The Hardest Thing to Do
By Penelope Wilcock
The Hawk & the Dove, #4
Kregel/Lion Hudson, 2015
This latest in Wilcock’s The Hawk and the Dove series takes readers into the world of a fourteenth-century monastery struggling to forgive an old enemy seeking refuge.
The first of three sequels to the celebrated The Hawk and the Dove trilogy takes place one year after the end of the third book, in the early fourteenth century. A peaceful monastery is enjoying its new abbot, who is taking the place of Father Peregrine, when an old enemy arrives seeking refuge. Reluctantly taking in Prior William, the upended community must address old fears and bitterness while warily seeking reconciliation. But can they really trust Prior William?
In her fourth book in the series, Penelope Wilcock wrestles with the difficulties of forgiveness and the cautions of building trust. Taking the form of journal entries, her story will delight the imaginations of readers captivated by a time and place far distant from our current world. Her timeless themes, however, will challenge our prejudices today as we, along with her characters, are forced to ask ourselves, “What is the hardest thing to do?”
The Hawk and the Dove series by Penelope Wilcock is unusual, and that’s a very good thing. The stories are more literary in style, yet they have an easy flow and are very entertaining. Descriptive words like thought provoking, merciful, unapologetically honest, moving, insightful and timeless come to mind. I highly recommend this series and you can click on the title The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy to see my review of the first three books. Book #4, The Hardest Thing to Do, can stand alone, but reading from the beginning will give a much better understanding of characters and setting.
Set in the 14th-century Benedictine monastery of St. Alcuin’s on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, The Hardest Thing to Do gives a vivid view of monastic life – from worship, study and prayer, to gifted areas of service (obedience), and surprisingly to the same faith and community struggles that we face today.
This story covers the entire season of Lent, something that I found fascinating because I’ve never been in a church that observes this practice. These words of Brother Theo convey its essence: “The slow, painful journey of Lent takes us from ashes, through fire, to Easter light: reversing our tendency to fall asleep and neglect the flame, to let the fire go out.”
The Hardest Thing to Do is indeed timeless and relevant because it explores the essence and struggles of obedience to Christ’s teachings probably better than anything I’ve ever read. Drawing from circumstances between Father Peregrine (now deceased), Brother Tom and Prior William in book #2, The Wounds of God, this story delves into human nature with great insight, along with the need for repentance, confession, and forgiveness. It also left me pondering a question for which I have no answer as of yet: Is it harder to forgive a person who has wronged someone we deeply care about, rather than if we ourselves had been wronged?
What a memorable, seemingly unlovable character is William! A man of calculating self-interest, he “had lost his hold on most of what is good and true a long time ago, and what’s left that could have been redeemed is all seared and terrified and shuttered away now.” William is just one of several richly-drawn characters.
One of the most moving parts of this story is the way the monastery’s infimarians – Brother Michael, Brother John (now Abbot), and other helpers – treat the elderly and dying with tender care, honor and respect, never letting frailty or illness define who they have become. William had found that the earth was no longer a safe place for him, and Brother Michael’s prayer for this seriously ill man was especially beautiful to me: “May you be robed in Christ’s grace. May his love be a cloak about you and his peace be the robe of your true self. May you touch and know his healing, find for sure his forgiveness, wherever you are, and whatever happens now. Find thy lamb, O Jesu, good Shepherd, in thy love, and free him of the thorns that bind and cling.”
With forgiveness being at the heart of this story – both the giving and receiving of it – I found Theo’s thoughts worthy of remembering: “It’s a matter of trying to stand where the other man is standing and seeing it how he sees it, and then it starts to make some sense.”
The Hardest Thing to Do is a book that fans of historical and character-driven inspirational stories will enjoy. Highly recommended.
Penelope (Pen) Wilcock is the author of over a dozen books of fiction and poetry, including The Hawk and the Dove trilogy. She lives a quiet life on the southeast coast of England with her husband and is the mother of five adult daughters. She has many years of experience as a Methodist minister and has worked as a hospice and school chaplain.
Find Penelope online at kindredofthequietway.blogspot.com
Thank you to Kregel/Lion Hudson for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.