Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In This House of Brede explores the dimensions of Christian understanding of obedience and vocation, when a period of profound reordering of monastic life and Christian practice was beginning to take place. When Philippa Talbot enters Brede as a postulant, she enters a house still strictly based on the ancient Benedictine Rule of Life, which requires stability in the monastic house and the conversion of manners, including poverty, chastity, and obedience. The nuns’ lives are centered on the Divine Office of Prayer and on the Lectio Divina, the reading of sacred works. Their way of life is meant to be an encapsulation and intensification of the life of worship and obedience expected of all Christians. As Benedictines, they are also expected to engage in physical labor, support themselves, and thereby share in the life of the poor.

In spite of their enclosure, they are constantly involved in the life of the world through their ministry of intercessory prayer. A decade after Philippa’s entry, the nuns of Brede allow a television into their enclosure for the first time. Their intensive cycle of prayer and work continues unabated, however. The novel illustrates the traditions of monastic life, the ministry of intercessory prayer, and unceasing worship in its strength and resilience, even as questions arise and are debated about the forms and constructions of faith. In the end, the novel affirms a certain traditionalism, as the sisters prepare for a new monastic establishment in Japan. This new location will both extend their adherence to tradition and challenge it, even as they seek to make their faith relevant anew in a radically different culture.