As a minister in an urban setting, I come into contact with my fair share of people with signs of severe mental illness. “Saucy J” told me she had an earpiece with the Secret Service and Beyoncé on speed dial. The next morning, I found her sleeping on the steps of my church. I offered to walk her over to the homeless drop-in center a few blocks away, but she said she needed to go meet some high-level government officials and took off in the other direction. Last year I met someone who thought he was the President of the United States. He asked me to pray for him, as he was feeling the weight of the office. I was more than happy to pray for the state of our nation and ask that God grant him wisdom in leadership and decision making. He found the church's phone number and has been calling me once a month for prayer ever since.
Saucy J and the President are obviously experiencing psychosis, a serious lack of connection to reality. But it’s not always not so obvious. People who present as psychotic often speak of spiritual matters. It’s hard to know whether the person is having a religious delusion, a legitimate religious experience, or both.
“You really don’t know who I am? I can’t believe you don’t recognize me. I’m Origin! The Virgin Mary appeared to me four times and told me she’d marry me when I got to heaven.”
Continued conversation confirmed that “Origin” was not fully grounded in reality, but who am I to say that he’s wrong about the Virgin Mary? I’ve had people who seem mentally ill tell me they have the gift of prophecy or can discern spiritual evil in others. They usually don’t make complete sense, but that’s not to say that God is not active in them. Or hasn’t gifted them in a uniquely spiritual way.
Jesus preached the Beatitudes to show that people who stand in need of God also stand ready to receive God’s grace, God’s blessedness. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who are persecuted…. Might we add “blessed are the psychotic” to the list?
I think it’s safe to say that most of us have known blessing in sorrow, blessing in tragedy, and blessing in our own vulnerability, which is scary yet what allows us to be touched so deeply by the divine. What could make a person more vulnerable than a vulnerability in the brain?
This all leads me to believe that blessing is simply another word for connection to God. And it shows up in a variety of contexts. Sometimes we have a felt connection to God that is accompanied by laughter and joy. Sometimes it’s serenity and peace. And sometimes we experience God in the midst of our tears. Tears of grief and gratitude, loss and love all mixed together. Blessed are those who mourn.
This is not to say that we can ever romanticize psychosis or poverty, or any kind of affliction. Afflictions are meant to be healed, and God is the source of healing, in both this life and the next. Jesus remains with the vulnerable and in our vulnerabilities, providing a window into his nature of suffering love and desire to draw us into his intimate embrace. So yes. Blessed are those with psychosis. Blessed are those in pain. Blessed are those who feel deeply. And blessed are all those brave enough to admit any kind of weakness, for they see -- and shall see -- God.