Beliefnet
Prayer, Plain and Simple

Is it possible to discover God in a short stack of pancakes or cloud formation or in a paint smudge on the sidewalk? Some people believe it is. Beliefnet.com has created a new photo gallery called “Seeing Jesus (and Mary) in Food and Other Objects” Check it out. It’s a fascinating question – the power of the eyes of faith. In my book, co-written with Jennifer Schuchmann, “Nine Ways the God Always Speaks” I address this question of “seeing signs from God” in natural phenomena. Here’s an excerpt.

 

“It’s a sign from God!”

People apply those words to everything from a phone call to a natural disaster. When confronted with a coincidence, do you immediately assume that God’s behind it? And if you think he is, do you think he’s trying to tell you something?

Is it possible that some things just happen?

Or is everything a sign from God?

In August of 2007, Deb Serio, a high school teacher from Forest, Virginia, discovered that a slab of concrete in her driveway contained a sealant smudge resembling the face of Jesus.

Was concrete Jesus some kind of pavement prophet?

Was it a sign from above?

Deb, a church-going Lutheran, considers the smudge little more than an odd occurrence–not a sign or miracle. “There are some people who need this kind of thing to sort of start them on their faith journey. I don’t,” she said. “That’s why I don’t mind parting with it.” She sold it to a winning eBay bidder, islandoffthecoast, for $1,800. After the sale, the slab was removed from Deb’s driveway and shipped to the unidentified bidder.

It seems that Deb believes the face of Jesus is a sign only if you need it to be.

 

In 2004, a ten-year-old toasted cheese sandwich said to bear the image of the Virgin Mary sold on eBay. The owner grossed $28,000. Is the mother of Jesus in a cheese sandwich also a sign if you need it to be?

Perhaps the winning bidder thought so. The past-its-sell-by-date sandwich was bought by Goldenpalace.com, an online casino. Representatives of the casino considered the decade-old lunch a slice of pop culture. They planned to send their toasted cheese trophy on a world tour before reselling it and donating the proceeds to charity. (We can only hope they didn’t send it coach where it could easily be confused with airline food.)

 

Apparently, Holy Communion during mass isn’t the only time you can eat the body of Christ. While cooking breakfast for his family, Mike Thompson of Beachwood, Ohio, was astounded to see the face of Jesus appear on his pancake. Mike claimed the likeness was a sign from God, and in February of 2006, posted the Holy Pancake on eBay with an opening bid of $500. The bidding soon reached $14,999 and was headed higher when eBay pulled the sale claiming Mike had violated posting rules. Too bad he missed that sign.

Mike, Deb, and the original cheese sandwich owner, all claim their findings were not a sign. We respectfully disagree.

Each of these individuals saw a sign,

 the same sign–

 a dollar sign.

When Deb walked down her driveway and stared at the face of Jesus in the asphalt, whether she admits it or not, she saw a sign. When the ten-year-old cheese sandwich went up for auction, it was also a sign. And when Thompson stared down the spatula into the flour and water face of Jesus in his pancake, he definitely saw a sign.

There are countless stories of individuals who have seen dollar signs, but the question is, are any of these dollar signs also signs from God?

Is it possible that seemingly chance events: a haphazard splattering of sealant, the random melting of cheese, or the peculiar patterns of pancake batter, add up to something greater than what they seem?

Is God trying to tell us something through these seeming coincidences?

 


 

 

 

February 18, 2010

Day 48

Weight: 197 lbs

Weight lost: -9 lbs

 

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” Fire makes ashes. And how do we fight fire? With… water.

Specifically we fight fire with the waters of baptism. Fire burns and leaves behind only ashes and dust. But water cleanses and brings life and fresh new day.

I’ve held in my hands the ashes of a good man. Mr. Smith was a friend of mine. He was kind to his neighbors and faithful to his employers. But Mr. Smith is no longer with us. He died, and his body fell to ashes put in a box. This happens to people. The Psalmist says it this way, “All flesh is like grass here today, gone tomorrow.”  “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust you came, to dust you will return.” Mr. Smith burned down, and burned out.    

Someday, this will be me, and you as well. Because just like Mr. Smith was, you and I are – on fire. Yes, the calories of the food I’ve eaten are burning as fuel units in me at this very moment.  I can feel the heat coming through my skin. Yet when I look at your hands I see another reality. My body is mostly water, water that is on fire. Take out the water of life and what’s left? Ashes and dust. In the end I will extinguish myself. 

Today is Ash Wednesday. The day we remember that life is a burnout.  And so begins Lent. On the Church calendar (since the 6th century) Lent launches the 40 day grind toward Easter, the via de La Rosa – the way of the cross. It’s a time to reflect on our lives, examine our hearts for sin, and to know there is no remedy for death, except the remedy of death – his and ours in him.  All our efforts, our portfolios, our self-improvements, our best intentions come to this…  And they must.  It’s either the cross, or this dustier end. 

Because we all die, one way or the other.  Either by fire, or by water… which is really a kind of holy fire.  The water of Baptism, coming into Jesus as he dies, is a kind of fire. 

God is fire, a holy fire. Moses found a fire that didn’t consume the bush. Abraham encountered God and he said: “I am nothing but dust and ashes.”  Like Isaiah, when he saw God: “Wow, I’m history.” To see God’s perfection is to realize, we are dust. 

