In the torrential rain of Saturday lunchtime I was called down to the church to speak to someone. This is sufficiently unusual, and the voice on the phone sounded sufficiently disturbed, for me to be slightly nervous and take my big umbrella with me not so much to shelter from the rain as to provide some means of self-defence should it become necessary.
Of course it wasn't: he wanted me to see a friend, a lady living in the village who suffers from schizophrenia. I visited, picked my way through the chaos of the flat, listened, prayed and laid my hands on her head, and promised to write to the GP and the Community Mental Health Team. That was about all I could do, and it always feels very limited.
Nobody knows precisely where schizophrenia comes from, though there are all sorts of theories. The voices people with it hear are very often hostile, critical and vicious, attacking the sufferer with their own fears and sense of unworthiness. Often (though of course not always) they seem to be linked with real critical voices people have got all too used to hearing from others, especially from parents and family. Whether the voices are demonic, as some Christians would assert, I'm not sure: schizophrenia dissolves the boundaries between the self and the world outside the mind, meaning the sufferer hears thoughts (the kind of thoughts that flit through all our minds) as external manifestations, so in dealing with it you are instantly propelled into an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of deception and never quite sure what you're dealing with. Either way, the first step in combatting these horrible mental insinuations is to insist on the absolute love of God for the individual, and their worth to him, regardless of what they may have been told in the past.
Yesterday I met the lady concerned who seemed astonishingly better: almost 'clothed and in her right mind', as it says in the Bible story. I suppose I ought not to be surprised that praying actually had a positive result (of course it may only be temporary, but it's still something), but you do get used to being completely impotent.
Trevor, on the other hand, continues to be a problem. In this lady's case, religion could come in from the outside, as it were, into her situation and supply something solid and objective to reinforce her sense of worth and self; in his, religion is built into the structure of his delusional thinking. It's part of the sickness and it's hard to see far it can help with the cure.