Turtle on the Fencepost: Finding Faith Through Doubt by Richard B. Patterson. Liguori Publications (Liguori, Mo., 2012). 128 pp., $12.99. From the Heart: Stories of Love, Loss & Life compiled by Erin Cartaya. Liguori Publications (Liguori, Mo., 2012) 192 pp., $14.99.
Doubting Thomases and inquiring Catholics can embrace questions and perhaps find answers in two vastly different yet complementary books from Liguori Publications.
Richard Patterson’s Turtle on the Fencepost: Finding Faith Through Doubt explores the benefits of honest uncertainty while recommending strategies for using doubt to find faith. From the Heart: Stories of Love, Loss & Life is a collection of beautifully written fictional stories revealing the certainty of God’s presence in love, suffering, joy and relationships.
In Turtle on the Fencepost, Patterson, a Catholic clinical psychologist and author, discloses that he is a hopeful and optimistic skeptic who misses the simple and strong faith of his youth. A confessed troublemaker, Patterson raises so many questions without providing answers that he can leave the reader seeking simple solutions frustrated and unfulfilled.
Opening with Edward Abbey’s quote, "It is not the writer’s task to answer questions but to question answers," it is clear that Patterson did not intend his book to be a quick fix for the faltering faithful.
Instead Patterson guides readers through using questioning, psychology, creativity and imagination in a productive search for faith. With reflective pauses and examples from his experiences, Patterson writes directly to the reader in conversational style, for example, asking, "How much is your moral world influenced by guilt and fear?" And, later, "For what is God responsible in your life and for what are you responsible?"
Patterson dives into questions regarding moral authority, free will, the image of God, Jesus’ teachings in the Bible and God’s presence in our suffering.
Turtle on the Fencepost is as much about Patterson’s personal faith journey as it is a guidebook for readers. He, for example, offers glimpses into why his faith has wavered with life experiences such as the death of his infant sisters and the suffering he has seen in his career.
Appreciatively, Patterson offers a sort of caveat to the perpetual skeptic, encouraging his readers to doubt with integrity. He warns of the "certainty of uncertainty" and orders skeptics to question with the purpose of finding faith and respecting religion.
From the Heart: Stories of Love, Loss & Life is an enjoyable read for both the devout Christian and Christian in doubt. To honor 100 years of the Redemptorists’ Liguorian magazine, From the Heart is a compilation of stories published in the magazine throughout the decades. The stories deal with pain, suffering, love, relationships, compassion and grace, many times in unexpected places.
Some of the pieces, such as the one addressing infant death and stillbirth, are poignant. Others are joyful and light.
The narratives are not overtly religious, making them relatable and accessible. Take, for example, the story of Carole, an elderly woman who feared that her adult son’s visit was only to assess her independence and evaluate if she were ready to be moved into an assisted living home. So distracted with her own appearances of health, Carole didn’t notice that her son lost his job and needs to move in with her for her help.
From the Heart provides answers to the doubter’s eternal question, "Where is God?" — with memorable stories showing that God is wherever there is love, because God is love.
Lordan is former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.