Over the next 6 weeks we are going to face these brutal facts. Lent is our time to look into the pit and see the truth and tell the truth, to deliberate deliberately about the problem, the bad news, the dust and ashes. As Paul says, “The more I try to do what I want to do, the more I do what I do not want to do… Oh wretched man that I am…” I’m prone to pride, envy, anger, greed, sloth, lust, and gluttony. I sin, and I admit it. “Seven Deadly Syndromes…” 

But my issue isn’t behavioral. It’s a condition. I’m not a sinner because I sin, I sin because I’m a sinner. The matter is organic in me, an unnatural condition that has become naturalized for me.

But God’s fire is water that dowses our burnout flame – normal life, bios, doomed to snuff.  This is the miracle of Baptism. Death-burial-resurrection. We are re-hydrated with a new fire. The Holy Spirit burns a new kind of life in our bones – eternal life… that never consumes… Fire for fire, through water… that’s turned to wine…

As I examine myself to see the different expressions of sin, I can then experience a countering expression of God’s grace in Christ which forgives, cleanses, and breaks the power of sins, and of Sin itself.

“God, you created me to be holy and eternal and partnered with you forever. But I have fallen from that intention. I have failed. I have sinned, in thought and word and deed, in what I have done and in what I have not done. I am proud, and lustful, and self centered. I sin. I sin because Sin is in me. But today I admit this. I do not fool myself into thinking I can better myself by my own efforts. I need a deeper more serious remedy. I need you and your grace. I need to die in order to live. And you have provided the way for this to be. I trust in Jesus now, Jesus who has paid the price for my sin. I confess specifically my sins, and acknowledge the Sin that inclines me to my own destruction. As I confess this I take you at your word: that you forgive and cleanse me. In jesus.”

Alex Ness is a writer, poet, and social critic. Recently Alex interviewed me about my book, The Karma of Jesus. Here are some excerpts:

AN: Have you considered whether or not this treatment by you of Karma is just another in a long line of attempts by Christians to co-opt powerful, indigenous positive moral structures to replace them with Christian ones?

MH: I’m co-opting the language but not the moral structure of Karma. I admit this up front. As I said, I’m following an ancient tradition of Christian communicators who’ve dared to borrow pagan language to communicate orthodoxy. Christians have no problem admitting that Truth can reside in other belief systems. The Bible doesn’t tell us details of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, though the worldview offered in the Bible is thoroughly consistent with this scientific reality. Truth is truth. We’ll take it and leverage it wherever we find it. There’s a certain self-evident element about elements of the Karma principle. Christians offer a different solution to the problem – we don’t accept reincarnation as a solution for instance. We believe reincarnation simply stalls off the fundamental issue while Jesus’ death and the offer of grace settles the matter in time and space. We like to say that “Jesus is the answer; what’s the question?” In this sense Christians feel free to play in any sandbox. And when we do we’ll find ways of seeing Jesus there. There’s a Christian sociologist named Don Richardson who says that every individual and every culture has “eternity written within.” Christians can therefore readily engage any religious or moral system in conversation, because almost all of us agree upon the root of the problem – humans have screwed things up. But then Christians will offer a different solution, a unique and surprising one of grace and forgiveness in one perfect and divine human being who lived in real time and in a real place.

February 17, 2010

Day 47

Weight: 197 lbs

Weight lost: -9 lbs

 

Today is Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday.” Eat, drink, be merry!

My wife Jill and I once spent a Mardi Gras in New Orleans. “Wild” does not describe it. It’s a strange celebration, “Fat Tuesday,” this day before the beginning of Lent. Lent is the 40 day stretch of time on the Christian calendar leading up to the Passion of Christ, Good Friday and then Easter. Lent provides a season of fasting and self examination, a time to relinquish earthly passion in order to more soberly focus on those things in our lives the block us from God. “Fat Tuesday” is the storm before the calm, the last night of indulgence before the obligatory repentance.

I did not grow up in a Christian tradition that celebrated either Mardi Gras or Lent. Our stream of faith lived Lent 365 days a year. We were of the holiness strain and our approach to God was always austere and disciplined, more about what we can have than what we can’t. But later in life I became part of a fellowship with a long tradition of celebrating Lent – without much a “Fat Tuesday” however. Lately, I’ve come to appreciate the focus of Lent as a time of special attention to “things that so easily entangle me.”

I’m experiencing “Fat Tuesday” and anticipating Lent in a particular intensity this year because of my “Eucharist Diet.” My “Eucharist Diet” adventure is a six month experiment taking daily communion and tracking and posting the results in my personal life, relationships, health, and body fat percentage. I’m not taking on any other particular austerity, though I do need to drop another 15 pounds at least. I’m simply trying to add in the element of Eucharist…

So on this “Fat Tuesday” I do intend to “eat my fill!” For Lent I’m giving up nothing in particular except that I will continue to take communion each day. And that in itself will necessitate a self examination and a return to rely on God’s grace, moment by moment and day by day. As is, I’m eating my fill, on Jesus. He’ll be my feast and that will satisfy far more than gorging myself at a banquet table.  

“Jesus, you are enough! Today and always. Food is a good and great gift. But you are true food and nothing else satisfies. Today, once again, I eat my fill of your goodness…”

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