The Wounds of God
By Penelope Wilcock
Published by Lion, 20th Feb 2015
We meet our old favourite characters from The Hawk and The Dove and learn much more about their lives and past histories in this marvellous sequel, as well as making the acquaintance of some new friends too.
In this book, Melissa is much older, and we are immediately thrown into seeing how she deals with the tragic suffering and death of her friend Maggie and how she coped with that whilst wishing she still had her mother with her. She reminisces about her childhood, which was indeed rather spartan due to the family's relative poverty, but filled with love, laughter and family experiences of the sort which provide a whole lifetime of good memories and acting as a counterbalance to the unfairness that a sensitive child like Melissa can experience in a school setting where religious musings and thought were strongly discouraged if not actively punished. This book gives us more stories told by her mother, stories which continue to sustain and teach Melissa.
Brother Thomas is in deep disgrace when he is told he must accompany Father Abbot to a monastic conference chaired by Prior William, one of the most sinister and ungodly monks one can imagine. William is a man who delights in posturing and self-serving, taking pains to persecute, humiliate and put down others, all in order to enhance his own self-importance in a disturbingly passive-aggressive manner....
The conference is a lively one, (and I never, ever thought I would find someone who would write about theological concepts of justice, mercy and grace, while referencing in the Athanasian Creed in a novel!) and I found myself heartily cheering on our dear Brother Tom when he leaps to Abbot Peregrine's defence. It was particularly nice to read about Abbot Peregrine's delightfully ebullient, erudite French equivalent, Pere Guillaume, who sees the great good in Brother Tom immediately, yet it is not long before Brother Tom is in trouble again, falling head over heels in love and leaving the abbey, only to realise at what cost, and making a painful return to monastic life.
It is enlightening, too, to see how hard the role of abbot is. He is responsible for the physical, spiritual and mental well-being of all the monks and novices at the abbey; he must make sure that each is given a role or task which is beneficial for his spiritual growth even if it is not always obviously best suited to his strengths and talents. The story of Brother Cormac and his stint of work in the kitchen with the fiery Brother Andrew is a case in point, but by the end of the book, we see how wise Father Abbot has been in these placements.
Steadfast loyalty, love, courage, friendship, repentance and spiritual growth are the deep, deep themes in this deeply moving and thought-provoking collection of stories which are definitely more aimed at adults and middle/older teens this time. This book gives the open-minded reader some tender, loving, heartbreakingly raw and honest insights into the monastic life, what it costs the monk, even his family as well as the whole monastic community before he reaches his heart's true home and the fullness of God's peace, which is the goal of each and every one of them.
I wept openly at several points and rejoiced at others, and I still find it hard to believe that these are only fictional characters, so deft and skillful are Penelope Wilcock's portraits of these monks and their monastic struggles.
A wonderful read.