A long time ago, I was a bit influenced by the End Times craziness going around in the Protestant World. I read the Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay. I thought civilization as we knew it in the United States was heading for collapse. I found myself a survivalist, one of the reasons I came to Canada as a hippie, back-to-the lander in the 1970s. So, I have done the homesteading thing, living off the land, prepared to go off the grid if the grid shut down. It was a step into voluntary poverty and I quickly discovered that the romance of farming wore off quickly. There were some things I remember with nostalgia—the smell of a wood fire and the heat from a woodstove (but not the mess of bits of bark, cinders and creosote, thank you); the fresh eggs from the barn; the fun of having farm animals (though not the work); and having a beautiful piece of land with pasture, woodlot, streams running through it and a view of Nova Scotia’s green/blue hills.
With the Chair of St. Peter temporarily vacant, I keep running across all kinds of Catholic End Times stuff, such as the prophecy of St. Malachy or the Third Secret of Fatima.
One of the reasons we crave a sudden, radical snap in the thread of history is because it would make things simpler—cutting the Gordian knot of good intentions and evil outcomes with a swift blow from above. A similar hopeful spirit is what moves conspiracy theorists, who really believe that 13 guys (be they rabbis or reptiles or Opus Dei operatives) are to blame for all the evils in the world. What great news that would be! All we would need to do would be to set a trap for those guys—tell each one he’d won a new Range Rover, to be picked up at the same dealership—then lock them up, and then the planet’s problems would melt away.
There’s another, sadder reason why we crave signs and wonders, skipping lightly over works of mercy or Eucharistic adoration to go visit some dubious site of the Blessed Virgin’s Twitter account: We aren’t sure God exists. We don’t fully believe in the afterlife, or spiritual beings, and we’d really like some proof in the form of a miracle that we aren’t deluding ourselves. The ex-Catholic William Alexander Percy (uncle of the great author Walker) recounted in Lanterns on the Levee how his father reacted to a ghost story. The old man said that he would crawl on his hands and knees through the desert for the chance to meet a ghost.
When we line up alongside the Telemundo trucks to see the quesadilla with Jesus’ face, each of us is doing the same: Begging for evidence that the spiritual world exists, that the life we are slogging through is not a “snuff” farce whose curtain drops with the grave. When we really go off the rails, we might find ourselves sneaking into séances, or asking young women from California to teach us how to “channel.” In search of the shadow of God, we can plunge into a darkness that’s all too real.