Thinking of Eben Rice While Listening to Tord Gustavsen’s “Draw Near”

by Joyce H. Munro

During those years at the Institute he confessed everything to his diary—how he skipped class, protested rules. And things too painful to speak aloud. Like stealing kisses from his fiancée as he drove her home, almost running off the road. Like losing hope of a speedy marriage after he is called to the ministry. How much he wants love, a wife, a life. A long life despite his bullying heart. He knows. He’s always known. That telltale shuddering that leaves him cold, so cold…

Twenty one and new to his calling. Unfamiliar with the demands of divine obedience. Lugging commentaries around in a carpetbag. Delaying his first student sermon until he can deliver it by memory, with feeling. That time a fellow Theologue invaded his room to steal his Greek translation. Having to borrow money from a classmate to buy some necessity or other. Declamations at the Oratorical Society, so proud of his passion and energy.

Hunched low over his essay at midnight as the lamp sputters and dies out. Tick of the death watch for the only child of his classmate. Snipping off a lock of her hair, silken memento of her delicacy. Tick of the night watch after the Institute is deliberately set afire. Oh that his soul would catch fire.

Trudging through foot-deep snow, through foot-deep mud, through dusty fields to get to class, to deliver tracts, to preach. Reciting his poems—“Sorrow’s Retrospect,” “A Prophetic Vision,” “The Death of Hope”—to trees and fence posts and burdock along the way. And the way is far, always so far.  Boots wet through. Heart a-fury. Done in.

One moment holy zeal, the next cold indifference. Should he leave it all behind or stay faithful to his calling. Week after week he loves his fiancé less and less. Oh for a love that will not die. Please God. For a long and useful ministry. Contentment. A full night’s sleep. No more stabbing pains. A kind of presentiment that his days are numbered. If God would only…

Author’s note:

Ebenezer Muir Rice (1840-1871) began keeping a diary when he was a Theological Department student at the Canadian Literary Institute in Woodstock, Ontario. His diaries were recently donated to the Canadian Baptist Archives at McMaster Divinity College. 

Joyce H. Munro has returned to a first love-creative writing-after a career in college administration. She holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. Her articles on educational leadership and professional development have appeared in academic journals and her books have been published by McGraw-Hill, Dushkin, and ETS. Her creative writing can be found in Crosscurrents, Hamilton Arts & Letters, Boomerlit, As You Were: The Military Review, ArtAscent, and elsewhere.