No shame in seeing, believing

06/09/2012 12:00 AM

09/12/2014 6:06 PM

Chyanna Richards saw Jesus in her bathroom.

A few days ago, Richards, who lives near Houston, told a local TV news station she saw the image of Christ in a splotch of green mold on the wall above her tub. “People say, ‘Your house is blessed,’ ” Richards said.

Not that there is anything unique about what she saw. To the contrary, the Son of God seems to pop up in some very odd places.

A woman in Port St. Lucie saw Him in a cell phone picture of her TV screen. A woman in Clermont, saw Him in a power meter. A Tampa Bay area man saw Him in a bathroom door. In Sullivan’s Island, S.C., a woman saw Him on the back of a dead stingray. In McLean, Va., a family saw Him in a tree in their front yard. A couple in Anderson County, S.C., saw Him on a Wal-Mart receipt.

The reader will doubtless note that these manifestations seem to concentrate in the South — the Bible Belt. They are not exclusive to that region but presumably, when people in relatively irreligious Philadelphia or Seattle see what appears to be a face on a banana peel, they are more apt to shrug it off.

When I was a boy in Los Angeles, people said they saw the image of a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26) in the beveled window of a church two doors down from my house. For days, we had news crews, traffic jams and lines of people crowding our street. I dutifully took my turn at the window, but all I saw was the sun glancing through the glass.

That doesn’t mean those people didn’t see what they said they saw. It only means that I didn’t. Sometimes, in faith as in other aspects of life, one sees what one needs to see and there is no shame in that. “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right,” said John Lennon. Or as Father Ray, the conflicted priest on the short-lived TV series, Nothing Sacred once asked: Which man is truly crazy, the one who hears thunder and thinks it the voice of God, or the one who hears the voice of God and thinks it only thunder?

In a world that is often angry, hateful and confused, these sightings seem to reflect a need among people of faith to be affirmed by God. To see Jesus in a household appliance is, perhaps, to feel singled out, seen, reassured that there is, indeed a plan, and that things will be better, by and by. This is a human need shared by the boy in Sunday school, the man on his knees facing Mecca, the mourners saying Kaddish.

People of faith seek to be affirmed by God, but might not the world be a little less angry, hateful and confused, a little less violent, if people of faith more often also sought ways in which God could be affirmed by us? If we gave the help we sought?

After all, the Koran says, “Who so saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved all mankind.”

The Talmud says, “Whosoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

And Jesus of Nazareth said to turn the other cheek. To make peace with your brother. To bear insults and lies with gladness. To offer your coat to the person who demands your shirt. To take care of one another. To love one another.

Chyanna Richards thinks Jesus looks like an image in the mold of her bathroom wall. Maybe He does. Or maybe He looks like a hungry child having his first meal in two days. Maybe He looks like a sick and indigent woman being cared for by tender hands. Maybe He looks like someone passing the time of day with the old man no one ever visits. Maybe He looks like anonymous charity and activist love.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to ridicule Richards, to make fun of all those people, concentrated in the poorest, most rural part of the country, who see Jesus in their cheese sandwiches and tire treads. But John Lennon was right and Father Ray had a good point.

Seeing is believing, but believing is also seeing.

And sometimes, there is no difference between the two.

About Leonard Pitts Jr

Leonard Pitts Jr

@LeonardPittsJr1

Leonard Pitts Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004. He is the author of the novel, Before I Forget. His column runs every Sunday and Wednesday. Forward From This Moment, a collection of his columns, was released in 2009.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he wrote a column on the terrorist attacks that received a huge response from readers who deluged him with more than 26,000 e-mails. It was posted on the Internet, chain-letter style. Read the column and others on the topic of September 11.

You can also read Pitts' series, What Works?, a series of columns about programs anywhere in the country that show results in improving the lives of black children.

Leonard also wrote the 2008 series I Am A Man, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination.

Email Leonard at lpitts@MiamiHerald.com or visit his website at www.leonardpittsjr.com

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