By turning, turning, we come 'round right

I continue to reflect on the theme "turning" for the Monthly Reflections Rug. The Shaker song Simple Gifts written by Elder Joseph in Alfred, Maine 1848, is a melody and verse I have been pondering. It is a hymn that was danced to during worship, and so it contains instructions for the dance within it:

'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 out right.

The song is beautiful in its metaphor - the dance instructions are life instructions - to flex, to love, to bow and bend, to delight in our place, to be just right.
The lyrics and dance take me back to Ecclesiastes which I mentioned in my last post on the Monthly Reflections Rug. This is a very unconventional book of wisdom from ancient Israel. Instead of promoting the more traditional perspective that doing good means that good will happen to us and doing bad results in bad things happening to us, the Preacher disagrees. He had observed that all of us, whether good or bad, are born to live in a world where there is evil under the sun along with good, and our toiling does not necessarily result in good things happening to us. In the end, we are all going to die. He says, "Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was in vain and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."

This unconventional perspective has always fascinated me, although it is a perspective I disagree with. The Preacher is right that our actions cannot control whether or not good things or bad things happen to us. But he is wrong that our actions are inconsequential, that they are in vain. All that we do is not vanity. In fact, everything we do has far-reaching consequences that we may never be made aware of. Although I cannot control what will happen to me in the future, whether good or bad, it matters whether I choose to act with integrity and honesty and goodness or the opposite. What the Preacher missed in his self-absorption is that we are all interconnected. What each of us does or doesn't do can make a big difference to the lives of those around us. Our toil matters, and it matters that it is directed in a responsible and uplifting manner.

Yes, we are all subject to good and evil alike, there is no way to avoid suffering and sadness and death, but it matters greatly that we toil and turn 'round and 'round in a fashion that will sustain and encourage each other. And there is no better place to do it than where we are standing right now, as Elder Joseph sang, turning in the place "where we ought to be." And on this point I am brought back around to embrace the perspective of the Preacher who admonishes us, "Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart...Enjoy life with your spouse whom you love...Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."