The next two books of The Hawk & The Dove series will be out in February, and are up for pre-order on Amazon now.
The Breath of Peace is the one I published privately for a while, during the change-over of this series between my US and UK publishers. The Beautiful Thread is all new.
The Beautiful Thread is a consideration of kindness as the heart of Gospel practice. Here’s an extract from the story (Abbot John is addressing the community in Chapter) ~
The next day dawned sparkling and unclouded. Keeping close to the solid, imposing wall of the church, noting that the small door had indeed been left ajar, William found his hiding place, from where he could hear remarkably clearly – the brethren shuffling in, the reading from Benedict’s rule, and then the abbot’s voice, steady and firm, carrying conviction but, William thought, entirely devoid of joy.
‘My brothers, there’s something I want to say to you. Not very polished. Only what’s been on my mind. Something about suffering.
‘You might think a man like me has not suffered enough to deserve an opinion, and if so you’d possibly be right. My life so far has been, by comparison with many others, easy. I was never destitute, nor subject to the cruelty of human violence. Even so, I have occasionally descended into hopelessness.
‘When the example of holy suffering is held before us – Christ on the cross, or the holy martyrs – the word ‘noble’ seems to apply. So, we give thanks for ‘the noble army of martyrs’. Sawn in two, torn to pieces by lions, stoned to death . . . giving thanks to God, and holding their heads high in courage. Noble.
‘Well, I’ve never been anything like that, I’m not noble at all. The worst wild animal that’s ripped into my viscera has been the profoundest sense of inadequacy you can imagine. To be a failure, as a monk, as a disciple, as a man. Sometimes I’ve thought. Painful. So very painful.
‘In this, the hardest, most terrifying thing, left me in free-fall, has been a feeling of absolute pointlessness – that it was all for nothing. Not noble, but not even useful, not directed or channeled into any worthwhile endeavor. Only the result of being human, being alive. Pointless.
‘When I reflect on this, a picture of Christ on the cross comes to mind – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It seems even he encountered that terrible state of meaninglessness, where what you thought it was all for simply evaporates. And then, his words, ‘I am thirsty.’ The unadorned human condition, taken down below the embellishment of values, beneath the complication of mission, without the dignity of significance. Just thirsty.
‘Obviously, there are no options beyond living through such times. If I look at myself and see no achievement worth mentioning, see only one great big immoveable disappointment of a man, aspiration deflates.
‘But my job here is not to share around a council of despair. That wouldn’t be very helpful, would it? So gazing into it bleakly, I have to pull out of it something to place into your hands – your hearts – because you trusted me. You made me your abbot, and that means it’s my job to come up with something. I hope I’m not speaking too frankly. As you can probably tell, I haven’t prepared this.”
Tom raised his head and looked across the room at his abbot, concern in his face. This didn’t sound too good. But John, his hands held loosely in his lap within the big sleeves of his habit, sitting quietly straight, did not meet anyone’s gaze. His eyes seemed to see nothing.
‘And I prayed, “Help me, Jesus,” as I so often do. It’s never let me down, you see, that prayer; never once. “Oh, help me, Jesus.”
‘And what came to mind was two thoughts that have threaded through the last few weeks, for one reason and another. I’m sorry; I’m not putting this well, am I? Anyway: the first is, that whatever’s going on in my own life – whether my faith is soaring and I’m overflowing with inspiration, or whether I’m in despair; whether others look up to me or I am disregarded, of no account – whatever – I have the option to be kind. It’s a small thing, you would think, would you not, to be kind? Well, it is in the sense that you don’t have to be rich or important, or very bright, to be kind. Even a little child can be kind. Even a dog. But it’s no small thing to be on the receiving end of kindness. And the withholding of simple kindness is a root of bitterness and the seed of war; it causes the most terrible suffering. To look without compassion on another’s life; to be unkind. Making the choice to be kind prays “Thy kingdom come,” even when you feel past praying and past caring.
‘Kindness, I have found, for all it is small and ordinary, has a way of leading me out of safe territory. There’s nothing like kindness for compromising righteousness and getting my religion and propriety all in a muddled knot. Kindness makes hay of many plans. But it is, I have come to believe, the currency of Christ’s kingdom, the stuff out of which new hope can be made. Where we push a sprig of it into the earth in whatever place we are, life springs anew.
‘So when all light is gone and the horrible sense of pointlessness overwhelms me, showing me my own inadequacy, I can at least make the choice to be kind; and that’s my prayer, my creed, my way of anchoring myself to Christ.
‘And the other thing – it caught my attention when someone said it to me a few days ago – is about offering the gift of happiness. That having the power to make someone happy might be seen almost as a charism. Like working miracles. Like healing.
‘In once sense, of course, you cannot make anybody happy. Each of us is responsible for developing contentment and gratitude, appreciation, as a state of mind. Happiness – we all know this – is not a destination to be reached or a goal to be achieved; it’s the choice you make, the path you tread, the attitude you embrace. And that’s no small thing, either. Happy people make the world happy, are good to be around, lift others up. Cheerfulness; it’s a kingdom thing: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’
‘But a friendly word, reaching out to include someone, knowing their taste in food and offering a nibble of something they enjoy – even leaving them in peace, sometimes; there are so many ways to offer ordinary every gifts of happiness.
‘So I thought, between choosing kindness and offering happiness, I could find enough to be going on with, a ladder up out of inadequacy and despair. It didn’t matter what I’d been or done, or who I was or who cared, who saw or who knew. I could still do it. The thing is, when I feel really low, vision and inspiration are beyond me. But, you know, even when almost everything seems too much to manage, perhaps I can at least try to be kind. And I thought, that could give some meaning, something worthwhile, even to the most impoverished life. Even to mine. Sort of life compost, kindness and the giving of happiness could be; something in which faith and meaning could potentially thrive. It is only a small thing – I understand that. But sometimes I have to hope it will be enough.’
His friend sounded bleak and enduring, William thought, as he concluded with complete absence of élan: ‘There’s no big scholarship there, no expositions or dissertations or any of that. It just seemed useful to me; and so I thought it might be to you, as well. Anyway, let’s keep silence a moment.’