In a very personal way, Ruth Patterson recognises that we live in testing spiritual times. Disillusioned by the institutional church and worn by economic and political gloom, many have lost the human capacity to hope. The certainties of the past no longer sustain us in this in-between time, before a new beginning. Dogma and doctrine, although necessary are not going to help us through the present darkness. Ruth suggests gently and based very much on her own life experience, that in seeking to forge a new tomorrow it is necessary to look back to the presence of God throughout the biblical story.
Like Elie Wiesel's cry in his book Night, when the young child hangs in slow agonising death on the gallows, Ruth recognises the anguish of those who today ask: Where is God now? Her assertion is that God is present in the chaos as much as in orderliness. But we need to unlearn and rediscover what has been there from the beginning and if we recognise again the eternal presence we can, she believes, be bridges to the future.
Ruth urges the reader to seek the eternal presence of the one who walks with us and has done so throughout the ages. She does so by reminding and challenging us to reflect on the biblical stories from Abraham, through the prophets, Isaiah and Micah to the Jesus story. The eternal truths of these stories can nurture us for the new tomorrow.
Narratives help us to make sense of reality; they are how we interpret experiences. For Ruth, the biblical narratives are the source of our relationship with God. They reflect the eternal struggle of human existence: how to begin again even in the heart of darkness.
The wilderness with its sense of desertion and hopelessness is often the same place w here new life begins. The search for green spiritual shoots is necessary for human well-being. Gently woven through these themes of endings and beginnings we hear Ruth's personal voice: the story of a woman unafraid of the call to go to an unknown place, first as an ordained woman and then as a founder of Restoration Ministry in the conflict situation of Northern Ireland. Like many of us, Ruth tried to bargain with God to take a different course. But the inevitability of a new beginning beckoned too powerfully and the rest is history.
Ruth quotes John O'Donohue poet, philosopher and priest, calling us to begin again to ‘unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning ...'.
- Gina Menzies, The Furrow, Nov 2010
Possibly the greatest temptation that beset the Israelites in the Sinai desert was not to carve and worship graven images, but to settle down in the land, to institutionalize. In her latest book, Looking Back to Tomorrow. In A Spirituality for Between the Times, Rev. Ruth Patterron challenges her readers to re-connect with our pilgrim God in order to re-invigorate their lives and souls and thereby enliven a troubled and irrelevant church. Ruth Patterson is no stranger to struggle, having earned her credentials twice over-first, as Irelands first ordained woman minister [in the Presbyterian tradition] and second, as a founding member of Restoration Ministries working for reconciliation and healing in Northern Ireland. She writes to encourage believers offering a spirituality that will nurture them in this so-called in-between time until creation enjoys the tomorrow of its full liberation.
Her method is to reflect on timeless truths, biblical themes, stories of leaving home to follow a call, wandering in the wilderness, exile and home-coming, to name a few. Throughout the book Patterson weaves in anecdotes from her own experience personalizing the salvation story. Those who trust the movement of the centuries can still see the river flow, can hear a song to sing and can still walk along the road between the times. These lyrics of Ray McKeever inspired Patterson who considers that it is the task of Christians to be bridges between the times. To look back to tomorrow, in its paradoxical logic, is to keep alive the memory of the Way. Thus, travelling at Gods behest, Christians arrive at a future that is a little like Lonergans definition of mystery, a known unknown.
Ruth Patterson ably fashions her narrative and writes in an engaging manner. There are flashes of brilliance here, sheer poetry; and then at times, the presence of clich?Is in the treatment of themes so well known. I think the book is a good reading though I found the constant references to God as He somewhat jarring. Maybe I was expecting a more feminist outlook in someone who was Irelands first woman minister.
- Jean Evans, RSM. Spirituality, January/February 2010
Ruth Patterson is well known in church circles north and south of the Border as the first woman to be ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. She was born in Belfast in 1944 and her father, a native of county Donegal, was also a Presbyterian minister. She has played a role in encouraging reconciliation between the churches in Ireland and has already published two books on this subject, A Further Shore, journeying towards reconciliation and Proclaiming the Promise. Recognising the difficult times in which we live and the consequences, socially and spiritually, of the current economic crisis, she has written this book as a Christian guide to getting through tough times. She draws lessons from Biblical texts and uses the teachings of Christ to explain how to cope with the problems that people may face. Patterson writes with conviction and a deep knowledge of her subject as he considers issues like the legacy of violence, feelings of alienation and grief.
- Books Ireland, November 2009
This is an excellent book for our day when so many things are being questioned. It highlights how a crisis time can be a pruning so that we can bear more fruit. The book points to the emergence of new life and a rediscovery of hope.
- Jean Vanier, founder of LArche and Faith and Light
The Rev Ruth Patterson invites the reader to see and to know something of Jesus in and through all that life brings, and to know ultimately "that he has called us, he has chosen us and we are his beloved - now and now and now"
- Dame Nuala OLoan, former Police Ombudsman of Nothern Ireland
Looking Back to Tomorrow is a book for our times. Many face loss and fear the future. Here Ruth Patterson builds a robust spirituality to sustain us through such uncertainty. Using the stories of the Bible to provide a perspective on twent-first-century life, Ruth shows us that the ultimate reality is Gods unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ. This book is a much needed "soul friend" for this difficult part of the journey.
