I pick up the phone and call a friend.
"HeyÖ what does it mean when the Virgin Mary appears in one of your dishes?" I ask.
"Um, I guess it depends on what dish it is."
"Really?" I say, suddenly curious if an appetizer-plate Mary would be viewed as a kind of holy preamble when compared to, say, a hearty Dutch-oven Virgin.
"What if I told you I was looking at her right now in one of my dishes?" I tease.
"Well, itís not like she appeared on the side of your house or anything. Maybe itís a comment about your cooking. What kind of dish is it anyway?"
"Uh, itís aÖ coffeeÖ cup," I hesitantly offer, suddenly feeling protective and peeved at my friend's lack of appropriate awe.
"A coffee cup? Hmm... I don't know."
"But remember that woman in Mexico who saw Mary in a tortilla?" I counter. "That wasnít a house-sized image, but it was still considered a miracle... a HUGE miracle! What about that?"
"Iím pretty sure it was Jesus she saw in the tortilla, Kim. And besides, the woman was a devout Catholic. She had a relationship with Him. Jesus appeared to one of His faithful flock in an ethnic food that she was extremely familiar with -- something she saw daily. Itís a much bigger thingÖ a comforting signÖ a comment about heritage, faith and nourishment for the soul. Itís, like, Jesus was using the tortilla as, you know, a metaphor for life -- a promise to be present and to provide and care for His people."
"Oh, how do you know THAT?" I say, raising my voice an octave. "So you donít think an apparition could happen to plain olí me then, right? Because Iím not a Catholic flockee? Because Iím not hunched over a hot griddle every day getting familiar with an ethnic food? Because Jesus or Mary doesnít think that a dried coffee stain is a good enough met-a-phor for life? Is that what youíre saying?"
Great. Now I was beginning to doubt my own miracle. But what if my friend is right?
And how can I be sure it's even Mary's image in the mug, and not the image of, say, a lesser-known Hindu dish-deity?
One fact on my side is that I live in Texas, a state that's a veritable hotbed of peek-a-boo divinities, where residents are known to have saintly visitation almost as often as they have barbecue -- no doubt at some point in Texas history these two things have happened concurrently. Some leathery ranch hand probably noticed a Jesus-like image in the sinewy meat of his pork ribÖ and probably kept his damned mouth shut about it, too.
A few years back, Mary appeared in a huge water mark on the side of a glass building in East Texas, an impressive effort resulting in a national crusade to the buildingís parking lot for extended viewing and worship.
"The Virgin Maryís Tailgate Party," as it was dubbed, received nightly mention and frequent live coverage on the local news. Within the hordes of assorted gawkers, ranging from the seriously pious to the simply curious, were weeping women clutching rosaries in one hand and cherubic infants in the other, while bored, lawn-chair-lounging husbands waited under tent shade, sandwiches resting on their bulging guts.
Then the people who worked in the Mary-marked building became freaked at the site of the sweaty flock leering just outside their cubicle windows, so the local police roped off the miracle, and slowly the din and bustle fizzled.
More recently, a dimly lit shrub in Austin was the chosen vehicle for divine projection, while The Virgin de Guadalupe (also known as Our Lady of Soft Serve) appeared in a melting ice cream blob on a Houston sidewalk, drawing people from as far away as Canada, Seattle and Miami.
So I obviously live in a suitable locale for a visit, but what if the news of my apparition causes a similar reaction? What if my phone and doorbell start to ring at all hours? What if I glance out my window one morning and come face to face with a front-yard shantytown of tents, campfires and waving clotheslines that have mysteriously popped up overnight? What if every time I leave my house, the grubby hands of zealots clamber and tug at my clothing while flashbulbs pop and tear-soaked women beg, "Please! The Mary Mug! Show us The Mary Mug!"
First of all, I donít have enough room, sheets or patience to host a pilgrimage, let alone enough coffee cups, now.
What could she be trying to tell me? Why don't apparitions appear and
leave instructions or Post-it notes around their image: "Dear Kim,
the mole on your left cheek needs to be looked at. Love, Mary." So