I love to read novels about the Amish and Mennonites. I think it brings a sense of peace to me to share in the simple way of life that these two communities of people live. I had not read anything about the Shakers, however, until I read “The Gifted” by Ann H. Gabhart. My husband and I had visited Pleasant Hill, Kentucky for a week one night. Yes, that’s what I said and I meant it. The sidewalks rolled up at 6:00 pm. It wasn’t the most exciting trip we’d ever taken. I couldn’t wait to leave the place. I guess that was when I was much younger. Now I would relish spending some time in a simple, peaceful place such as Jessamine did in Harmony Hill.
“The Gift” is the story of a Shaker community. The Shakers were a people who simply wanted a very peaceful way of life. However their founder, Sister Ann Lee, evidently thought that everything worldly was a sin. Men and women were entirely separated, never to touch or to have any sort of relationship. The eyes of those bidden to watch for evil were everywhere. Young girls and young men were especially watched so that there was no fraternization at all. You might wonder how they thought to grow their community if there were no babies born. Orphaned children were often brought to the Shakers to raise and whole families often joined and in that way their communities grew, at least for a time. Their existence was only to labor for God and Sister Ann. Any transgressions of speech or actions were expected to be confessed to another Shaker. Sister Jessamine had been brought to the Shaker community upon the death of her great-grandmother. Her mother was dead; her father had left and not returned for her. Sister Jesssamine enjoyed God’s beautiful things on earth, which was frowned upon. One day, she and another Sister were out gathering berries when they happened upon a young man who had been shot and thrown from his horse. Against the Shaker way, instead of going for help, they brought the young man, Tristan Cooper, to their village to be tended to. Sister Jessamine was quite taken by this fair young man and could not help wondering what was so wrong about a love between a man and woman, which was forbidden by the community of Believers. This is the story of Jessamine, her desire to experience the world and her guilt in sinning against the Shaker rules by doing so.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I saw that it is possible that people who have been disillusioned or hurt by circumstances in their lives might want to live a peaceful existence such as the Shakers. Being the type of person that I am, I would never have been able to exist in such a rigid atmosphere. One was constantly being criticized and watched for signs that they were not fully attentive to the Shaker rules of Sister Ann and the Ministry. However, someone who is so desiring of a peaceful life might see the merit in living as a Shaker. You really need to read this book. It gives so much to think about even in the times in which we live today. I found myself trying to determine how I could make my life more peaceful and simple. ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.
By 1849, Jessamine Brady has been in the Shaker Village for half her life, but in spite of how she loves her sisters there, she struggles to conform to the strict rules. Instead she entertains dreams of the world outside. When Tristan Cooper seems to step out of those dreams to entice her into the forbidden realm beyond the Shaker Village, her life turns upside down. Will Jessamine be able to survive the storms of the world? Or will she retreat back to the peace of Harmony Hill?
The thousands of loyal fans of Gabhart's Shaker novels will love this entrancing story of learning to trust the gifts God gives us and let him guide us through life.