Monastic Strategies, Book Reviews: A Conversation with Mark Dowd
A conversation with Mark Dowd
I posted a review on My tsunami trip by Marc Dowd a few weeks ago, just before Easter.
Reading Mark’s book piqued my interest and curiosity. I checked his website and looked at what else he had written. Mark has written another book and several television productions. What I learned made me more curious and I decided to keep asking questions.
Mark generously agreed to listen to my questions. We struck up a conversation that helped me get to know him better.
Mark, could you please tell me a bit about your background and experience. What would be useful for someone who has only read My Tsunami Journey to know you?
I am a writer and broadcaster who, after training to be a Catholic priest and deciding that this was not life for me, became a BBC journalist. I covered politics and current affairs for many years, but in 2000 I was asked to start doing faith shows. Many of these, TV and radio, can be located at www.markdowd.uk
How would you say your experience in the Catholic Church, particularly in monastic life, contributes to your abilities as a television producer?
I have always had a questioning faith, ever since the overly simplistic and easy answers I was given in school turned out to be unsatisfactory… for example, why did God create a world in which babies innocent people can die of leukemia?? Answer: “divine punishment for sin”. We need to do better!! Thus, this spirit of questioning and obstinate investigation has been perpetuated from religious life to the world of journalism. I think it helps me get the most out of interviews when I sit down to talk to people.
Was it difficult for you to leave the Dominicans? If you could have stayed in your order, would you have?
Catholic priests are obligated to take vows and as a Dominican I have taken vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. After a year and a half in the Order, I fell very much in love with another man: ironically a former Dominican friar whom I met in the house where I was living! It was a real head-to-heart battle. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and live a double life, so I left the Order in 1983 and lived with Michael for almost ten years. It was a blessing that I met him and I think I made the right decision. That didn’t stop me from talking about God and thinking!
How do spiritual life, academic life and professional life intersect for you? Do these or other aspects of your experience work and play well together in your life?
It’s a whole continuum. Sometimes, when the work gets tough, I turn to prayer to say, “I have done what I could… thy will be done!” The Dominicans had a very strict spirituality that study can be a form of prayer… Opus Dei also preaches that all work can be considered blessed and holy. Sometimes we erect barriers between these parts of our lives when in fact they overlap and come together. Who can deny that a surgeon, in saving a person’s life and bringing relief to families, is not doing God’s work?
How have tsunamis and other natural disasters shaped your understanding of evil and suffering?
They taught me to look at the systemic picture as a whole and not just the human beings caught on the cusp. Once you see that a hurricane or cyclone can play a role in the overall balance of the heart and energy transfer, you stop seeing it as “evil” and begin to see the impossibility of separating the positives. and negatives in the natural world.
Have you experienced spiritual life in new ways as a result of the pandemic?
Parish life in the church has been radically overhauled with services cancelled. We had to make a list of isolated and vulnerable people and people who might need medicine, groceries, etc. Ironically, it actually improved contact with people whose faces you recognize at church but whose names and circumstances little was known at home. . So that brought us into greater contact, which is a very spiritual development. Also, our lockdown has led to more time for walking, silence, nature sounds….all very positive!!
What did you find on your tsunami trip that you least expected to find?
The resilience of faith among Muslims in Sumatra, where they lost 132,000 lives. No questioning the goodness of God or his ways, just an awesome cast confidence that I think a lot of people could learn from. I was really shocked by the idea that “karma” explains why bad things happen to good people. “Maybe my child was a murderer in a past life and that explains, via reincarnation, why he had to die in the tsunami.” Very strange.
Is your trip after the tsunami an example for the rest of us to follow? How can we follow your example?
Well, not everyone can do these kinds of disaster trips! They are physically demanding and demanding. But I think they invite an openness to research what other cultures and religions have to say and, yeah, I think an openness to new ways of seeing the world is definitely something I wonder about. encourage people to do.
What question do you see yourself exploring next?
I suspect people may soon be wondering who the next Pope will be! I’m a big fan of Francis and hope he’s been around for many years, but whenever a pope suffers health issues the phone keeps ringing!
Thank you, Mark
I appreciate Mark’s openness and thoughtful approach to spiritual life.
Are there ways to practice following Mark’s example today?
How can Mark’s questions and insights spark our own thinking this week?
[Image by Mark Dowd]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate college professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.