Doubt and Faith

I grew up a person of faith—there was a God, there were places of worship, there was order in the universe and God was good. I had a bar mitzvah while attending a Christian primary school and could recite the Lord’s Prayer in Latin—Pater noster . . .

I graduated to a Jewish high school and, every morning, attended a prayer service in Hebrew. Girls on one side of the assembly hall and boys on the other—wearing yarmulkes, prayer shawls called tallits, and tefillin (small leather boxes containing scrolls with verses from the Torah strapped to the arm and above the forehead). Ancient languages and symbols compounded the feeling of divine order, religiosity, and being close to God—there was comfort in tradition and dogma and observance.

While my parents were believers in God, my dad seldom set foot in the synagogue. It was my mom who would drag us to shul on Friday night, Saturday morning, and every Jewish holiday. But both of my parents saw faith as a fundamental building block of life, and every conversation over the phone, with my mother or father, ended with them saying the same words: “God bless.”

I got my faith from my mom and dad, just like they passed on their DNA into my bloodline. I always thought that faith was an indomitable part of my being—rock solid—impervious to any outside force.

Then my faith and my life crumbled upon itself. On April 24, 2006, on a sparkling spring morning in Montecito, California, I received a call from my broken wife, Carla, in South Africa, telling me that our beautiful fifteenyear- old son, Mathew, had died, a victim of the dangerous Choking Game.

In an instant, my faith was swept away by a giant wave of doubt—as well as despair and anger.

And I, too, was swept away, adrift from my mooring, faithless.

I remember crying out, “God, how can you do this to me? I have been a good person!” There was no order in my universe; was there even a God? Are we all just particles in Brownian motion—moving randomly and haphazardly through life, atoms bumping and being bumped, no order, no logic, no meaning or purpose?

I was bereft and broken, rudderless.

And then I got my faith back in a blinding bolt of lightning. When you lose a loved one, it seems the light of their soul, their energy, their essence, their atomic core of vitality, does not disappear with death.

After the tragedy, as my wife and I were recovering from the terrible loss, we had a visit from a close friend. Tony, who had also lost a teenage son the year before, had been to see a friend who was a grief counselor and a swami, a gifted individual whose vision can reach beyond what she sees.

He said he had a message from Mathew, that he was okay. And with that, one bolt of lightning hit the building we were in, rocked it to its foundation. One bolt, one single bolt of light, out of a clear blue sky. Light. Light. That was my way forward from doubt back to faith.

I would sit in Temple David—my old synagogue in Durban, South Africa, where I had my bar mitzvah and where Carla and I were married—and reflect and pray. I would think about Mathew, and I could feel him with me.

I took my mom’s advice about prayer. “God doesn’t look around and think She hasn’t spoken to me in years; why is she asking for help now? It’s simply what you do during times like those. You ask for help, and it’s a very good thing and you hope God is listening. There is no time limit on praying—anywhere, anytime, silently or loudly, sometimes or always. God is like a good friend or neighbor who you can call on at any time and he is always at home.”

I would look at that light above the ark, the light that is above every ark and above every Torah. Ner Tamid, the eternal light. The light that cannot be extinguished. The light of faith, the light that is an embodiment of the goodness of the human spirit and our connectivity to the everlasting.

The Surfer and The Sage

The Surfer and The Sage

Legendary world champion surfer Shaun Tomson and international best-selling poet-philosopher Noah benShea join forces to offer you insight on a path of purpose, hope, and faith.

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