‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple – Thanksgiving, 2014


I was  in the process of sending an on-line card to some friends for Thanksgiving Day when I ran across the song Simple Gifts. This lilting melody always charms me and creates a longing for simpler living, simpler relationships, and a simpler intimacy with God.  I know little about the song so I decided to do some research.  Simple Gifts is a Shaker song which gained wide popularity when the tune was incorporated by Aaron Copeland in his score for Martha Graham’s ballet Appalachian Spring first performed in 1944.  This use may have given rise to the mistaken belief that Simple Gifts was originally a Celtic song.

Actually the music and original lyrics were written by  Joseph Brackett (1797–1882) in shaker dance1848. Brackett, a lifelong resident of Maine, first joined the Shakers at Gorham, Maine when his father’s farm helped to form the nucleus of a new Shaker settlement.  Another mistaken belief is that it is a Shaker hymn.  It was actually written as a religious dance song for use in their worship. The words –“To turn, turn will be our delight” and “Till by turning, turning” — do not only reference a Christian theological concept, but they were also dance instructions!

Here are Joseph Brackett’s original words

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

This year, I am especially moved by the words “Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.”  As I get older I realize more and more “where I ought to be.”  What a gift God can give us if we listen and follow through the years! We can learn not only who we are as individuals but also who we are as collaborators with God in his plans for us.  And, as the song says, when we find ourselves in that “place just right” we also find ourselves in a “valley of love and delight.”   This is something foSimple Giftsr which to be truly thankful!

Throughout the years, alternate verses have been written to Brackett’s original tune. During this season of Thanksgiving, I find them thought-provoking and moving as well.  I can imagine every verse as part of a lovely blessing at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Additional or alternative verses:

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say,

‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.[

Another set of alternative verses:

The Earth is our mother and the fullness thereof,
Her streets, her slums, as well as stars above.
Salvation is here where we laugh, where we cry,
Where we seek and love, where we live and die.

By fear and by hate we will no more be bound.
In love and in light we will find our new birth
And in peace and freedom, redeem the Earth.

Yet another alternative verse:

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be fair,
‘Tis a gift to wake and breathe the morning air.
And each day we walk on the path that we choose,
‘Tis a gift we pray we never shall lose.

No matter what country or continent you live in, I wish you the simple gift of being thankful in whatever circumstance you find yourself!

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2 Responses to ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple – Thanksgiving, 2014

  1. Kathleen Coveny says:

    Thank you, Karen. I appreciate the research you did finding the history and extra verses of this song. It is one I need to sing and sing again.

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