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By Stephen Tomkins
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hand of god rock formation
For sale: the hand of God
May 2009

Recession, swine flu, The Boat That Rocked. Where is God in these hard times? Where the rest of him is I've no idea, but his hand has turned up in Idaho, and is presently being auctioned on eBay.

The hand takes the form of a 9ft rock formation in the back yard of Paul Grayhek in Coeur d'Alene, uncovered by a rockslide. The sale includes movie rights not only to the rock but Grayhek's life story, and exclusive casting rights (in the literal sense). The latest bid is for $16,266.16.

It appeared in Lent and Grayhek says he saw in it "a symbol of the hand of God in my life". But thought he'd flog it anyway.

Shipping is not included.

Such apparitions of the Lord and his inner circle, bringing subtle messages of hope and faith, are more common than you might think. No one quite knows why he chooses to appear miraculously in this way; perhaps because it's easier than trying to sort anything out.

A few years ago, a 10-year-old toasted cheese sandwich sold for $28,000 because it bore the face of the Blessed Virgin, miraculously preserved undecayed in a plastic box. Diane Duyser of Florida, its maker, said, "I went to take a bite out of it, and then I saw this lady looking back at me."

The incorruptible snack was bought by a casino – a sale which some might consider in as bad taste as the sandwich itself. But then presumably if the Mother of God had issues with that, she wouldn't have appeared on it in the first place.

In fact, the Holy Family are clearly wise to the commercial potential of edible apparitions in the age of the Internet, as shortly after the apparition of the Virgin on a sandwich, the same casino spent $10,600 on a honey mustard flavour pretzel in the shape of Madonna and child, found by 12-year-old Crysta Naylor in Nebraska.

This was followed by Fred Whan's sale of a breaded fish fillet with the face of Christ burned into it. On first disovering the relic, Fred thought, "that looks like a rock singer," but his son pointed out it was Jesus. Quite how you verify the identity is unclear; I think the son might have been right, but there's probably less money in apparitions of Jerry Garcia.

Less commercially, in recent years the Virgin Mary has appeared in a salt stain in an underpass of the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago; light on a garage door daily at 5.30pm in New Mexico; a damp patch on a wall being decorated, again in New Mexico; a Saskatchewan greenhouse window; chocolate drippings in a chocolate factory in California; and a chemical deposit on a hospital window in Massachusetts. This last apparition wondrously relocated to a chimney of the same hospital after the window was covered because pious crowds were obstructing ambulances.

Our friends in the world religions do these things differently, of course. Pictures of anything (let alone God) being forbidden in Islam, when the 14 year-old Zainab Shah of Slough cut open an aubergine last year, it was only the name of Allah, in Arabic, naturally, which appeared to her.

We never know when these things will be manifested unto us. In 2003, I my humble self was about to enjoy a coffee in a rather dated cup when I noticed in the
crema an absolutely perfect Jesus-loves-you smiley face. I got my camera and then noticed how messy my desk was. I cleared it all for the photo, but when I came to take the picture, the face was gone. I think there's a lesson there for all of us.
also see
hubris 2
Mark Howe's regular rant about Internet culture
strangely warmed
Andrew Rumsey's regular column about the religious life
loose canons
Stephen Tomkins' regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
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