On meeting St. Francis

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Personal Reflection

February 7, 2018 | Viewpoints | Volume 22 Issue 04
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld, Alberta Correspondent

‘The Ecstasy of St. Francis of Assisi,’ by Blas Muñoz, painted circa 1683-86. (Google Art project photo)

I wouldn’t normally invite a stranger to stay in our house, but there was something about Jane (a pseudonym) that changed me.

I was waiting for my son to finish a late hockey practice when she approached. She was about 30, slim and nice-looking. I noticed her beautiful black leather knee-high boots.

“Excuse me. I feel awkward asking, but could I trouble you for a ride to the Tim Horton’s?” she asked. “It’s dark and I don’t feel comfortable walking.”

“Sure.” I replied. “I wouldn’t want to walk there alone either. Are you meeting someone?”

She said no. Something about the way she answered felt odd, so I asked if she was all right. Her face crumpled, she sat down and her story spilled out.

Jane was planning to spend the night at the doughnut shop when the recreation centre closed. She was homeless, having lost her job, which meant she had to move out of her apartment. Her car was stolen and she was estranged from her wealthy family. All of this had happened a few months earlier.

She had managed in the meantime by staying with a neighbour and working odd jobs until the neighbour couldn’t—or wouldn’t?—help her anymore. Her options had disappeared. This would be her third night sleeping at a fast-food joint.

It was late, so I took her home with me. She collapsed in our guest room and slept soundly.

The next day we talked. Jane said God spoke to her and told her what to do. She was an accountant but felt she could not continue to work for a corrupt system. She wanted to live simply and help people. She was a wonderful house guest, doing dishes and asking what else she could do. Her conversation was intelligent and engaging. She was an animal-loving vegetarian. She was considerate and never asked for anything. She was grateful to sleep in a good bed, to wash her clothes, take a shower and eat a few meals at our family table.

Jane was wonderful, gentle . . . and delusional. At least I started feeling that way about her as she ended sentences with “it came to me” or “God told me.” She claimed to be telepathic, saying she could pick up on feelings and auras.

Hotels and homeless shelters were intolerable as options for her. She wouldn’t talk about searching for a job. She wondered why God was testing her. After I would suggest something, she often lit up, saying God told her I would say that exact thing, so its truth was confirmed in her mind. I believe she believed it. She did let me challenge and push her to consider that her understandings might be wrong; however, her “sendings” tended to quickly confirm her original ideas.

She called a relative, who agreed to take her in, but after we purchased a non-refundable bus ticket, the relative reneged. I never got straight answer from Jane about her family background, but it was obvious she felt rejected by someone she thought might love her. That hurt.

She stayed one more night with us. The next day I packed a lunch and encouraged her go to a women’s shelter. To her credit, she did check it out, but she sent an email saying the shelter was horrible and she was at a McDonald’s for the night again. She thanked me for the two-day respite and did not ask for anything more.

I’m left with a mix of emotions and thoughts. Jane reminds me of a modern-day St. Francis of Assisi. Like him, she was estranged from a wealthy family and refused to participate in consumerist corruption. She, too, is a gentle soul who loves God and will go to great lengths to obey.

While our interactions led me to think she likely has mental issues, perhaps St. Francis did, too. I wonder how the people around St. Francis reacted to him? Did they pack lunches and send him away, unable to solve his problems and relieved that the delusional God-talk wouldn’t persist?

This encounter has left me wondering how, where and through whom God speaks, and how I should listen. Jane may not be a saint and she may not be mentally healthy, but the two days we spent together have given me a lot to think about.

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