In this season of Lent we are drawn towards metanoia, the changing of our minds, a transformation of our thought by which also our heart and spirit will be transformed to draw closer to God. As we draw closer to the Lord we come to see Him in the face of our fellow human beings.
Some will speak of the various items materially they will leave aside for Lent. Maybe they will refrain from dessert, maybe it will be some other pleasure. But more importantly, we should seek to leave behind those barriers we have erected with others which keep us from experiencing Christ’s grace and love in every encounter.
Particularly in our society, we have erected those barriers with the souls who have been deeply hurt and are deeply troubled. We do not understand them so we may turn away from them. We live in our sheltered ways failing to fully embrace our neighbor and to love them as ourselves. Those in extreme states of mind, such as what is diagnosed as schizophrenia are examples of those that society is prone to shun.
Schizein implies divided or broken. Phren is translated as mind, however, Aristotle had believed the ‘phren’ to be within the heart, not the cranium. Thus if we take a literal translation of schizophrenia we will find it means brokenhearted and such is an accurate description of such experience which leads to such a label.
What is defined as schizophrenia and psychosis is typically a state of chronic fear and terror? Individuals have been shattered by trauma. Within them, mental images of past events continue to haunt them. The inner voice (or conscience) which we all possess becomes amplified to a level where visual and auditory hallucinations become present. Grandiose thoughts arise as an attempt to either stave off depression or to escape from the painful reality of a distressing situation and disordered world. Anti-psychotics have been used to diminish the hallucinations and other distressing behaviors, but they have never addressed the reactions of the person and the underlying trauma and factors that have led them to seek a departure from defined reality. Therefore, in collaborating with these individuals, we must meet them in their sense of reality.
Join With Them Respectfully
We must join in respectfully and in a dignified manner, slowly and gently addressing the various disturbances in the thought process. We must uncover the hidden traumas and seek to “be with” the person as they develop new coping mechanisms. It is entirely possible for individuals even in the states of severe mental anguish and distress to recover. The key is a relationship. That is what these individuals are lacking and need. They need to know that there may exist, if even but one, stable and loving relationships in a world so often filled with pain.
Fear leads to great emotional turmoil. Other so-called mental disorders also often arise from a sense of fear: a fear of individuals, a fear of society, a fear of having been hurt and possibly being hurt again, a fear of life, a fear of death, a fear of not understanding who we are or maybe even being afraid of discovering who we are or who we were, a fear of the uncertainty surrounding what we may become. A fear that maybe we are not a person or our identity as a person. A fear of challenges, a fear of not knowing the answers, or maybe a fear of not understanding the question or even a fear of not knowing what questions to ask. A fear of not being loved or maybe a fear of not knowing what love really is, or what it could be, or what we have been told that it is. A fear of being controlled, a fear of our freedom being taken away. A fear of what others may do to us, or have done to us or will continue to do to us.
This is the human condition; we all have levels of fear, some more, some less. We all have the desire for security, for safety, for solace. If we begin to understand this, we will then begin to understand life, we will be able to connect with others, and realize that the only way out of this fear is for us to journey together. Life is a journey, it is filled with moments where we stray into thorns, yet it is filled with moments of delight. To truly describe the day, we must see the night. To truly describe that which is beautiful we must have something to compare it to. Thus, we have the conditions of suffering. We would not know joyfully unless we had something to compare it to.
The Local Crazy Man
To the town, he is the local ‘crazy man’ who wonders about, at times engaged in conversation with himself. An elderly man with an olive complexion, he is seen by some as a hopeless reject. Tonight I sat with him. We conversed about many topics. What a beautiful man, but with such a broken spirit. The psychiatrists and others have said here is a man beyond reason, one with no hope. Yet, I approached him with compassion and found our conversation most relevant and of interest. Here is a man who has seen the pain of the world and felt it too! We had a wonderful exchange and as he parted he thanked me and said thanks for being there and for a good conversation. Would many even dare speak to him? Would any dare be his acquaintance, much less his friend? I do not see a crazy man but a man who knows suffering, a man who knows loneliness, a man who knows what man inflicts upon his fellow man. But in him, I see hope. In our conversation, he gives me the vision of what we must change to truly be human and to love again.
“Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.” -St. Gregory Nazianzen
”Fasting and almsgiving are ‘the two wings of prayer’ which enable it to gain momentum and more easily reach even to God.” St Augustine
“There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy.” Lord Jesus Christ to St. Faustina