It is my pleasure to introduce you to Rachel Libick, an author you’re going to want to watch for.
Okay, this book is amazing. It’s a bunch of short stories about a 15 year-old girl and a bunch of monks in a monastery.
What? That didn’t immediately scream, “READ ME!”? Not to worry, you’re not alone. I run into this problem every time I try to recommend THE HAWK AND THE DOVE, by Penelope Wilcock – which is often. In fact, as I write this, I am having to google quotes because my copy is with a friend.
The trilogy starts with Melissa, a woman remembering her 15th year and that dawning awareness that most of us experience around that age that life and the world is so much bigger and stranger than we realized. As she says in the first chapter: “I was just beginning to ask questions, to search for a way of looking at things that would make sense. The easy gaiety and simple sorrows of childhood had been swallowed up and lost in a hungry emptiness, a search for meaning that nothing seemed to satisfy.”
Each chapter is a little slice of her life, and a story told her by her mother. The stories Mother tells are of a monastery, stories that have been passed down through the generations of her family. They are stories of lives lived in service to God, and still confounded by temptation, irritation, and expectations that simply don’t match reality, despite being in a cloistered medieval monastery. Father Peregrine, the abbot, is a man full of intellect and skill who is attacked, beaten, and must learn in middle age how to live out a different kind of humility and love as he finds himself disabled and reliant on the brothers under his leadership. The monks and their struggles are intensely human, but offer transcendental glimpses of the divine.
I found this book when I was about 12, and starting to experience the questions Melissa was asking. I was an adopted kid, and a pastor’s kid. I grew up immersed in the Bible and church, and had a double helping of “always put your best face forward” instilled in me from an early age. It was a breath of fresh air to know that it was okay to question, to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and wonder why people who taught me to love Jesus and be kind weren’t living up to what they taught. The book not only told me it was okay to feel this way, but that, paradoxically, the answers to the questions were in reality to come to a deeper understanding of what I’d known since my nursery days – that truly submitting to God is not always easy or comfortable, but doing so frees you to become more completely yourself.
There are two books set up in this short story format, and the final book is set exclusively in the monastery. It tackles lingering illness and how to continue to pour love into a person who is being taken from you. I read that book in one night while visiting my grandmother who was dying of cancer. I think I cried more during that night than I did at her funeral, but the next morning I could look her in the eye and smile in joy at the time we had together instead of bracing for what was to come.
These stories are gentle, funny, and honest. They point continually to our humanity, and to God’s divinity. They are like sipping hot tea– tiny doses of warm encouragement for the abrasions of daily life.
I leave you with one last quote – the one that encapsulates the heart of the series. Melissa is talking about a teacher who gave her a poor grade because she wrote an essay about God. “I know now what that poor, starved woman could not have known, that not only my essay, but the whole of life is a love story, about a tender and passionate God.”
Author Bio: Rachel Libick is a supervising clinician at a clinic for learning disabilities, and dabbles with words on the side. She lives in Olathe, KS with her husband and enjoys travel, cooking, and all things nerdy. Her current blog is www.thereluctantprogressive.wordpress.com
I would love to have other guest authors share about the literature that inspires them. If you’d be willing to be a guest author on Lit I Love, please let me know and I’ll get you on the schedule.