Friday, June 15, 2007

The Christ at the Gym

Yesterday I was doing my usual work out on the orbital running machine and I noticed a woman and a little old person (who's back was to me) in one of the corners. She was doing some light exercises and the older person was making a feeble attempt at imitating her. From the back the older person looked to be in his/her 70's had a very small form and narrow shoulders which made it unclear to me as whether this was a man or woman with the younger woman. To add to the mystery of the gender of the person he/she wore a baseball cap. Now in the real world usually only men wear baseball caps, but in "gymworld" its a unisex fashion accessory.

Eventually the older person turned around and was sporting a very bushy mustache. So now that this mystery was solved I looked at the old man---he was smiling the sweetest smile and had the body movements and demeanor of someone who had been developmentally challenged for quite some time. He patiently watched his teacher and made feeble attempts to imitate her but never with much passion or success. And she was very patient with him moving him along to different areas of the track room to try a new exercise.

At one point he looked at me and smiled. His face was purely without guile or malice and there was a compassion and wisdom about it. It was a worn face, yet full of joy and wonder. He had a kind of shuffle in the way he walked and followed his companion dutifully and without complaint.

As I watched him, I thought about images of Jesus. The images of Jesus whom the Orthodox say walks among us disguised as the poor and marginalized of this world. I thought of this man as an image of God in my pathway that day. An initially pitiful figure that radiated a simple joy, compassion and understanding. Unexpected, initially rejected, and who's absolution of my unwitting rejection drew me to him.

I imagined him at the Last Day standing before the nations of the world as Matthew 25 suggests. Looking at us sheep and goats. I imagined the surprise and shock of many who want a muscle man Jesus at seeing this man in his frailty and seeming mental defectiveness passing judgement on us (the so-called healthy who have all of our faculties). And in that typical way in which religious epiphanies occur it blessed me as I trudged on to complete my 40 minute sentence on the orbital runner.

I watched as the woman when to the stationary bicycle area and started peddling. He sat on the bike next to her and started pressing the buttons---seeming to delight in the "beep" the buttons made. My workout ended I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I passed them giving them one last look as the young woman caught my eye and gave me a knowing smile as if she knew that I knew who she was with.


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