Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Here's an adaptation of an old "All Things Considered" piece. You can listen, if you've a mind to, here:

Members of the faithful recently gathered outside a hospital window in Milton, Massachusetts. Hospital officials insisted the glass was merely frosted with condensation but the people in the parking lot knew better. Their faces rapt, they were gazing upward at the Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus.

I have always had a soft spot for those folks who see Christ in a tortilla, or Mary’s face in the trunk of a sycamore tree. Aren’t we all looking for a sign: a parking space, a promotion, a nod of recognition from the guy behind the Starbucks counter? Don’t we all want to know that, in the midst of a seemingly chaotic, incomprehensible universe, someone sees us?

Not long ago I found myself in the grip of one of those ridiculous schoolgirl crushes. Oh!...the brooding blue eyes, the cowlicked hair, the smile that melted my heart! One morning I was at a gathering where he was expected, too. The door opened and the sun was shining so brightly I could make out only the silhouette of the person coming in. Who’s this pudgy, middle-aged schlub? I thought impatiently. Where is HE?  And then, like condensation on a window slowly forming shape in my mind, his face took recognizable shape and I saw that it was him! For a second I’d seen the object of my affections as others see him--ordinary, one of millions. And though that didn't diminish him one iota in my estimation, I did get to thinking, Who’s crazy? Which view is right? Aren’t our eyes occasionally given through love, or what feels like love, to discern a person in all his or her true glory?

I think of those people in Milton, Massachusetts coming out of their houses, getting into their cars, driving to the hospital. I think of them standing in the parking lot, with all their worries and griefs and sorrows: looking up at the condensation on the window, wanting so badly to see a face looking back at them, longing so deeply for a sign that they aren’t alone, that they haven't been abandoned, that their suffering is not a mockery. In a newspaper article, I read that one of them said, “She’s praying against abortion; that’s why she’s holding the baby,” and someone else said, “She’s telling us to pray for peace.”

The psalmist asked, “When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and see the face of God?”  And who are any of us to say those people in the parking lot were crazy?



  1. I would guess that you've seen the Luke Wilson movie "Henry Poole Was Here"? It didn't get much attention but it was wonderful.

  2. "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern."

    -- William Blake

  3. Thanks, folks--Fr. Patrick, had not heard of Henry Poole was Here and am excited to see the lead is played by Luke Wilson who plays Levi in the one and only TV show I have watched in years: Laura Dern's Enlightened...

    Jason, great Blake quote. I'm thinking, too, of Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, in which she notes that Dostoevsky described paradise in a story as a place where people "not only in their songs but in all their lives seemed to do nothing but admire each other."

    And Erin, I got the pic off google images ("Virgin Mary sightings", but I, too, would kill for that toaster!

    I've been madly working on a 9300-word essay re my experience with abortion and healing therefrom that I'm going to offer as a 99-cent e-book and thus, along with various other reasons, have been somewhat incommunicado. Please know how much I value the readership of one and all and how much I treasure the SOF fellowship!...

  4. Will check Ueland's book out -- thank you!

    I seem to remember Thomas Merton having a line somewhere about each of us walking around, radiant with divinity, and not realizing it. But I can't find it, and wonder if I'm confusing him with Blake -- perhaps another SoF reader knows of it?

  5. Oh that's from that famous incident where he was on the streetcorner in I think St. Louis (?), Jason...

  6. Right! That's it! In Louisville, Kentucky. Thanks, Heather.


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