Thomas Shepard’s God’s Plot and the Topoi of Interiority

In Reading Autobiography, Sidonie and Smith say, “The spiritual autobiographer often retreats from a hostile external world and creates a verbal landscape as the site for expressing devotion to an otherworldly being or idea” (48). This spatial context is helpful for understanding the “interior landscape” in Shepard’s autobiography.

Shepard comes off as an authentic and likable narrating “I” because of the many moments in which he allows his audience to see his inner struggle with his faith as well as his gratitude and spiritual perspective even in tough times. He does not come off preachy and condemning, though he is pretty hard on himself. While reading this autobiography, I was expecting to read nothing but rigid and stoic Puritanical beliefs but was struck by the contemporary feel and ability to relate to this old ass Puritan minister (I mean that in the most respectful way). Shepard may have written his autobiography when he was more mature and comfortable in his beliefs but his recollection of times when he was not as concerned with God and prayer and his struggle with believing really give an idea of his interiority and make him feel real and his transformation all the more powerful. He talks about his time at Cambridge and how he was neglectful of God and more concerned with showing off and being prideful and tempted by lust, gambling, drinking… Pretty much, he got in with the wrong crowd “And yet the Lord left me not” (The Autobiography 43). He started hanging out with people who finally put some sense in him by teaching him about the “wrath of God and the terror of it and how intolerable it was…” (43). He began to pray again, but soon fell into his old patterns. I found especially memorable his description of being “dead drunk” on a Saturday night, waking up in some unknown place, lost and confused. Was this seriously written by a Puritan over 500 years ago? Awesome. This event, however, left an impression on him and helped mend his sinful ways and he ended up becoming a renowned minister and college kids still read about him today.

Tom may have had a rough life, made some mistakes growing up, questioned his faith on many a occasion, he ultimately ended up finding God in a way that he truly believed in and was passionate about. Each page overflows with his praise of God’s mercy and reverence of his power signifying values that he holds dear. Regardless of people’s religions and beliefs, the life is short take home message comes from his beloved wife, “We should love exceedingly together because we should not live long together” (73). I guess some things don’t ever become obsolete.

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