"Gentle words kindly spoken"
A Memorial Tribute to Sister Marie Burgess
Photo by Ann Chwatsky from the book, The Four Seasons of Shaker Life:
An Intimate Portrait of the Community at Sabbathdauy Lake, by Gerard C. Wertkin
(Simon & Shuster, 1986).
I was saddened to hear about the passing of Sister Marie Burgess (1920-2001). She had been an member for many years at the Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
I didn't know Sister Marie as well as Sister Mildred. But I remember Sister Marie as always busy in the Shaker kitchen baking bread or doing some other needed task. She also assisted Sister Mildred at the Shaker Store at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
What I'll best remember about Sister Marie was her love of the Boston Red Sox. What a devoted fan she was! Because of her faith that the Red Sox would soon win the World Series, my wife and I bought her a Red Sox cap and gave it to her one summer. It happened to be 1986 -- the year the Sox lost the World Series to the New York Mets in one of the most humiliating defeats in baseball history.
But before that happened we gave Sister Marie a Red Sox baseball cap. I'll never forget how her eyes lit up with delight and she smiled brightly. She really appreciated our little gift.
Another occasion that comes to mind concerning Sister Marie concerns a Shaker song performed at Sabbathday Lake. It was August of 1976 and I put together a program for the Friends of the Shakers Annual Meeting, and titled it: "A Sampling of Western Shaker Spirituals." One of the songs that our singing group performed was "Gentle Words" by Sister Polly Rupe from Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.
The next morning in Shaker meeting, Sister Marie rose and carefully read the words to Gentle Words which are:
What the dew is to the flower,
Gentle words are to the soul;
And a blessing for the giver,
And so dear to the receiver
We should never withhold.
Gentle words kindly spoken,
Often soothe the troubled mind;
While links of love are broken,
By words that are unkind;
Then O thou gentle spirit,
My constant guardian be;
Do to others be my motto
As I'de have them do to me.
The last two lines are a paraphrase from the
Golden Rule in the Bible (Matthew 7:12).
So, I'd like to offer this song as a tribute to Sister Marie.
I'll always remember her face lightening up whenever we spoke about
those frustrating Boston Red Sox -- she never lived to see them
become World Series champions.
But above all, I remember her "gentle words kindly spoken."
As the last line of the song says:
"Do to others be my motto, as I'de have them do to me."
She lived those words.
Bless you, Sister Marie.
21 June 2001
Sister Marie Burgess is one of the singers featured on these Rounder CDs:
Early Shaker Spirituals
Let Zion Move: Music of the Shakers