At Eucharistic Adoration yesterday a woman approached me and started talking. She appeared to be crazy, as in clinically needy. I had been watching her out of the corner of my eye for fifteen minutes. Her arms twisted in knots, her brow knotted in pain, her lips cursing silently—crazy is what I’m saying.
What does one do in this situation? What would you do? Call the police? The rectory? This woman is bothering me, officer? Threatening me, Father? I invited her to step out of the sanctuary, where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, and take a seat beside me in one of the pews of our lower church.
“Sarah” wasn’t a physical threat to me. She was no longer young (50? 55?), and I outweighed her scrawny frame, with arms like pipes, by nearly two-to-one. She wore a YMCA t-shirt, and my eyes kept returning to it as though it assured me of her humanity. Her eyes, glaring behind wire-rimmed glasses, were the most threatening thing about her. They stared at me out of their corners as though I were the maddest person in the room. Sarah was tortured and told me why: A man friend was telling her that God does not exist, that “God is all bullshit,” that Satan is in charge. She showed me the palms of her two hands side by side, then pointed to the fleshy part of her left palm and said urgently, “You see? You see? That’s Satan!”
Someone else (or was it the same guy?) had driven circles around her in his red car while she was at the cemetery paying tribute to a departed loved one. I asked Sarah if she had any friends nearby. Yes, but those friendships weren’t going well. Did she have any family? Yes, a son in Colorado and a daughter in Peabody. Did she ever see her daughter? Yes, a month ago, Sarah asked her daughter for $100 “fo’ my cah,” and then the daughter told her to get lost.
It is fine to desire and even strive to be good and reasonable, to be moral in our use of freedom and reason, but what do we do, how do we act when confronted with madness, possibly even the presence of the devil, if you go in for the devil? It was hard for me to face this situation without fear or preconceptions (the woman needs drugs! a padded cell!), especially when I felt completely inept and helpless. Was I crazy sitting with a crazy woman? Was I doing any good at all, or was I only deluding myself that I could have any effect at all on this wild, uncaged being?
But we were in the Adoration chapel. That means Jesus Christ was present, and I kept begging for his presence between us, Sarah and me, right there on the pew, as I repeated the Jesus Prayer and my fingers twisted a ruby-beaded rosary. Helpless and needy myself, I couldn’t help desiring to help this woman, and I sat there, in front of that desire as I remained in front of her. I heard myself saying, “It’s hard, I know,” and other vaguely sympathetic things, and then sitting with Sarah a while longer. My words seemed to have no effect. The positive I said was deflected immediately by her angry, frightened glance and her rejoinders involving bad things. Then I sat with Sarah a while longer.
Finally, I told her that I was going back to the sanctuary to pray. I was there another hour or so, and so was Sarah, who continued to sit in the pew we had chosen. As I left, I stopped and sat with her another 20 seconds to say good-bye. I repeated our names with a you-and-me gesture, to reaffirm that we had been introduced and were now friends: “Sarah, Webster.” Then I left Sarah alone with the Blessed Sacrament and a man-friend of mine who had come in since and who I knew could handle things. I left thinking that if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, if Jesus Christ is not present in that sanctuary as He is to us today, here and now, then nothing makes much sense, and we could all be crazy as Sarah.