I recently finished reading Penelope Wilcock’s book, The Hawk and the Dove. My friend Jason recommended the book to me. He had heard about it in a workshop about Spiritual Direction. But he started falling in love with the story, as he got into it for himself. And he thought it might be an interesting pleasure read for me, too.
Jason knows me pretty well, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he was right. It was highly enjoyable reading for me. But it was also highly (surprisingly) instructive for my soul.
The author is an English woman from a Methodist background. Somehow, though, she writes surprisingly well about a group of men, living in a Benedictine monastery in 14th century Yorkshire.
The title of the book refers to one of the characters: Father Peregrine. He was installed as the abbot (leader) of the abbey at a relatively young age. By his own natural personality and proclivities he came to be respected by the other monks, but not loved. Early in the book, however, a dramatic act of violence and suffering changes the course of the narrative.
Father Peregrine ultimately becomes an example to his community of how to live a life of faith, through brokenness. The other monks have their own flaws and foibles. Still, they learn to follow the example of their abbot and live together as a community in Christ. The characters are beautifully-rendered, each an example of a particular aspect of humanity. Consequently, their struggles are surprisingly relatable for us. Amazing, really, considering the fact that the stories supposedly took place almost 700 years ago. I found myself legitimately moved to tears by the ways that the monks of St. Alcuin’s Abbey learned to confront their sins, confess their sins to each other, and beg forgiveness from one another and from God.
I’ve already started sharing some of the stories from this book as illustrations of spiritual principles. I’ve started recommending this book to others. Jason and I have even joked about leaving the ministry of H2O Church at Kent State University and joining a Benedictine Monastery (or at least going back to Benedictusberg for a retreat someday. I was legitimately excited to learn that there are eight more books in the series. I hope to read them all.
At this point, however, I’ve only read one of the books. And if you couldn’t already tell, I highly recommend it. Each chapter functions like a self-contained story, so it’s easy reading, but the whole book also works together masterfully. They were most recently published 30 years ago, so you might need to buy a used copy or use your library’s holding / network-lending system to start reading. But trust me (and Jason): it’s worth the hassle.