine voice, a presence charged with the live currents of truth, with the power of God to convict and to slay, with the love of God, also, to pardon and to heal. “I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal.”

Then followed until her death in 1784, a constant series of ministrations of this power and love to those with whom she came in contact, and also a succession of the most unrelenting persecutions history has recorded of anyone.  Among her persecutors were some of her own family.  A brother became so enraged as she sat singing, that be seized a stick the size of a broom handle, and beat her over the head and face, until the end of the stick was splintered.   Then he called for a drink and began again with the other end.  She records that she distinctly saw and felt bright rays from God pass continually between her face and the stick, so that she did not feel the blows, and she felt her own breath as healing balsam.

At one time, a mob seized and dragged her, kicking and beating her, for two miles when they were met by a nobleman from some distance away, who stopped their proceedings.  He told her that he had felt a sudden, strong impression to go in a certain direction.  So strong was the feeling, that having ordered his horse saddled, he sent a second messenger after the first and mounting, rode as rapidly as he could till he met the concourse of roughs and rescued the solitary victim.

At times she seemed protected by an invisible power.  Once they tried to tie her with ropes but could not secure the knots; at another time they took her with several of her associates into a valley, prepared to stone them to death, but though the missiles were many and large not one would hit.  Ann said: “I felt myself surrounded by the presence of God and my soul was filled with love.  I knew they could not kill me for my work was not done.”   While being led down into the valley of stoning she sang this song:

“Touch not mine anointed nor do my chosen harm;
I the Lord Jehovah will shield them with My arm.
I am a God of mercy, of justice and truth;
My work of love and power shall yet spread o'er the earth;
I dwell not in a mansion that's far, far away;
Nor do I inhabit a tenement of clay:
Beyond the starry regions I do not fix my throne,
But in My church on earth I am in spirit known.”

During this time Ann Lee was proving the reality of her call by the work of redemption which went on through her ministrations.   The custom of the society of the Wardleys, arising from what they believed a spiritual command, both in the Bible and to their own understandings, to confess all their sins, one by one, before their leaders, was established in the greater light that came through Ann Lee.  Many, by her heart-searching talks, were aroused, convicted and came to her voluntarily confessing their sins.  By such was experienced a soul change, real and convincing to them as to thousands who since have followed in their steps.  The sins confessed were forgiven and removed from memory.  Power was obtained over faults and weaknesses, and men and women daily became victors over long established sinful habits and dispositions.  With the life of God flowing into the soul came gifts such as distinguished the primitive Christians of apostolic days; they saw visions, they healed diseases, they spoke in strange and unknown languages, when under the spell of a power like that felt at the Day of Pentecost.  Some could not speak in their own tongue for several days but spoke in prophecy in an unknown language.

But, wonderful as were these endowments, the surest proof, then as now, of indwelling divinity was in changed lives, in hearts made pure, lips made clean, speech made gentle and lives made true.  Ann Lee and her followers were everywhere spoken of as good, honest, upright and pure, and such has been the reputation of her followers to the present day.  Among her peculiar gifts, which gained for her the reputation of witch and sorceress, was the power to read the mental tablets and their record of the past.  Many a time did those who came into her presence quail before her clear unfolding of hidden deeds and thoughts.  Lips that made but half a sacrifice, while pretending to confess all, were met, like Ananias and Sapphira of old, with the statement of the whole truth and were paralyzed with fear.   It is a fact, well attested both in England and America, that while those who honestly confessed their sins and by a new life manifested their repentance and acceptance of the Gospel, as revealed through Ann Lee, became changed and grew into pure, noble characters; those, on the other hand, who rejected and opposed the light thus brought to bear on heart and conscience, soon lost even their former sense of religion, degenerated in character, became debased and hardened, and in many cases, died in misery and wretchedness.  An experience common to all now who truly confess their sins to her successors, as it was then common to all who thus went to her and those with her, is that sin seems exceeding sinful; a loathing and hatred is felt for what before seemed but foibles and weakness, accompanied by power to overcome, to put them aside, to leave them behind and to arise in purity and sinlessness.  This power, in its fulness, has been unknown elsewhere since the days of the apostles.  These are living proofs of the reality of the claim that this work is that of Christ.  They are the continual seals of her ministry and testimony.

Speaking in Other Tongues.

An ancient Talmudic tale recounts that the giving of the Mosaic Law on Sinai was in a language which to the hearers became resolved into the seventy languages believed then to be spoken on the earth.  The story is significant of the test to which Ann Lee was subjected.  At one time, to secure her conviction and suppression, she was accused of blasphemy, and that the question might be settled, she was brought before four clergymen of the Church of England, all noted as linguistic scholars.  The penalty, if convicted, was to have her tongue bored through with a red-hot iron and to be branded in the cheek.  The mysterious Presence, which in a former age had said to the disciples of Jesus: “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it,” did not desert this woman of whom it has been said that she could neither read nor write.  The power of God fell upon her, the gift of tongues was imparted and she discoursed to these clergymen, speaking, as they testified, in seventy-two different languages, speaking many of them, as they declared, better than they had ever heard them spoken before.  They advised her persecutors to let her alone.

Not only were her naturally rare powers of intellect stimulated to action, her bodily powers also, unusually vigorous as they were, at times received increase and sustenance as well as protection from the unseen side of life.  She was once imprisoned at Manchester, without legal process, by secret connivance of the jailer with her enemies, for the express purpose of starving her to death.  For fourteen days she was kept without food, nor was her cell door once opened during that time.  The cell was so small that she could neither stand nor sit nor even straighten herself.  James Whittaker, then a young man, felt so strongly for her, that he succeeded in conveying to her nightly a small quantity of wine and milk by means of a pipe stem inserted in the keyhole of the door.  This was all the nutriment she received.  At the end of a fortnight her brutal captors opened the door, expecting to drag out her dead body.  To their utter amazement, she arose and walked off, looking nearly as well as ever.  One who afterward became a Shaker Elder was present, and said, years later, that everybody was astonished and acknowledged that she must be under the protection of some supernatural power and that it was wrong to try to injure or oppress her.

In the year 1838, an English woman visiting at Alfred, Maine, remarked that she was from Manchester.  Two Shaker sisters said, “Why, that is where our Mother came from,” and proceeded to give some account of Ann Lee.  The woman was greatly affected, and said with emotion: “That is the very woman I have heard my mother talk about and cry as if her heart would break; she would give anything to know what had become of that woman.”   Her mother had been present when Ann Lee had been let out of the stone prison.   A very great multitude had assembled to see her and were much affected by her appearance.  The sisters told their visitor to tell her mother, when she returned to England, that Ann Lee had come to America and that she herself had seen some of her children.  The woman replied with emphasis that she should not wait for that, but should write to her mother at once about it.  She also said that there had been a prophecy extant that the same work begun by Ann Lee would be there again, but that it would come from afar.

At last, to such desperate straits had her opponents come in their struggle with this one poor woman, that a man was sent off to interview the King and obtain authority to crush and silence Ann Lee.  The man died suddenly on the way, in such a manner that his death was looked upon as a judgment of God.  Others of her tormentors met a similar fate and at last her opponents took counsel of events and let this strange woman alone.  For two years she and her followers were free to preach and practise their religion as they would.  No one presumed to persecute or interfere.

End of Excerpts   —  File 3 of 4
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