I recently finished reading Penelope Wilcock’s book, Remember Me. It’s the sixth book in The Hawk and the Dove series. I started reading this series in February of 2021, after they were recommended to me by my friend Jason and purchased for me as a birthday gift from my parents. And I suppose it’s already pretty clear that if one is willing to read six books centered around the same theme and setting, then I’m probably a pretty big fan of these books. For the most part, these books are centered around a group of men living in a Benedictine monastery in 14th Century Yorkshire. However, Remember Me actually shifted the narrative to include a couple of key women. And some of the most meaningful action in the story took place outside of the monastery.
To be honest, Remember Me is probably my least favorite of all the books in the series, up to now. Some of that is connected to the drift away from the brothers of Saint Alcuin’s, noted above. (I noted similar issues with The Hardest Thing to Do and The Hour Before Dawn). But even more than the problem with the setting, I was bothered by the character development in this book.
Specifically, Remember Me is centered around a love story between William and Madeleine. And while William had a beautiful moment of prominence in the fifth book, he’s never been my favorite character. And Madeleine doesn’t come across as a sympathetic character, either. So, I just couldn’t emotionally invest myself in either character, as much as I wanted to. Consequently, the story of their relationship — and the way that it ultimately led to William’s decision to leave Saint Alcuin’s — fell flat. In fact, I almost found myself rooting against them, though I’m pretty sure that was not the author’s intent.
The best part of this book was its episodic reflection on the phrase, “Remember Me.” In addition to being the title of the book, it’s a key phrase in Jesus’ instructions to his followers at the Last Supper. Early in the book, Father John introduces this theme in one of his homilies as follows:
“Remember me,” he said, “is what Jesus asked of us. ‘Do this to remember me.’ We think about remembering as looking back on times past, a nostalgic recollection of something that has gone now. But remember is also the opposite of dismember. When something has been broken apart, dismembered, we look at the broken pieces and remember how it used to be, and put it back together, make it whole again.”
It’s a brilliant twist of phrase! I’d never previously considered this interpretation. But I think it’s entirely accurate. And powerful. Later in the book, John picks up the theme again, citing the story of Jesus crucifixion between two thieves:
“It’s what the good thief said that I’ve been turning over and over in my mind: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ The same words, d’you see? ‘Remember me.’ The cross as an instrument of torture pulls you apart. You hang on your arms. They dislocate unless you shift your weight to your nailed feet. The soul of a young man is not ready to leave his body. It takes something severe to tear the living soul out of a strong young man — he does not die easily. This really was a dismembering; the man was being torn apart — his soul ripped out of his body, his body dragged apart as his strength ebbed away. And he asked Jesus, ‘Remember me when you come into your kingdom.'”
Isn’t that incredible?!? And to think that I’ve never noticed that before! Nor have I heard any other preacher make note of this potential interpretation (even though I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my lifetime). Reading this volume of The Hawk and the Dove ultimately felt worthwhile because of this theme that emerged over the course of the story. After the reflections about the “good thief” crucified next to Jesus, John finished his message with this:
So the story hold out to us a hope that even if this life tears a man apart, dismembers him, the power and grace of Christ will re-member him, make him whole, heal him entirely on the other side of the grave.
I love this reminder. This remembrance, if you will. It’s powerful stuff. Even if the rest of the story surrounding it is somewhat tepid and forgettable, it’s good to remember the way that Jesus created a path for us to be re-membered.