The Breath of Peace

I recently finished reading Penelope Wilcock’s book, The Breath of Peace. It’s the seventh book in The Hawk and the Dove series. I started reading this series in February of 2021, after my friend Jason recommended them to me and then my parents purchased the series for me as a birthday gift. Mostly, these books are centered around a group of men living in a Benedictine monastery in 14th Century Yorkshire. So, I thought it would be an interesting book to read while visiting the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in 21st Century New Mexico. But like Book Six in the series (Remember Me), a significant part of the action in The Breath of Peace happens outside of the monastery. This was ironic for my monastery visit, of course, but otherwise not a hindrance to my enjoyment of the book.

"The Breath of Peace" by Penelope Wilcock

The first third of the book, in fact, takes place at Caldbeck Cottage, not Saint Alcuin’s Abbey. William and Madeleine were previously tenants at Saint Alcuin’s. But following the events of Book Six in the series, they settled some ten miles away. They’re just finishing their first year of marriage, and it’s not going well. Both William and Madeleine are dealing with crippling insecurity. Their communication patterns are highly dysfunctional. And they’re almost constantly arguing.

Quick aside: I haven’t loved the William-and-Madeleine love story. Especially not in comparison to the stories about the monastic community at Saint Alcuin’s. But honestly, this book’s depiction of their relationship is probably the most compelling section of writing on their relationship, out of any of the other story segments thus far. It feels more realistic. It feels more relatable. And I found myself identifying with both William and Madeleine in spite of (or because of) their imperfections.

The plot of the book twists when William and Madeleine take turns visiting the monastery, for different reasons. While there, they get some of the same sense of perspective that I got at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. They disconnect from their everyday (dysfunctional) rhythms. They see the way that God works through various circumstances (both similar to- and different from their everyday lives). And they talk to other trusted Christians, who provide new insight. In particular, I appreciate this one passage in which the abbot of the monastery, Father John, provides a key realization:

“Here in the abbey we are only human, too, and all human beings argue. We — in community — have two big safeguards against the contention and bickering that afflict every group of people who try to live together. One is silence and the other is obedience.”

The ways that William and Madeleine must adapt and apply these concepts of silence and obedience are different than the monks and Saint Alcuin’s. However, the heart is surprisingly similar. And as with other parts of this book series, I came away with fresh observations for my own life, too. We all need “The Breath of Peace” in our day-to-day comings and goings. We all need God’s grace to inform our actions and attitudes. And we all need practical reminders for how these things can play out in our homes. Another very practical passage from the book seems worth sharing:

“…Everything we do or say in our interactions with each other every day we should be able to sort into one of four bundles. Imagine four boxes each having a label glued on… THANK YOU, I LOVE YOU, I ASK YOUR PARDON, and PLEASE HELP ME. So, the way we treat people, our manner towards them and the words we say, the things we do — everything about our attitude towards them should be able to be sorted into those four boxes… Then… there’s a fifth box with a label crowded with crabbed script. It says something like I HATE YOU – I RESENT YOU – I’M JEALOUS OF YOU – I’M FURIOUS WITH YOU – I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP, THANKS VERY MUCH! – I DESPISE YOU – YOU GET ON MY NERVES – I CAN’T BE BOTHERED – YOU’RE A COMPLETE NIT-WIT – LEAVE ME ALONE… Anything in our lives that couldn’t be sorted into those first four boxes could probably be tossed into that fifth one — and that fifth box full of those spiky, bitter, acrid herbs, we offer up to God. And he eats them. And digests them. And the divine gut turns them into what they already were all along. When they have passed through the body of Christ their true nature is revealed, and we don’t want anything to do with them.”

It’s a pretty graphic picture of living in community, but it makes a lot of sense! The Breath of Peace is full of practical images and instructions that help to promote more harmonious living. So, I recommend it for that reason alone. This installment in the series is still not as good as the original trilogy. But I’m glad I read it. And I’m curious to finish out the last two books of the series when I get the chance.

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