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Somewhere in central Florida, Jesus is in a tree.
Shortly before Easter, a woman called the newsroom and left me a message about a tree in her yard and how she can see Jesus in it.
I had taken the week after Easter off, and by the time I returned to work I had lost the woman’s number and forgot about Jesus in her tree.
But I remembered this week when I came across a Christianity Today report, “Why Everything Looks Like Jesus” – the face of Jesus in a piece of toast or in a cloud, a slab of marble, a slice of pizza.
In an episode of “Glee,” one of the characters thinks he sees Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich and begins praying to it as if it really might be Jesus.
That’s not so farfetched. People have been seeing the face of Jesus for hundreds, maybe even 2,000 or so years, maybe beginning with the Shroud of Turin, supposedly the actual transferred image of the real flesh-and-blood Jesus.
Christianity Today reported that archeologists recently found a painted image on a wall of an underground stone chamber that may or may not be a picture of Jesus. The image is of a man with curly hair wearing a short tunic.
Jesus with curly hair? Maybe.
As I was thinking about stuff that looks like Jesus, I found a Website, www.stuffthatlookslikejesus.com, that shows more than 150 images that people think look like Jesus—apple cores and stems, the skin on a dead stingray, lots of wood grain patterns in doors, a Cheetos, a banana chip, the underside of a turtle’s shell, even a stain on a store receipt.
The Website also shows about 30 images of the Virgin Mary.
Not too many years ago, a rainbow-colored image of Mary appeared on the glass of an office building in Clearwater. Some explained that it was caused by the sun reflecting a stain left by water from sprinklers, but that didn’t keep more than 450,000 people from making pilgrimage to the site, keeping vigil day after day after day for three weeks around Christmas 1996.
Why do we do that?
On “Glee,” the school counselor tells Finn, “God works in all kinds of mysterious ways, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to speak to us through sandwiches.”
According to the Christianity Today report, neuroscientist Joel Voss says both seeing and seeking faces in inanimate objects is apparently instinctive from birth; that babies look for faces almost immediately. Also, people have always gazed at the stars and discerned patterns or identified grizzly bears or dragons chasing manatees in the clouds—or the face of Jesus.
Voss says Jesus is commonly seen in inanimate objects or in wood grain patterns or grilled cheese sandwiches because our brain recognizes universal images. Because the face of Jesus has been a constant subject of art throughout the ages, we have a bias toward seeing it, or thinking we see it.
But I wonder if there’s more to it. I wonder if maybe we see Jesus because we were created to seek him.
Wise men from faraway came seeking the Baby Jesus. Days before the crucifixion, some Greeks came to Jerusalem asking one of Christ’s followers, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21).
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus told the people, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
At church we sing, “Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see Jesus.”
When you look for Jesus, when you seek him with all your heart, when you ask and knock and call on his name, you find him. He opens your eyes and enables you to see him, finally, truly see him.
When you finally, truly see Jesus, you begin to see him everywhere. Not so much as a face in a tree, but as creator and as savior of your soul, working in your life, ordering your daily steps, moving mountains for you, strengthening you, blessing you, guiding and helping you, delivering you from evil, bringing you peace.
You see Jesus changing you, making you more giving and forgiving, making you more like him.
So much more than a face in a tree, that’s the real stuff that looks like Jesus.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.