Monthly Archives: January 2015

Does God Exist?

28 January 2015

Written some years ago in response to a question posed for an annual philosophical contest called The Great American Think-off:

Yes, without a doubt. I say that not just because the greatest sages in the world—and virtually all cultures, everywhere, across time—would concur, but because I have the pleasure, and great privilege, of speaking with Him on a daily basis.

What’s more, anybody has this same opportunity: through prayer. God is there, waiting for us, calling to us, reaching out to us; loving us whether we acknowledge him or not. The wonder is not that anyone would believe in a transcendent being, but that we humans are so resistant to the call of our Creator.

He is a Mystery, yes, but because of the depth and complexity of His being, not because He is hiding or indeterminately existent. The living God has shaped me, comforted me, guided me through dark passages. I could no more deny his constant, caring presence that I could deny my own, constant, caring concerns for my children. The signs of God’s presence lie all around us, in details as large as the star-filled sky and as small as the worlds inside a raindrop.

The presence of life itself on this planet speaks of a divine imperative, an ordering of the labyrinthine possibilities of chaos into natural laws and intersecting spheres of compatible habitats.

To deny the existence of God bears the same futility as a deaf person denying the existence of music, or a blind man scoffing at the notion of color. God lies both within and beyond our senses, but if we limit him to what we can interpret through our blinkered scientific constructs, we risk missing the entire purpose and meaning of life.

Does Mount Everest exist? How does one know? Some fortunate few have seen it for themselves or walked upon it, but most of us accept its existence based on the reports of others who have had more direct experience.

Do germs exist? No one has seen one with the naked eye. Or heard one, or touched, smelt or tasted one. We know them by their actions and, again, by the reports of a few who say they have a special tool which enables them to see . . . something, and to interpret meaning from it.

So too the prophets. So too the Word of God, and signs and wonders still occurring. So too that most essential of all “God-seeking tools,” the rite of prayer. It comes back to this: there is a God-shaped void in the human heart. Those who haven’t had it filled either struggle to fill it themselves with their own vain musings and cobbled-together philosophies, or try to deny the existence of that void altogether. Yet once it is filled—by a Presence so overwhelming that terror would be our only response, were it not for the tender paradigm of love—how can one ever again be expected to deny the reality of its existence?

When my brother broke his neck, and the doctors gave up, saying nothing could be done, who responded to the prayer chain’s specific requests (“Today the thumb, Lord. Let him move his thumb.”) in such care and detail? Who was it that healed him so quickly that he was backpacking only a few months later?

When my wife and I slept on through what would become a record high tide on the Sligo shore in Donegal, who was it that sent those lights bobbing in from sea—car and priest emerging on the beach from a momentary dry passage between islands—to warn us we would soon be swept away?

And, darkest of all times, the night among the English witch coven, when my best friend and I fought sky battles inside our heads—each under separate, yet identical attack from forces so malevolent my mouth goes dry at their mention—whose angels came bringing the light? Whose power slid inside our heads and wrested two sinking souls from a deep and despondent sea of palpable waves of terror?

Theorems can be argued forever. Philosophies change with the times. The cynic and the post-modernist may even manage to hedge their bets till the graveside. But when the storm comes crashing, you need to know where to find the solid rock.

FLASHBACK: “The Way of the Road”

7 January 2015

Few people understand traveling. To most, it means a two week holiday of fun in the sun or a hectic guided tour of pre-arranged “sights” (if not just the car trip to Aunt Mildred’s). They can see neither point nor purpose to extending such an outing indefinitely. Traveling, they believe, is an interruption, a temporary shrinking from the responsibilities of real life.

Indeed, within the confines of their experience they are correct. A vacation (by which they mean traveling) is an interruption of normal life: a brief opportunity to let off the head of steam that’s been building up in the workaday world. It can be no more than that, for the end is always clearly in sight. Momentary thoughts of errands and unfinished plans come to mind involuntarily. Flashes of being “at home” occur. The scenes one views may change, but not the pattern of viewing.

It takes time to break patterns. There are patterns of sleep and of speech; patterns of worship, patterns of response, of caloric intake. All these persist, even in foreign lands.

Most persistent are patterns or habits of thought. The mind does not leave its ruts overnight, even though on a different road they may be less evident. It takes weeks and months to wear through those ruts.

New habits must be formed, new perspectives slowly and painfully arrived at. One critical feature in the establishment of a new perspective is the ability to travel with no fixed return in mind. This does not mean to travel aimlessly, but rather to let go the lifeline that pulls one ever “homewards.”

There is nothing easy about it. It means becoming a pilgrim, a sojourner. It means estrangement, physical and psychological, from the land of your birth. It means the slow realization that your destiny lies not in a particular piece of land, but around the next bend in the road.

It means isolation. It means painful knowledge that people of fixed abode can never share. It means risks surmounted, paradises gained and lost. It means uncertainty, insight and worn-out shoes.

It means vague impressions, half-formed conclusions, tentative theorems. It means infrequent showers, lumpy mattresses and periodic diarrhea. It means a bottle of wine in a hayloft. It means the cold wind howl of midnight on a cobblestone street. It means a shroud of dust gone to sweat in midday heat, the call of a loon in the gathering dusk, a rocky beach by firelight. It means all night train rides and intense conversations with someone you met yesterday and will bid goodbye tomorrow. It means loneliness, fear and exhilaration so pure it makes your hands shake.

It means discarding much that you’ve been taught. It means discovering what is true forever.

It means becoming someone new.

On the edge of the Sahara's Great Eastern Erg, Alex & Evan Gabriel battle a sandstorm.

On the edge of the Sahara’s Great Eastern Erg, Alex & Evan Gabriel battle a sandstorm.

Only then does the realization finally permeate that THIS IS LIFE. Right here and now, life is being lived. There is no hiding in routine. No blind acceptance of societal mores. There is life in all its starkness, all its multiplicity and conflict, all its uncharted illogical byways. And yes, there is life in all its unity.

Perhaps for many it’s easier not to look so closely, not to question quite so probingly, for without doubt, the voyage is uncertain and the risk is great.

Yet to travel is to explore the full circumference of life: to tread in the routes of the conquerors; to seek out the bypassed remnants of pre-industrial life; to sing the nomad’s song.


The traveler finds life in places of pilgrimage and profanation. He finds it among the energetic and the lethargic. She finds it in the change of seasons, in encounters in markets and cafes, in friendships formed and dissolved, crises faced, adventures survived.

In the process, the mind is freed from habit, from petty local concerns and the insistent demands of communication media. There is time (and great need) for reflective thought. Cultures can be examined and evaluated. Society’s lies and blind spots reveal themselves. It becomes impossible to evade the questions that workaday hustle and bustle strives so hard to evade: Have the generations lived and died in vain? What have the sages taught? What has God revealed? Who makes history? Why are we given life?

To travel is to question. Sometimes the questions are answered. Sometimes not. But never to ask, never to wonder . . . surely that is death itself.

This article was previously published in Great Expeditions (Canada), May/June 1983, and in Independent Travel Made Easy (Canada), 1989.