- Trevor Williams, Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe
The Rev. Ruth Patterson was the first woman to be ordained to the Ministry in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. She has run the Restoration Ministries in Belfast for over twenty years. In this, her fourth book, she tells us that in writing this exploration of a spirituality for between the times, she was very aware of the sense of bewilderment, confusion and hopelessness that so many people are feeling at this present time when confronted by personal grief, suffering and trauma, by community dysfunction, by the all-pervading economic crisis, by anger at political representatives who have betrayed the trust placed in them, by disillusionment with the Church, by the global fear of terrorism and by uncertainty about the future of planet earth.
It is a very profound exploration of where God is in the midst of all this. When I was a little girl we used to say a prayer which talked of this vale of tears that the world can be. I used to wonder about the articulation of such sadness in the world.
Yet the reality is that for each of us there are moments in our lives of great joy, moments of serenity and contentment; and moments of gut-wrenching agony when we call on God as His son called on Him My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Ruth talks of the need to satisfy the silent screaming inside us. She suggests that maybe it is not answers to the endless questions which we are looking for, but rather for a sense of His presence.
In order to become aware of that Presence we have to practice becoming aware of that Presence.
When we do this, she tells us, we gradually become aware that we are not on our own, that in a way which is hard to define, we are being held, accompanied, comforted, called, challenged, and above all loved. Hope is reborn, trust is strengthened and we are opened up to the wonder of the eternal now as we walk the road between the times.
Ruth takes us on a journey which is in part the journey of mankind, the journey which is our pilgrimage to discover or to re-discover Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
It starts in the beginning, with the loss of the unbroken relationship between God and man. She tells us the intimacy is stemmed, childlike innocence is shattered, and vulnerability becomes the order of the day. She takes us through the great Biblical themes of leaving your own country, wilderness and prophecy, exile and homecoming, to the birth of Jesus, prophesied by the prophet Isaiah who foretold that the people who walk in darkness will see a great light - a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow.
Ruth acknowledges the mystery and glory and wonder of the coming of the Christ Child. But she then takes us to the place where, and the time when, the light does not shine when the darkness gets deeper, when the light around us closes in. She reminds us The light that was turned on in Bethlehem can never be put out by darkness, however all-embracing or deep.
She takes us on Jesus journey from Nazareth to Calvary, gently challenging us to go beyond sentimentality into a much deeper place where we acknowledge the challenge to be loved, to be beloved: to be vulnerable, to open ourselves up, to let down some of the defensive walls we have built in order to protect ourselves from being hurt, to risk the possibility of being wounded again, and to dare to believe that love is there - even for us.
She tells us that the heartbeat of a spirituality for between the times is that I, that we, accept the I love you of God in Jesus, that we believe that we are loved, and that we continually open ourselves up to the transforming love of God in our lives.
One chapter is called Good-bye and Hello. It reflects on our different letting goes along the journey. She talks of the passion and death of Jesus, of how his God be with you from the cross embraces a dying thief who is promised a place in Paradise, his mother whom he commits to the care of his close friend, and all of humankind whose actions put him there and for whom he prays forgiveness.
She concludes with a reference to the time when it all seems too much for us, by reminding us that one of the loveliest names given to the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, meaning the one who answers the cry.
She says: Just as a mothers whole being is attuned to hear the tiniest whimper of her child, so the heart of God, the Holy Spirit, is finely tuned to our beings and he will not fail us.
Ruth tells us not only part of her own story, but also the story of Restoration Ministries; the work of bringing people together across the divide in a safe place, with no hidden agenda other than to build relationships and friendships. The Restoration Ministries, known around the world, have done much for the broken, troubled people of Northern Ireland.
She tells of how the work of reconciliation is still so necessary and yet so hard in an environment in which weariness and seeming apathy are so prevalent, where some think that the work of reconciliation is now the task of elected representatives. In reality God is calling us to a deeper and much more committed realisation that we are members of the one family, sisters and brothers in one faith expressed in different ways.
All the conflicts and contradictions of life need to be healed in us, before we can resolve anything out there. Quoting Richard Rohr she says only the forgiven can forgive, only the healed can heal, only those who stand in daily need of mercy can offer mercy to others.
Throughout her book Ruth reminds us that we are continually graced and that God is choosing us now and now and now.
- Peter Costello, The Irish Catholic, 8th October 2009
Probably the best known clergywoman in Ireland, Presbyterian minister Ruth Patterson holds a distinguished track record as a peacemaker, ecumenist and spiritual author. With a faith and vision forged in Belfast in the most trying of circumstances during the troubles, Ruth has consistently offered an inclusive and integrated spirituality which is accessible to all. Having emerged from such a cauldron of bitterness and sectarian conflict she seems ideally placed to construct and offer sound spiritual guidance during times of uncertainty and confusion. Her latest publication Looking Back To Tomorrow created during a Sabbath from Restoration Ministries, which has been a beacon of hope and renewal to many in an era of division and dogmatism, offers a spirituality for such times. Refreshingly blunt about the failures of almost every institution and power structure and the fears held by millions of people in the 21st century she urges a return to a sense of Presence so that we can feel the support and encouragement that has always been there for her and which is constantly open to the believer. Each of the books eleven chapters, deeply rooted in Scripture yet with a light hand and deft touch, manages to impart something of this sense of Presence. A paperback viaticum for lifes journey.
- Fr Paul Clayton-Lea, Clogherhead, Co Louth, Intercom, May 2010