Monday, 7 May 2012

The rod of repentance...

I am back with Sam for a bit more.  Samuel Austin Cravath that is - my great great grand-uncle.

I talked to my Dad on the phone this evening.  I am hoping to spend time with him over our upcoming holiday in Mussoorie (only 8 days away now) walking down his (and Mum's) paths of memory.  But this time I want a voice recorder to be on so that we can capture their pasts a bit more.

Dad wasn't too keen.  And here is the reason.

As Dad was talking with me on the phone, sitting at his desk in Shanti Kunj, he was holding a tome in his hand.  It was a celebration of one of his early colleagues - who then went on to start other work.  Dad said 'its full of colour photos and congratulatory letters from bishops and the like.'  He told me that he had put the idea of penning down his experiences on hold after getting this volume.

The last thing we need is another hagiography.  There are enough books that pain people as being perfect.  But how many memoirs are there that show the gritty stuff?  With Dad I don't think we need to worry about a puff-job.  In fact, I think the challenge would be where to exercise the editor's knife and keep things tidy rather than trotting out a catalogue of errors and minor skeletons he has collected over the years.  I won't say even hidden in closets as I have heard them outed from time to time in the past.

My pitch to Dad was partly based on reading SA Cravath's life.  I have no idea about the man - but now have those 69 pages that give me a picture into the 1840s - through the civil war era - and into the end of the 19th century.  Its like I have gone to another country.  Which I have.  And another time.  Ditto.

That's what I want for Mum and Dad's story.  Something that can be chewed upon.  I do not particularly like everything I read in SA Cravath's notes on his life - but they are challenging thoughts - and worth pondering and measuring my experiences against.  

Do stay tuned for more.

But lets get back to what for me is one of the most challenging parts of the Samuel A. Cravath's life - namely his early spiritual formation.

Samuel's father died while little Samuel was just a few months old.  His mother remarried and his step-father is a man called Galcott Kinney.  The family moved to the then frontier town of Oberlin where his step-father, who he refers to as 'Father Kinney' took a plot of 30 acres of forest. As written about earlier, the family worked hard to convert this forest into a farmstead.

Here is what Samuel writes about his religious experience as a boy:

"Broad is the road the leads to death, 
And thousands walk together there,
But wisdom shows a narrow path,
With here and there a traveler."

I do not say that this fairly represents Oberlin's teaching at that period, Indeed I learned in later years that it had a more kindly side and more consistent doctrine, but such views seethed about the colony in the ignorant outskirts, and were such as to affect the imagination of childhood and weave themselves into the web of my daily life.

Father Kinney was naturally, I think, kind, generous and indulgent, tho' passionate - a man of not much education, yet he must have had some ability as an exhorter, for he was in demand all through his life as a leader in neighborhood meetings and as an agent of the S.S. Union [probably Sunday School Union] in later years of his life.  

He was feared rather than loved by his children, especially when he came home from attending revival meetings - and revival meetings were of very frequent occurrence in those days.  He seemed to come home with an awful sense of his responsibility for the salvation of his family.  His prayers were loud, long, terrifying on those occasions and he sometimes interspersed his prayers with a vigorous application of the rod.  Unfortunately for the children, this kind of conversion had to be done over repeatedly, since every dereliction of duty, failure in obedience, or disposition to play when set at work, was regarded as evidence that the work of conversion had been incomplete.  (p. 18-19)

later Samuel talks about his mother:

Mother never punished us.  She was much of the time an invalid.  We were sometimes called into her room, when she would talk to us in a kindly way and urge us to be good boys and faithful Christians. I was past eleven years of age when she died.  

My recollection of her is distinct - how she looked, how she talked and especially how she sang.  She was a sweet singer and had a fine musical education for those days.  She was quiet, even tempered and anxious for the spiritual as well as the temporal welfare of her children.  

As I look back upon those years, I know it must have wrung her heart to have the rod used upon her children, for she was never present when punishment was being inflicted.  Yet I think she was under too great a sense of responsibility to interfere for it was the teaching of the times that the eternal salvation of the souls of the young might sometimes be secured by the application of the rod.

Mother's death occurred about eleven years after that of my father, and as I have previously stated, the Oberlin home was then abandoned.

How horrible to have the love of God twisted into a stick that was used to try and beat repentance into a person.  Samuel certainly seems to have retreated into a cool shell when it comes to discussing his faith - and his early experience of his step-father using a stick to try and beat Christianity into him resonates throughout the later years of his life.

How different my own story.  On Friday I was talking to a friend about the challenges of raising kids.  He has a 1.5 year old who is busy testing the limits of parental patience - and I walked back in memory to how Mum and Dad disciplined me.  There was first the clear statements of what we could and could not do.  Then the statement about what the level of punishment may be... and then if we broke the rules - there was a punishment.

I remember my father and mother spanking me.  The going into the room alone with them - and having 'the talk' was usually more painful that the sharp sting on the bottom.  Painful because they were so loving and reasonable when they talked to me.  I don't remember ever disagreeing with their points of why the were punishing me and remember clearly the pain that they felt.

Once - and only once - do I remember my father punishing me in anger.  And that too, I do not remember the actual punishment.  It occurred when we were living at Gulmohor Gardens in Versova.  I must have been 4 or maybe just past my 5th birthday.  What I remember is Dad bringing me back into the room for a talk.  And his asking my forgiveness for having punished me in anger.  The details are fuzzy - but the words struck home.  My respect for the love that Dad and Mum gave to me those many years ago continues to resonate.

As I think about our experience in helping Asha and Enoch understand the value of self-control, I know that I have made my share of mistakes.  Too often I want robot-like obedience - and too often I am treating them as we used to do 2 or 3 years earlier.  The kids are growing and Asha is pushing into adolescence ... so I have much to learn about the joys of shaping a new set of lives.

One of the joys that parenting has been for me is having Sheba's wise and helpful inputs - and us balancing each other out at different times.  In this remarkable opportunity to help shape the inner and outer parts of two amazing lives, Sheba and I are humbled by the trust God has placed in us.

And so we say good-bye to Samuel A. Cravath for some time at least.  I would like to now dip into the life story of my Great Grandfather - E. Austin Cravath to explore his life and times.  And see our lives look like when laid side-by-side with his.

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