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Filtering by Tag: catholicism


Michelle Metcalf

1983: In the third grade, my religion teacher, Mrs. Brandstetter, tells me a story during Tuesday night CCD class about a  woman in Mexico whose taco meat, after falling out of her tortilla at lunch, miraculously formed itself into a silhouette of the Virgin Mary. The image my young mind instantly created: small individual crumbly rounds of ground beef mysteriously and reverently moving themselves across a piece of Mexican hand-painted ceramic ware, one grainy chunk of meat at a time coalescing into feet, a robe, veil, nose and eyes. On the side table by the couch in the living room of my childhood, a small, engraved photo album. On the first page, a photograph of oil-stained window panels on an office building in Clearwater , Florida, that looked remarkably like a profile of the Blessed Virgin. A miracle on display wasn’t at all strange to my devoutly Catholic and generally superstitious family—why shouldn’t heaven and earth somewhere converge?

Once a year, we made it a family pilgrimage to gather with hundreds of people at the Holy Spirit Center just off the Norwood lateral about twenty minutes from our house to say the Rosary from lawn chairs on a hill while waiting for Our Lady of Light to make her midnight appearance.

Skeptic’s Dictionary: Apophenia (n): the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness." May be linked to psychosis or creativity.

2005: Hundreds gather at the Fullerton Avenue underpass on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. They’ve come to see the Virgin Mary in the salt run-off. That same year, a pregnant couple sees the face of Jesus during their ultrasound at a hospital in Toledo. A concession clerk sees him in a nacho pan. He also appeared on the tinted windows at a hardware store in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and, shortly before that, in a pecan tree to a Louisiana man who was barbecuing in his backyard.

We are programmed, Carl Sagan says, born with a propensity to identify the human face. It’s for evolution’s sake, so that we can make out faces from a distance using only minimal details. This is why we can recognize faces before putting in our contacts in the morning.

At the stroke of twelve, church bells rang, cameras flashed, we waited and waited.

But I saw nothing.

Type I Psychological error: (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity): Often used as an explanation of some paranormal and religious claims, and can also be used to explain the tendency of humans to believe pseudoscience.

I saw nothing but the moon.

I saw nothing but the moon hanging heavy in the sky, so full that it made a glow behind the backs of the pine trees on the horizon.

*          *          *

Michelle Metcalf does believe in miracles, especially moonlight illuminating the trees. She lives in Cincinnati, OH and sometimes still prays Hail Marys out of habit, even though she is no longer a practicing Catholic.

Avatar: What's the Big Deal?

Travis Griffith

Travis Griffith finally buckles under pressure to see Avatar, and shares his reaction to the film and its implications on spirituality.

My brother called it a "life changing experience."

My mom said it was "an amazing insight into spirituality."

A friend said it was just "a remake of Dances With Wolves."

The pope called it "simplistic and sappy."

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said the film "gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature."

Then Avatar won for best drama at the Golden Globes and now is a favorite at the Oscars, so I decided I had to experience the film for myself, make up my own mind and then share my thoughts with all my Relief friends. The overall take away: What's the big deal?

James Cameron, the film's director, said,

Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other and us to the Earth. And if you have to go four and a half light years to another, made-up planet to appreciate the miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that's the wonder of cinema right there, that's the magic.

Of course, that's why the Vatican says the film supports a worship of nature and neo-paganism (which obviously is bad for business).

Here's the deal: Avatar does indeed support a worship of nature. It also supports a love for one another and the importance of not judging other people, regardless of race or beliefs. In the movie, the Na'vi people have developed a vibrant, complex, and sophisticated culture based on a profound spiritual connection to their planet, one another and the encompassing spirit they call Eywa. The operative concept for the Na'vi is balance. Their lives express this balance in body, mind and spirit.

A review at said,

In reality, you are connected to the earth by gravity, not by spirit. The Bible tells us the earth will be burned up and there will be a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness reigns. We are stewards of the earth and its creatures, not brothers. We are accountable to God for what we do with the resources He's given us.

The spirit world is not something in need of balance. It is a war zone where evil spirits want to drag you into lust, greed, anger, and depression while the Spirit of God seeks to rescue you from darkness.

So the hard-line Christians blast the spirit world with their "reality" of fire, fear and brimstone while lauding heaven as God's Kingdom. Pagans reject heaven and revel in the universal energy of the spirit world. Who is right?

What if the Christian heaven and the pagan spirit world turned out to be the same place behind the veil, just with different marketing here on Earth?

Yet, the Vatican tries to protect its stake in religion while belittling messages like the one in Avatar. It would have been great to see the Vatican lead a discussion towards a more loving and accepting version of spirituality instead of calling the film's relevant message "simplistic." Some might even call the type of spirituality portrayed in Avatar as more advanced when compared to the archaic beliefs and practices of Catholicism.

In the end, all Avatar asks us to do is love each other and our planet so humanity can evolve into a place of unconditional bliss. That, after all, is the same ultimate goal many of the world's religions have, they just all seem to call it something different. Catholics call it the Kingdom of God. Buddhists call it Nirvana. Avatar called it Pandora. Same damn thing, just with different paths that lead there, all as valid as the other.

As long as beliefs are based on love, who's to say who gets to claim the correct one? I say choose what feels right to you, without fear of being judged for your beliefs by someone else.

If you've seen the movie and want to share your thoughts, or care to challenge anything I've said here, I'd love to have a discussion with you.

Love... to all.


Travis Griffith, who left behind the corporate marketing world, choosing family and writing in lieu of “a comfortable life” financially, is a former atheist trying to define what leading a spiritual life really means. His children’s book, Your Father Forever, published in 2005 by Illumination Arts Publishing Company, Inc. captures only a fraction of his passion for fatherhood.