My Tsunami Journey –
The Quest For God In A Broken World
Author: Mark Dowd
Foreword: Rowan Williams
Resource Publications, Wipf and Stock Publishers
Mark Dowd is a former Dominican friar, a broadcast journalist, and author of “Queer and Catholic (A Life of Contradictions)”. In “My Tsunami Journey” he addresses the challenge to faith in reconciling a loving God with the suffering brought about by events like the Asian tsunami of 2004, with 230,000 deaths. Dowd has dedicated this book to his late father, Edward Patrick Dowd, who through a comment uttered in front of a TV set in 2004 sent his son Mark on this journey. (The comment was “God could have stopped that.”)
In his foreword, Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, notes that each decade seems to have its moment of doubt and trauma. The Asian tsunami was one of those things that caused immense loss of life within a very short time period, a depth and breadth of loss that was unimaginable. He notes that the question here is how a belief in God, and a trust in God, can survive something like this.
Dowd talks about how he was able to set up a two-hour anniversary documentary with Channel Four in the UK. He would be visiting areas affected by the tsunami (Indonesia, India, and Thailand), and interviewing people. At the same time, an article appeared in the Sunday Telegraph with the headline “This has made me question God’s existence”, by Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. (Newspapers do tend to exaggerate – what Dr. Williams had actually said was that it was right and appropriate to question where God was in all of this.)
Before he began the work for his documentary Dowd interviewed Richard Dawkins, an arch-atheist and Oxford biologist. One of Dawkins’s first comments reflected the thought that a happening like this tsunami revenge from God, or perhaps a warning from God. He then went on to add that the kind of God he would like people to believe in would be a creator who then is distant and unengaged with the world that he created. Food for thought here!
I was impressed to see that before Dowd headed overseas to do his interviews, he spent some serious time in the British Library in London studying what Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam had to say about human suffering in relation to God. Dowd found basically one book that addressed the issue, “The Problems of Suffering in the Religions of the World”, by Anglican priest and theologian, John Bowker.
Dowd and his crew worked with local producers, which was interesting in and of itself. Their first stop was Banda Aceh in Sumatra. The room that Dowd chose ended up facing a local mosque, which meant loud noise five times a day as the faithful were called to worship. We might not have had this detail had Dowd not written this book in story format – which allows the reader to follow his thoughts, and how he and his crew are progressing, in a way that is both interesting and informative.
This is a documentary that takes knowledge and tact to put together, as the individuals being interviewed have undergone absolutely unbelievable loss. (Such as the first gentleman interviewed, who lost twenty family members (his entire family) in the tsunami right after his brother’s wedding.)
Personal stories from individuals affected by the tsunami, as well as commentary from clergy frame the telling of this book’s story. Also included were photos of the physical damage done to the affected areas.
This is a personal story for Dowd, and for us as readers. Why do catastrophes have to happen? Where is God in all of this? Is our faith justified? The answer is to be found with the combination of God and science. This is an evolution, a process constituted by the cycles of life, death, and renewal.
The stories in this book can help us as readers come to terms with our own thoughts of God, and why such suffering is allowed to happen. We need to be able to justify our faith, so that, IMHO, it does not one day fail us.
This is an inspiring, must-read book.
© December 2021 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction is permitted with the written permission of the author.