Seeking God in a Harried Life

Divinity student finds spiritual calm in Shaker beliefs


By Suzanne Skees


270 pp., $22.95

Along with a growing number of Americans, Harvard Divinity School graduate Suzanne Skees is on a spiritual quest.

"I was living the American dream. Striving to build a career, family, and home. Along the way, however, hope had been lost to frenzy, and my spirit had dried up like mist burned off a lake by harsh ... sun. I longed to reach out to something beyond my arbitrary world, yet I no longer knew if I believed," she writes in "God Among the Shakers: A Search for Stillness and Faith at Sabbathday Lake."

In this book we accompany Skees on a visit to a modern Shaker community. Although there were once thousands of Shakers in America, now there are only eight at Sabbathday Lake in Maine.

Skees says she "went to the Shakers to look for God, who lately had been absent from my harried ... days" but also with fear of losing "my soul to the eccentric group of believers who awaited me there." Once at Sabbathday Lake, however, she "found people who struggle daily to cultivate the best in themselves, to love one another, and to honor their God."

Among the Shakers, Skees discovers the idea of a Mother-Father God that came to America with them, 250 years ago. This concept makes God more accessible to her. Skees also finds in Maine the continuing story of Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers who believed herself to be the second coming of Christ.

Perhaps this visit to the Shakers, with their celibacy, Friday night television, scheduled prayer, and occasional trips to the local pizza parlor, counts for a lot in our harried, modern life. But at least a few readers may miss the more sustained engagement with existential issues. Another, more famous individual who withdrew from the world for awhile was Henry David Thoreau who wrote: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life."

Either way, the quest for renewal is evident in these pages.

* David K. Nartonis does historical research for the Christian Science Church in Boston. Bryan Thompson is a freelance screenwriter in Los Angeles.

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