Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Meditations In A Mall

If someone were to ask me, "What's the best thing about large shopping malls?" My immediate and declarative response would be, "People watching!" (One of my favorite pastimes).

I'm not a huge fan of malls to begin with since I don't enjoy window shopping, which only causes covetousness  and stirs up a desire to want more things that I don't really need. Thankfully, this mall didn't have a bookstore but it did have a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (For Cava it was the Lego store). After looking around the whole of Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, I finally took a break and sat down in one of the chairs to just watch those who were busy buying. 

It did not take me long to get caught up in watching those who passed by me. I enjoy watching their interactions or lack of (I've noticed how much cell phones have affected real communication and interaction), the manner of their gait (which often tells me a bit about them and how they see themselves for at least that day), their expressions, and just how amazingly different we all are. 

I tried to imagine what their stories were and what brought them to this mall at this time. Years ago, I remember being in Southpark Mall in Charlotte to meet my sister, who worked at Laura Ashley at the time. While I was waiting in the store for her, I saw a mother and her young daughter shopping. The little girl was all excited she was getting a new dress. It was such a happy moment until the daughter went into the changing room to try a couple of the dresses on. While she was gone, I overheard her mother tell a clerk that they were buying this dress for the girl's grandfather's funeral. The girl did not know yet that he had died. In that one small moment, the whole image shifted from one of happiness to one of grief. And we never know why the person who is shopping around us in these stores is there for.

As I watched people, I could not help but think of one of the verses from my Bible study that morning, "In him we live and move and have our being." The Apostle Paul wrote that verse in Acts (17:28) and, as I sat and watched people bustling about Opry Mills, his words came to mind. All of this diversity exists only because of a loving Creator. He sees each one of these people as they are and loves them infinitely. The more I saw them as beloved of God, the more I found myself loving them. They were not Conservatives or Liberals, Republicans or Democrats or Independents. I did not know their religious beliefs or even if they had any. I didn't know anything about their personal lives. None of that mattered, In that moment, I saw that even this mall was a sacred space with God all around us and few probably even realizing it.

I loved all of these fragile and fractured people with every fiber of my being. I was filled with a compassion for them. I was viewing the world in the light of God. That moment became one of worship.

All of these people who were busy in their buying didn't even realize that at the root of all their desires is a desire for God. Even in their purchasing of a new dress or latest line of sneakers or newest gadget or eating food from one of the vendors in the food court or buying a ticket at the theater to see a movie. In all of this is the desire to fill a hole and find wholeness. All of their relationships, addictions, purchases, strivings, and cravings are an attempt to find meaning and fulfillment. Yet in their desire to be popular or powerful or wealthy or famous or sexually desirable is, deep down, the unbearable longing of a child for the unconditional love of their Father. They wanted to be noticed and to matter.

How much I wanted to hug each of them and tell them, "If you only understood - really and truly and deeply understood - how much God loves you right now, in this moment and in every moment of your life, your life would be revolutionary changed by the radicalness of such grace and acceptance."  
And how different would our interactions with others be if we saw both them and ourselves that way? That's why Jesus said to "love your neighbor as yourself." I know all too often I don't.  Most days I'm like Linus . . ,
In each one of those people is the holy and Divine breath, The Spirit of God breathed life into each of us. In both Hebrew and Greek the words for spirit and breath are the same. And it was in every person there and they not only breathed the breath of God, but were made in His image.

I saw their dignity and their humanity. Though they were nameless to me, they weren't unseen and unknown. Each one had worth and meaning. Each one was a part of a grand history of all the ancestors before them and all of those future generations to come. Each mattered. Each was unique. And all of them, and me, are interdependent on each other.  But beneath all that, we all "live and move and have our being" because of God. All was miraculous.

If only we could all see each other that way. If we could but see each other as God sees us . . .

It was a transformative moment to see others through that purest form of love, agape love. To see them through the tenderness and gentleness of the eyes of God, who, like the father of the prodigal son, longs to run to them, embrace them and welcome them back. 

Emily Dickinson once wrote, "I dwell in possibility," and, in that moment, I realized God is possibility. I understood that He was there in that mall in Nashville, Tennessee.  In that moment was grace: beautiful, elegant, loving grace. All encompassing grace. And I wondered if anyone else there realized it.

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