Church at the Mall on Sunday


We were in the mall last Sunday afternoon and took lunch in the food court.

Sounds of children playing on a nearby carousel competed against the din of the crowd socializing there. It was hard to tell by listening if it was a mall or a circus.

Nearby, a table of young girls held their bags from Abercrombie & Fitch as they ate. Families jockeyed for seats; gatherings of young people, all in tight-fitting clothing, juggled trays and clusters of shopping bags from Nordstrom, Justice, Aeropostale. I could see but not hear the newly manicured nails of a blonde woman tap along the rims of her Prada sunglasses as she moved them from her temples to a dyed alligator carrying case which she then slipped into her Coach bag. She and a buff Italian-looking man sat nearby to eat their grilled chicken Caesar salads.

But closest to us was a mentally challenged middle-aged man with a misshapen head, eating alone. He carried no bags. He was grazing a tray from Wendy’s and seemed to be writing an essay on a napkin for the whole 20 minutes I observed him. His french-fry-covered tongue would poke out beyond his fat lips at regular intervals.

He had an institutionally-short haircut that accentuated the look of retardation in his face. His black hair was intensely curly and pubic-like. His arms lent no shape to the sleeves of his bright-yellow T-shirt. He was as milk-soppy, pasty, and homely as could be against the lavish backdrop of the newly renovated dining hall.

In America, they build the shopping malls to look like cathedrals. This was clearly the hunchback escaped from the tower…

I said to Ken, “turn around – there’s Jesus.”

He turned around – didn’t see a beard – turned back confused and asked,
“Why did you say that?”
And I said, “because he’s the humblest, lowliest, most vulnerable man in the room.”

And if I can’t relate to someone like that as my Savior and Lord,
to prefer to sit at his feet and be taught by him above all others,
then what good am I in this world no matter what club I belong to, or what label I wear?

Those random 20-minutes spoke to me with more authority than any church service.
It was just as sacramental to me, perhaps more so, than what some now know as the Lord’s Supper.

My heart was broken over that man – like some dry, crusty loaf; blessed just to be dipped and softened in the greasiness of his meal. Somehow, we had had communion. I was experiencing the Real Presence.

I didn’t know how to respond to the moment. Torn by the pull of the paradox playing out before my eyes – I felt compelled to give him everything in my wallet, as if looking to tip some cosmic scale of justice and cast my vote for what is real and beautiful and wise in the midst of the dusty chaos kicked up by our blind consumerism.

And though I didn’t have the courage to speak, to ask, “How are you doing today? Do you need a ride home?” I left his presence CHANGED.

Isn’t that what it’s really about – to see with new eyes?

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