As I descended the hill into Portland last night, the snow began to fall. By the time I parked and crossed the street the roads were covered and the line outside the mission was long. When the doors opened to let the homeless in, each wore a trace of fresh snow on their heads. The congregation rises as the temperature lowers.
As the people were finding their seats a man I knew from Teen Challenge approached me to let me know, a woman sitting at the back in a three quarter length coat, had only underwear under her coat and asked if I could find her a pair of pants. I scrambled to find someone who could help, and within a few minutes they brought two pair and laid them on the pulpit. I took them to the woman who was busy using all her powers to sit still and be quiet so she wouldn't be asked to leave the service. She is afflicted with the most distressing mental condition, I have no idea what it is but I've seen her at the mid-day meal a number of times and she has no ability to communicate, she is thirty something and often bursts into loud complaint or disrobes at the dinner table. Last night she wore lipstick on the left side of her lips, the other side was bare but for a smudge on the tip of her nose.
I began the opening prayer and when I finished and begin to introduce the message she took that time to put her pants on murmuring continually and struggling all the way. She accompanied my entire sermon with a low-key babble, and when she got a little too loud, someone would holler at her to quiet down! So as I harmonized my message with her conversation, adjusting my volume as necessary, the Holy Spirit descended and filled the packed room with His presence.
Somehow, as I reflect about the evening, her presence there is, strangely, what I recall most of all. This young woman, lost in every way: homeless, mindless and at the mercy of circumstances living in a State that closed all of its mental facilities and "mainstreamed" the mentally ill as a cost saving strategy. I have this haunting vision of Christ entering the mission last night, with face set like a flint on her poor, huddled mass, neglected by all, loved by none, reaching down and swallowing her in a loving embrace.