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Stories of simulacra — religious imagery in natural phenomena — have been around for centuries. The Shroud of Turin, the Veil of Veronica, the image of Jesus in an oat cake — all ancient examples of images that people see in everyday objects that seem to be miraculous appearances.
The latest, the “angel of 9/11,” is a face that seems to be imprinted on a twisted steel girder taken from the wreckage of the Twin Towers. I’ve seen pictures and the face is easy to see — easier than the image of Jesus on a moldy shower in Florida.
Every year, miraculous images surface on unmiraculous objects and lend themselves to plenty of ridicule from some and veneration by others. Jesus’ image has been seen in cloud pictures, Cheetos, tortillas, dental x-rays, tree trunks, rocks and on the backs of walls. When the Hubble Space Science Institute published photographs of the Cone Nebula in 2002, they received a record number of requests for the nebula photos that some people had dubbed the “Jesus Nebula” for the image of Christ that seemed to be captured in the swirling gases.
In recent years, the image of the Virgin Mary has been seen on a rock in Ghana, a chocolate factory in California, a pizza pan in Houston, on the glass facade of a finance building in Clearwater, Fla., on a grilled cheese sandwich in Florida and in the coffee of a Venezuelan sailor.
It’s not just Jesus and Virgin Mary that people see. Mother Teresa’s image was sighted in a cinnamon bun in Nashville. It’s not just Christian images either because Islamic religious writings and images have also been seen.
I fully believe that all of these images are caused by a combination of odd but completely natural and explainable forces. I don’t believe many, if any, are spiritual manifestations, but I love that some people believe it to be so. It’s like hearing the silver sleigh bell in The Polar Express or bringing Tinkerbell back to life by saying, “I believe.”
How wonderful that some people see the Virgin Mary in their coffee and believe she is there as an affirmation of their life or that a grilled cheese sandwich with the Virgin’s face makes you feel so protected and lucky that you take a chance on the lottery and win $50,000.
It’s further proof that we all look at life through our individual filters. Jesus in a moldy shower doesn’t cause me awe; it makes me wonder about the hygiene of the family that owns the shower, but I fully support the person who sees Jesus in the mold on the tiles and believes His appearance means they have received His approval.
Maybe the chemical degradation of the steel girder and the twists in its frame cause a face to appear as one expert suggested — a face that some interpret as an angel. But, then again, maybe that chemical degradation is just the method used to produce a spiritual manifestation. As we head down the home stretch toward Christmas, I hope that everyone will be able to see something wonderful in the everyday world around them. Merry Christmas, El Dorado County.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.