I’ve just re-read a book I first read in 1995, a book by a friend of mine, Ray Sherman Anderson (1925-2009). Ray began his adult life as a South Dakota farmer, became a pastor and then a professor at Fuller Seminary. When his first granddaughter was born, he wrote a poem which said in part that his hands could still feel the soil of the South Dakota farm. (I don’t recall the exact words.) That meant something to him. Not only did he recognize that his own fundamental values had been shaped by life on the land, he also was keenly aware that even city folk need to have ways of affirming that we are all children of the earth.
The book, “Unspoken Wisdom,” is subtitled “Truths my father taught me” (Augsberg, 1995). Ray’s father was a man of few words, yet Ray says he “taught me everything I really needed to know about life.” Some of the lessons, each of which forms a chapter in the book, were taught with almost no words at all
Ray learned to plow a straight line with horses before he had ever been on a tractor. He learned by having his father entrust the rein’s into young Ray’s hands. And in the process, he learned what it meant to be trusted by his father. Ray learned to shoulder life’s obligations by having his father hand him the shotgun when Ray’s horse needed to be put down. He learned that growing up meant gradually living up to increasing responsibilities, not having a dad who came to every ball game. Growing up meant being inducted — at the right time and in the right ways — to the adult world, not having parents centered on a child’s world.
Ray’s children — three daughters — were not raised by a farmer but by a pastor and professor. His father’s way of teaching life’s lessons was difficult to translate into city life. And Ray was the first to admit he sometimes struggled to know how to be a parent in his father’s image. Yet his daughters grew into women with a strong sense of who they were and with the security that comes from knowing they have been loved from the beginning.
One of the most insightful chapters in the book, in fact, is about the time Ray’s father said to him, “Remember who you are, Ray, and you will be all right.” The words were accompanied by the only tear Ray ever say in his father’s eye. It was the day when Ray boarded the train to begin his military training and take his part in World War II. His father knew that beginning an extremely dangerous phase of his life, all Ray needed was to remember who he was.
What was a father to say? “Be sure to dodge all the bullets, Ray.” “Don’t let you plane fall out of the sky, Ray.” No, all that Ray could control was this simple task: Remembering who he was.
I had the privilege of knowing a bit of who Ray was and I remain very glad for his influence in my life. He lived his life as a faithful child and man of God. And that made him a gift to all who knew him.
I very much like the book, in part because I cherish the memory of Ray Sherman Anderson, but the book is valuable — especially for parents — even for those who did not know Ray in person.