Look! It's Jesus! Amazing Holy Visions in Everyday Life is a pocket sized delight from Chronicle Books, written by Harry and Sandra Choron. I spoke with Harry Choron about how the book came about and how working on it affected him and his wife, Sandra. The idea for the book originally came about when the Chorons, who are both authors and run their own literary agency and design studio, started seeing items on the internet showing the image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary appearing on food or rocks or closet doors and the like. As pop culture historians, they concluded a book collection of these might be an interesting project. "As the book progressed and we started talking to contributors, we realized how seriously people take this. Our feeling was whether or not they were actually seeing things - these people were so observant they noticed things other people might not and actually seeing God in objects because they were appreciating the creativity of nature," Harry says. The phenomena cut across economic and class lines. "The people that contributed to this book ranged from stay-at-home housewives to scientific laboratory workers to businessman - all walks of life." The images came from every corner of the world - from Buenos Aires to Texas to Australia and even, in one case, deep space.
The first image in the book is that of Tortilla Jesus, which appeared in 1977 to New Mexico housewife Maria Rubio. She noticed the image one morning when she was preparing tortillas for her husband's breakfast. By that afternoon the word had spread and there was a line of people outside the house asking to come in and worship the tortilla. In the next couple of days, thousands of people lined up at the Rubios' small house to see it. Harry tells me that Maria's own children were actually hassled by those waiting to go into the house for 'cutting the line' when they came home from school. The Rubios built a shrine to the tortilla in their backyard and it was visited by thousands over the years until one day the tortilla was dropped and broke into many pieces, which they still keep in their home.
The phenomenon of finding heavenly images in ordinary items became extremely popular after a woman in Hollywood, Florida found the image of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich. She wrapped it up in plastic and stored it in her freezer for 9 years, after which she placed it on Ebay in 2003 and it fetched an astonishing $28,000 from the Golden Palace Casino. "That started the flood of things on Ebay," Harry notes.
This delightful tome gathers images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Buddha, and Mother Theresa, all found in the unlikeliest of places: food, rocks, towels, tree trunks, seashells, meteorites, fishbones, ice sculptures, lava lamps, couch stains, computer memory flash cards, umbrellas, handbags, baseballs. How in the world did the Chorons find all of these and how long did the process take? "Most came from authenticated news reports from newspapers or radio and television," Harry states. "It was a matter of finding, reading, seeing what it was, and then tracking people down which was no mean feat. This sometimes took a very circuitous route; we found someone but not the right person, but they knew the person." They rejected dozens of images that were either unrecognizable or clearly faked.
It was a very slow process to narrow the collection down to item that could be authenticated, says Choron. "It took a lot of time to find these people and not only contact them but to convince them to participate. And once I contacted them it was a matter of getting an image of sufficient quality for the book." The entire project took about a year to complete.
Some of my own personal favorites are Baseball Jesus (found by a housewife in Sugar Land, Texas); The Nun Bun (in which the image of Mother Theresa can clearly be seen on a cinnamon bun); Rotting Grape Virgin Mary (the classic image of Mary is visible on the slowly rotting grape); Watermark Mary (where the image of Mary appeared on the glass windows of a bank in Clearwater, Florida in a very large watermark stain - hundreds of pilgrims traveled to see this before it was destroyed by someone throwing a rock through the window. At night the face of Jesus has been appearing on the window since the rock damaged it). Oh yes - and then there's the Helix Nebula, provided by NASA. It actually looks like a gigantic eye floating in the cosmos.
There are a few that got away from the Chorons. "There was a Kit Kat Jesus," Harry remembers. "Someone had bitten a Kit Kat bar and the image left was the face of Jesus. I couldn't find the person anywhere. I bought boxes of Kit Kat bars to try and replicate it but after over 400 bites I was not able to do it." There was also a California man who had a motorcycle accident and had an abrasion on his leg. "As it was healing, the Virgin Mary appeared on his leg," says Harry. "I spent countless hours trying to contact this guy. It turns out he was Jewish. He told a reporter it made him pause and think."
Most of the contributors took their sightings quite seriously, although some did so in a lighthearted fashion. Cheesus, for instance, was a cheeto in the shape of Jesus found by a Christian youth counselor in Houston, Texas in 2004. "He doesn't actually believe that God creates cheetos in the shape of Jesus but he used it to say that God is all around us."
What had started out as being sort of a "cutesy" book intended to be funny became very meaningful once the Chorons realized how these items affected people. Harry explains, "The text of the stories that accompany the images are written by the contributors themselves. No editorial spin, we tried to capture exactly the feelings of the person who made the discovery." These items are charged with belief, in fact, in no small part because people believe in them and their very belief makes the objects holy.
"It's about seeing God in all things. That's what it's about. His creations are everywhere," says Harry. "People that notice these things are very tuned in to detail and have an open mind as to what they're seeing."
Look! It's Jesus! is available everywhere. By the way the cover is lenticular and very striking. You can't miss it when you're in a bookstore, with a very attractive price point ($12.95) as well. A great gift for that special agnostic in your life! Easter's around the corner...