Ichabod blew out a cloud of smoke, now analyzing the ceiling. “Pastor, I ain’t no child. You don’t have to speak in riddles anymore. Of course, it’s the farmer that does those things, and speakin’ of farmers I best be headin’ home now.”
Ichabod made to walk out the door but Pastor John said, “Not just yet, boy. Sit back down.” Ichabod sat. He hadn’t really intended to walk out, he just wanted to make sure that Pastor John knew he was a bit impatient with these little word games.
Pastor John leaned back in his chair and crossed one long skinny leg over the other. “We’re not so different, you and me. I grew up on a farm myself…worked long days with my older brother and my Pa.”
Another smile formed on his lips as he recalled days long gone. Then he ran his fingers through his pepper grey hair and said, “I was only thirteen when my brother got drafted into the army… but more vivid is the memory of those military officers standing at the door a year later, my mother crying.” He sighed and jammed his hand back in his face. “When I got a little older I became fascinated with the Bible. My father loved the Lord and taught us boys to do the same from an early age. Though he knew it would cost him on the farm, he encouraged me. When I turned eighteen I went into the city to study in the seminary.”
Realization dawned on Ichabod and he started to chuckle. “Pastor, surely you’re not suggesting that I go to the seminary? I’m just a farmer, that’s all I’ll ever be. That’s all I want to be. Besides, I can’t even walk into a building in this small town without catchin’ a stare. Everyone thinks I’m a big pity case. I belong in the country, in the fields, not in towns.”
Pastor John sighed, and then started flipping through the pages in the big book on his desk. “Well, naturally it’s up to the Lord whether you’ll make that decision or not. But you know there’s more than one kind of farmer in the world. You remember the Apostle Paul? He considered himself a kind of farmer…talked about planting and watering. Of course, he probably never plowed a field in his life, but the Lord gave a pretty big harvest through his work.”
Ichabod thought it would be best if he just end the conversation right there. It was too ridiculous to even conceive of. He stood up.
“Well Pastor, I best be gettin’ on.”
Pastor John nodded. “Think about it Ichabod. Plenty of people have tragic stories in their lives. Sometimes tragedy helps you see things that others can’t. The best kind of farmer knows how to handle the worst of conditions. And ‘the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.’ Don’t disregard this conversation too quickly. The Lord often times works in mysterious ways.”
Ichabod nodded and said farewell, then he walked out the door as Pastor John re-lit his cigar.
Ichabod was only half-way home but the sun was already beginning to slip behind the horizon. Ichabod thought Pastor John was off his rocker. And what were aunty and uncle playin’ at? Obviously, if family history serves any indication, he wasn’t minister material. If anyone ever caught wind of it, no one would ever take him seriously. The sky was starting to turn golden, then orange.
As he continued this bitter rumination he started to feel quite anxious about being outside in the dark, quite a long trek from home. Already he saw a few stars popping out in the gradually darkening blue of the eastern sky. He quickened his pace and lit the pipe to calm his nerves, but it didn’t help. His hair stood on end when he thought about the thicket he would have to pass through before reaching the safety of home.
As his imagination threatened to turn anxiety into panic, he heard a noise which was so slight and yet so loud in that empty expanse of land that Ichabod started to run. The sound was that of a horse. Not the happy clip-clop of a trot, but the ba-dump-ba-dump of a full gallop. The sudden immanence of real danger made Ichabod paradoxically quite happy when he saw the dark forms of trees close around him, but in his panic, he failed to pay attention to the ground. His foot caught under a tree root, sending him careening off the path and down a hill. He tumbled and spun; tree branches and bramble hit him in the face and tore at his shirt…WHAM! His body came to an abrupt halt as it connected with a large oak tree at the bottom of the hill.
He was fortunate not to have hit his head, or certainly he would have been knocked unconscious. He could barely move. His body ached. His heart pounded so hard he felt it would leap out of his chest. He tilted his head sideways so he could look up the hill. Through a gap in the tree branches he could see a horse. But it was no normal horse. Being abnormally huge it was so white as to rival the moon. The rider was of the same brilliance. He held a bow and a wreath of leaves was on his head. So much so were their color and brightness the same that horse and rider appeared to form one shape.
Ichabod could see that the rider was watching him. He then heard a voice, but it was not so much a single voice as the sound of many voices. No words were distinguishable at first but they soon joined together, shouting in unison, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing!”
The rider continued to stare at Ichabod. He then spoke in a voice so triumphant Ichabod was surprised it wasn’t accompanied by a trumpet, “I am determined to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified. Ichabod, don’t be afraid. The glory hasn’t departed. Though he is in heaven, he is also with you, guiding you even unto death. Close your eyes.”
When Ichabod opened his eyes he was still in the woods, but there was no one about. His head hurt something awful, and there was some blood on his hand when he felt it. Figuring he must have been unconscious after all, he ripped some fabric off his shirt to bandage the wound. Then in a state of wondering disbelief he started back on the path.
Ichabod could see a light in the window as he approached the farm house. Aunt Hannah was sitting near the door with a ball of yarn and two needles when Ichabod slipped inside.
“Ichabod! Where have you been, my dear boy!” She emphasized the last two words as she embraced him, then gasped with horror and wet a rag when she spotted the bloody fragment on Ichabod’s forehead.
“I’m sorry, aunty. Somethin’ strange happened on my walk home…” He explained the encounter with the white horseman. “I think my mind was just playin’ tricks on me, aunty. I should probably be gettin’ to bed.”
Aunt Hannah didn’t protest. Having cleaned up the wound she put on a fresh bandage and sent Ichabod off to bed with a cup of tea. Ichabod was too tired to ask why he had been sent to Pastor John in the first place. He took a couple of sips and closed his eyes. He thought he heard a voice coming from the kitchen…”Lord, if it be thy will, teach this boy to use his gifts to serve thee…”
After two days of hard working on the farm it was Sunday again. Ichabod was pretty sure that Pastor John winked at him after ascending the steps to the pulpit. As the congregation stood and sang The Lord’s my Shepherd Ichabod did something he had never done before; he looked at the faces of all the smiling people. Some faces were sagging with wrinkles, some were small and glowing. “Don’t be afraid, Ichabod. The glory hasn’t departed,” the rider had said. Ichabod felt something warm roll down his cheek. They all sat back down and Pastor John began to pray.
“Our Father which art in heaven, may thy glory be made manifest in all the earth…”
Ichabod had never been so alert during prayer before.
“We have sinned before thee, we are truly of all creatures the most wretched. We live in a valley of tears and of death…”
The tears began to roll down in earnest. Ichabod felt them fall from his closed eyelids and softly caress his folded hands.
“Yet thou hast sent thy Son…Therefore, Father, look upon us in thy mercy. Pity us, as a father pities his children. For all things are Thine. We are Thine. May thy glory fill all the earth. Amen.”