Virginia' s spry, simply illustrated book introduces the Livingstone sisters: Faith (age 8), Hope (5), and Charity (3). The girls and their parents, Peter and Grace, have relocated and face unpacking the house and meeting new people. Their kind new neighbor, Luke Gabriel, raises puppies. Taking a break from unpacking, the Livingstone girls visit the puppies. Faith, feeling alone and friendless, bonds with the litter's shy puppy. As school approaches, the Livingstone girls get anxious--to start school itself, to play, and for Faith, to meet new friends. Unfortunately, the first day comes and Faith spends the day alone. On the bus, in class, and at lunch--nobody speaks to Faith. Her mother delicately yet firmly encourages Faith to wait. Mother and daughter pray, asking God for patience. That night, her father and sisters add Faith's request to their prayers. Faith struggles through a second, and then a third, day. She and her sisters pray for old friends and new, and for patience. By the third evening, Faith regains some confidence and plays with her sisters. As they do, Mr. Gabriel visits to deliver a puppy--the same one with whom Faith bonded a few days before. Charity names the puppy "Love," which leads to one of the best passages in the book:
"Now that Faith had Love, being ignored on the bus didn't hurt as much."
Strengthened, Faith begins to participate in her new school's daily routine. When a rude boy budges her in the lunch line, Faith does not overreact. She recognizes God had given her patience. As she walks to her seat in the lunchroom, she joyfully thanks God in silent prayer. As she sits down, Faith then makes her first friend.
As a father of three teenagers I certainly recall the days of bedtime reading. And I now wish I had access to a book like Finding Patience. It conveys crucially important lessons to an audience that needs precisely this message. Young readers themselves will enjoy learning to read as they learn about patience. Parents reading to their children will catch Lieto's rich symbolism throughout: the family's name embodies their firm presence for each other "living stone," and the neighbor "Luke Gabriel" stands as a messenger announcing good news. It is, after all, when Faith receives Love that she discovers she has patience. Furthermore, it is helpful that institutional Christianity--an entity that surely has tested the patience of many bloggers and blog-readers--appears as a benign reality. Lieto portrays the Livingstone girls attending a "Christian academy," but that could be Catholic or Protestant. The children wear uniforms, but apart from the ICHTHUS/fish symbols on the boys' shirts, the book does not clutter mind nor eye with unnecessary distinctions. The focus remains on Faith and her sisters. Thus Lieto's intended audience can imagine themselves in Faith's shoes--they can see themselves gaining patience and friends just like Faith does.
Along the way, for adult readers Finding Patience conveys a truth discussed in the Church's Catechism #773. The Church's Marian charism--its internal, spiritual life--precedes the Petrine--its external, authoritative voice. Importantly, Faith's mother, Grace, helps her begin her prayerful search for patience...and thus friendship. So, in addition to conveying virtue--part of the natural law--Virginia's book also imparts a Marian lesson. External expressions and actions, if they are to be authentically Catholic and Christian, must be formed first spiritually. Faith's teacher doesn't orchestrate the classroom to coerce classmates to become friends, nor does her father intercede to demand other children like his daughter. Lieto's childhood readers already know that truth: Mom and Dad can protect us, but they cannot make or script friends for you. Christian friendship comes from God and thus is a gift. Finding Patience illustrates this wonderfully on many levels. The book should find its way into many parents' gift choices as well as the appropriate collections at schools and public libraries.
Next step: TOMORROW, MONDAY, August 31, be sure to check Sarah Damm's review of Finding Patience. A Catholic mother of six children, Sarah blogs unflinchingly about the joys and crises she faces. Her review of Finding Patience will shed more light on the trials and temptations Virginia's book so deftly covers.
And keep up with the other bloggers reviewing Virginia's book. There's a new Catholic renaissance growing. It's online as well as in the pew, and many of Virginia's blogging colleagues contribute significantly. We're all part of the New Evangelization!
A bad joke first heard from William C. Placher:
"Basically we have lost our sense of what 'virtuous' really means. Think about it: some of your friends ask about your new girl** friend and you respond: 'Well, she's very virtuous.' You can probably imagine exactly how your friends would respond."
** WCP indicated he'd told this joke before mostly female students (thus used "boyfriend" appropriately) as well as the entirely male students at Wabash.**
I know. "Virtuous" doesn't seem to cut it anymore. Our word 'virtue' comes from the Greek arete or "excellence." And who wouldn't want to become more excellent? That same realization by Placher--and the resulting dissatisfaction--lurks deep in Finding Patience. There's an old Greek phrase "χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά" that translates roughly to "nothing without labor" or, more expansively, "the good is difficult to attain." This is especially true with the virtue of patience, which by its very essence requires time and endurance. It's not patience if you achieve or receive it immediately! Every adult knows this, and every parent knows that children do not grasp this truth. Finding Patience conveys this simple, basic truth for children the same ages as Faith and her sisters. Furthermore, Virginia has laid the foundations (hint, hint, Ginny!) for a sequel on friendship. (The second book will follow the Livingstone sisters in their finding acceptance--of themselves and each other as well as God--so perhaps the friendship book will be number three or four.) That takes time, too. Aristotle taught that true friendship occurs only infrequently since it requires both time and virtue. I.e., patience.
More broadly, Finding Patience offers a genuinely warm, kind, and uncynical read of the classic theological virtues. Lieto's audience are children ages 4-8, but we could always use others aimed at older audiences, too! Over twenty years ago Chicana author Ana Castillo created a minor stir with her novel So Far from God. A feminist romp through the Desert Southwest, the book stood as a sort of literary counterpart to Thelma & Louise. Like the movie, the heroines all end up dead. So Far from God tells of Sophie and her three daughters: Esperanza, Fe, and Caridad. Hope, Faith, and Charity.
Obviously that is where the similarities between Castillo and Lieto's books begin--and end. Apart from the obvious audience differences, Castillo focuses action on the mother Sophie ("wisdom" in Greek), while Lieto's book centers on the oldest daughter, Faith. Throughout Finding Patience faith itself is demonstrated--not merely when the Livingstone prays with Faith herself to have patience and find friends--but in Peter and Grace's marriage, their care for their daughters, and between the girls themselves. Charity and Hope revere their older sister, and Faith reciprocates. Castillo's novel, on the other hand, follows the three sisters (probable Native American reference here) through the loss of their namesakes. Faith dies through naive ineptitude, Hope dies mysteriously, and Caridad eventually withers into a spiritual wraith haunting the New Mexico countryside. Castillo's novel thus offers only--and merely--a fundamental nihilism. In the end, there's nothing. It's important to see Virginia's book--albeit aimed at children--as a far more positive step for us all. Who couldn't use more patience? And who among the adults reading the book and this blog couldn't benefit from more reflection on the underlying lesson of Finding Patience: that finding the good and the true and the beautiful often takes time and only rarely comes easily. And in all cases, yes, that is grace.
Just like Faith's mother.