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.
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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.