The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock
If I say this book is about penitence, you wouldn’t read it. It gets worse: it’s about experiencing a brutal assault as a divine blessing.
In fact, it’s a delightful, heart-warming glimpse of 14th century monastic life. Over many generations, grandmothers have passed these anecdotes down to their granddaughters. They relate both humorous incidents and deep lessons of faith in a loving God.
Fifteen-year-old Melissa is the second oldest of five daughters in a loving family of modest means. She hates school and is hopeless at all subjects but English, where she excels. Her greatest pleasure derives from the bedtime stories her mother tells her about her forebear, Abbott Peregrine of St. Alcuin’s monastery.
Peregrine – a self-confident, harsh hawk by character – is given the totally inappropriate new name of Brother Columba, the dove. However, not long after taking office, he falls victim to a failed revenge killing and is severely disabled for the rest of his life. When he finally accepts these injuries by faith, he is remarkably transformed into a gentle, forgiving leader. Now he is able to defuse many of the ridiculous conflict situations, inevitable in community life, by acts of humility and grace.
The book is beautifully written, with some colourful turns of phrase. The characters – both those of St. Alcuin’s and the contemporary Melissa, her mother and spirited young sister Cecily – are very vividly portrayed.