This afternoon, after church, I took a walk through golden gate park. All weekend we were anticipating huge rain, but the day sparkled – sunshine all around, blue skies, the whole nine yards and then some. I took out my camera and was taking pictures as I walked down the road which is closed on Sundays for bicyclists, rollerbladers, runners and sauntering Franciscans.
I was walking further into the park and a group of guys were walking out, towards the Haight area. One of the guys said to his friends, “I’ll be right back” and literally ran to me. This is the second time in a week where someone actually ran to me. He said, “I don’t know if you can help me, but I think I’m going to hell.” I knew God was present.
I told him my name, asked him his, put my hand on his shoulder and said we should have a seat. He was not much younger than me. I noticed he had some missing fingers.
He told me he hears voices and his friends didn’t know it, but he had this week tried to kill himself. He knows he’s a schizophrenic and he thinks it’s the devil controlling his thoughts. He chopped off his own fingers. He has a history of physically causing himself harm. He then asked if I thought he was going to hell.
I told him, no, I really don’t think so and truly, I don’t. He asked why not. I told him to look at his life and the harm he caused himself and the suffering he’s enduring with mental illness and that itself is hell. We don’t need it in the afterlife when the present is almost too much to bear.
God wants him to have a break from all this, not to suffer more. Even his calling out to me was God working in him. God, despite this man’s lack of understanding, has purpose for him. I told him, God would have called him back to him sooner his attempt at suicide had become “successful.” I told him, that his crying out with me and alone is God’s compassion for him.
He was uncertain and I could see his paranoia take hold of his impulse to seek help – but he asked was I sure, was I just saying this to comfort him, did I really believe what I was saying. The truth is I do.
Franciscan spirituality and for that matter all Christian sprituality is incarnational. The implication of Christ’s coming has been interpreted to focus on sin. Francis shows that Jesus came because God’s love could not just stay heavenward but had to be outpoured, in exuberant generosity, came for all of us and is with us even in times of darkness. Even in our doubt and questioning and even in our lack of faith, God is with us.
I asked him to pray, especially when he begins to notice the voices creeping in. To ask for intercession, knowing he is powerless to the voices. I also suggested that he seek medical care as mental illness is beyond my reach and actually his for true help. Finally i told him, I would pray for him and I do and I will.