Burning Bushes & Baked Potatoes

(NOTE: Originally written and posted on Myspace, on April 29th, 2007; revised on July 29th, 2012)

A month or so ago, there was a story in the local news about a woman who was making dinner, and when she cut open a potato, she found an abnormality.

And she swears it was a “sign from God.”

Many scoffed at her belief, which is to be expected. I myself had a laugh or two at her expense. But it did get me thinking …

Now, I should state up front that I have never been a Pragmatist. I do not, and never have, disbelieved in a “paranormal world.” While I have never had a supernatural experience that flew in the face of Science or Reason, I have always maintained an open mind. I guess you could say I want to believe.  Aliens, bigfoots, ghosts, ESP … I find these things infinitely fascinating, and am always willing to hear a good story, or hear someone out who claims to have had any such experiences. I figure, even if none of these things are true, and life is just what it is (staid and “normal”), believing these things might be true is at least more interesting than the alternative.

However, this isn’t to say I am ready to believe anything just because I find life a little dull sometimes. Call me an “open-minded skeptic.” I’m more than willing to give it an ear or an eye. I don’t have any more belief in “what I can see or touch” than I do in what I cannot. Like Fox Mulder said once “All the evidence to the contrary is not entirely persuasive.”

But still, a fucking potato?

Many people are so eager for divine intervention in their confusing, and helter-skelter, lives that they’re willing to interpret “signs” in just about anything. Hell, I don’t blame them. And, really, this is nothing new. Since the dawn of humankind, men and women have sought council with the otherworldly. It’s just that, well, back in the day, the signs were a little more grand. And obvious.

Moses spoke to a burning bush. He placed his staff into the waters of Egypt and turned them into blood. There were plagues of locusts and frogs. And unless you smeared lamb’s blood around your doorway, the Angel Death did smiteth your first born.  Jacob wrestled an angel and saw the Stairway to Heaven.  Jonah spoke to a magic vine! Siddhartha sat by the river and a big snake rose over his head to protect him from the rain!

Pillars of salt, partings of the Red Sea, blindings on the Road to Damascus, Vishnu took three steps and two of those were the earth and sky … dogs and cats, living TOGETHER!!!

So yeah, we don’t really get that anymore, do we? The gods are pretty much silent on the old thaumaturgical front, aren’t they? So it’s understandable that some folks might see out-of-the-ordinary things as somewhat miraculous.

What this is is a really interesting psychologcal phenomenon known as pareidolia: Vague and random stimuli perceived as significant. And religious imagery seems to be the most prevalent, probably because it carries with it the possibility of significance. The face of Lady Gaga seen in your scrambled eggs, while entirely accidental, is kinda weird and cool, sure, but the face of JESUS??? Well, damn, that’s gotta mean somethin pretty damn important’s gonna happen!!!

There was the famous Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese:

The Pope In A Pancake:

The Virgin Mary (who’s apparently a Cubs fan) Water Stain:

And a plethora of others:

And when you delve deeper into the phenomenon of pareidolia you find that religious apparitions aren’t the only thing going. These things pop up everywhere. Elvis wants a little play, too:

Some are just silly or cute:

Others are arguably enigmatic and thought-provoking (for the record, I think this IS Martian-made and I don’t CARE what those hi-res photos show):

They can be kinky or “suggestive:”

And of course, some are born of the fevered imaginations of conspiracy-theorists. Like the devil’s face in the Twin Towers:

Or the “demonic face” between the candidates at the 2000 Democratic debates:

What does all this prove? I don’t know. Maybe it means that the imaginations of humans have not gone catatonic. Maybe it means there are a lot of desperate dreamers out there, hoping for something that can make sense of all the noise and chaos that suffuse our brains.

As for me, the jury is still out. Who am I to question the tactics of deities and spirits? Although, truthfully, I’m a little iffy. You can take your water-stains and pontificating pancakes … I’m still holding out for that Burning Bush.

Although … if I walked outside and looked up and saw this hanging in the sky, I think I would probably be a little freaked out:

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