Finding Meaning

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Faith in the Time of Doubt

By skip Hellewell

You have to love the way rock hounds take a common stone and polish it into a thing of glistening beauty. The rock tumbler—a small motorized barrel that holds rocks, polishing grit, and water—provides the process, tumbling the rocks non-stop for weeks using finer and finer grit.

I’ve been pondering a speech heard last week about believing and doubting. We like to think we live in a rational world—isn’t that what Rene Descartes and the scientific method were all about? We seek the security of certitude, but it’s a small island surrounded by the unknown—the mare incognito. Like explorers in the Age of Discovery, we are drawn to the unknown. We stare into the skies at night, see distant stars, and wonder. From our shared wondering come flashes of insight, beliefs that resonate within our souls and invite faith. In this dance with the unknowable, our doubts play a role.

In the 18th century Enlightenment, new tools and ideas challenged long-accepted verities. The poet Matthew Arnold observed how science and church fought to redefine their spheres of influence. The last words of “Dover Beach,” his best-known poem, speak to this fight “where ignorant armies clash by night.” He worried for the Sea of Faith, as he named it, for in the ebbing tide he only heard, “Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar…” Lagunans understand the tide, that one high tide will surely be followed by another, some 12 hours and 25 minutes later. This we know. We’re less sure of the ebb and flow of the tide of faith for it has an unsure period—perhaps a generation, even a century.

Sometimes faith is rising, as in America’s Great Awakenings, the healing times between our wars. Other times it’s ebbing, as in the Enlightenment, but perhaps in our time too, as with the ‘Nones,’ the religiously unaffiliated. Or maybe it’s all this at once, as Dickens wrote in “A Tale of Two Cities,” “It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” We swing between faith and doubt as the Spirit, and the spirit of our time, work upon us. Non-believers can rest easy, for as to God’s existence they can simply shrug that it’s unknowable. In the scientific sense, they’re right. But there is a way, one that leads to faith, known from olden times.  Believers—about three-fourths of the population per the polls—embrace His existence, though not without doubts. It’s a discomforting embrace because belief calls us to action. With action, belief may mature to faith, as with the rising tide.

All this brings us back to the rock tumbler. Perhaps we’re all in that barrel, rough stones rolling.  Our doubts are the polishing grit, questioning and shaping. Honor your honest doubts, for they have the power to refine. Be patient, faith has its own pace. Believe in that day of glistening beauty. There’s meaning in that.


Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].

Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.


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