I am re-reading a book of my childhood, a book that my mother read to me when I was 10, 11 years old. A simple series based off of the lives of monks in the 14th century, Penelope Wilcock's The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy is still one of the most fantastic works of fiction I have ever read. Simple stories on deep, pervasive themes: grief, suffering, poverty of spirit, pride, abandonment. Not a shred of romance or plot twists, yet it holds my interest like none other. I cannot recommend these books highly enough; I will be honest and say that this may or may not be influenced by nostalgia. If you read them (or have read them in the past) can you let me know what you think? I would be ever so grateful. And now, a lengthy quote from the second book in the trilogy, The Wounds of God. This particular story revolves around Abbot Peregrine, the severe central figure of most of the stories. He is being visited by his old friend abbot Guillaume, a monk who enjoys the pleasures of the world. They are arguing over which way of life is better: the way of holy poverty, or the way of enjoying the good things that God gives to us. Guillame has said we ought not to throw God's gift in his face; Peregrine has said they are to view the cross as the ultimate way we are to live life, preciously similar to those who live life in the sorrow of real poverty.
Guillaume leaned back in his chair, regarding Peregrine with amusement. "You have not changed, mon ami. Your rhetoric is as impressive as ever. But you are wrong in one thing. You are too late to win grace, or heaven, or strike any kind of bargain with God. It is not a prize to be won, or a deal to be negotiated. It is a gift, already given. Receive it. Be glad. Celebrate a little now and then"
"I ought not to have said we win heaven. It is, as you say, a gift. The free grace of God, the treasure of his love, precious beyond words, it is a pure gift. We do know celebration here, Guillaume. I have seen men's faces alight with peace, with joy, content. Good, wholesome food, and enough of it, we have that. Alright, it's a bit chilly, I grant you, and we are frugal, but we do not go without. But the dainties of the rich, platters of silver and fine linen; in the church, altar frontals of cloth of gold, a chalice studded with jewels--these things would shame our vows."
"Your purity condemns my self-indulgence. You make me blush, mon pere!"
"Guillaume, it's not funny. Why do you mock our simplicity? Am I pretentious to insist on it? No, no it cannot be right to live like kings when we are supposed to be like Jesus. Can it?"
"Ah, my dear friend, it is because you are a little crazy that I love you so. Le Seigneur, yes, he laid aside everything and became poverty for us. But we are not Jesus. You overreach yourself. Be realistic. We--"
"Are we not?" Peregrine leaned forward, his eyes burning urgent in his intent face. "If we who are the body of Christ are not Jesus, who will ever be? The world has need of the presence of Jesus, in the word of the gospels, in the holy bread and wine and in us. Somewhere in all the cynicism's and disappointments that bind and stunt their lives, men need to find a living Jesus, one who can hear their pain and understand their grief and shame someone to be the love of God with them. It has to be a poor man . . . doesn't it? To touch and heal the pain of men's poverty? I mean all kinds of poverty: the poverty of their need and and their brokenheartedness, of their sin . . . It would need a man poor in spirit and poor in means to comfort the loneliness of the poor. It is not possible for a rich man's hand to dry the tears of the poor--is it?"
They continue arguing, becoming more urgent as their entire lives are laid out on the line. Abbot Guillaume eventually turns to one of the younger brothers in the room, who is there serving them, and asks him this question:
"What do you say? To follow Jesus a man must live stripped of everything as your abbot would have me believe, or can he without sin enjoy the good things of life if his heart is thankful?"
"Jesus . . ." brother Tom struggled for an intelligent answer. "Well, who is your Jesus? I can see Father Peregrine's Jesus in the gospels but who--where is yours?"
I don't know why this little passage struck me. It probably has something to do with our own vows of simplicity that we are figuring, the two friars arguing inside my own little head. But I keep coming back to that phrase: Where is your Jesus in the gospels? He says nothing about modern day family values or creating safe spaces or being responsible financially or saving for your children's college or your own retirement; we have searched and searched for an answer to our own conscious as to what Jesus would say to us, those who live with more than enough when there are those dying in need around the world. And I think we know what Jesus would say, and so we ignore him. We have created another Jesus, a fictional one, who is concerned about welfare reform and border control and the middle class above all else. But where is this Jesus?
Where is he?
I cannot find him anywhere. But in these weeks of loneliness and sorrow, I have found him, both in the flesh and in his word, and he is more similar to the Jesus that Father Peregrine loves than I ever imagined.