“I’ve always been special,” she said. She seemed shy about saying it. Her voice was low and soft. “I just knew that there were a lot of people on this earth, and that they need somebody to look after them, to teach them and heal them.” The words came out slowly, and she looked up at me sideways once in a while as she spoke. “Jesus was here a long time ago, and he didn’t get to finish what he came to do.” She was quiet for a long time.
“You’re special,” I repeated, feeling open and curious as to what she was going to say. I thought maybe I knew.
“I’ve been noticing lately . . . ,” she trailed off, looking down at her hands. I waited. “This sounds strange, I know, but I think I can heal people.”
She glanced up at my face to see my reaction.
“I know people who feel that they can heal with their hands,” I said. “They do massage, or healing touch . . .”
I quit talking because she was shaking her head impatiently. Now that she’d started talking she wanted to keep going.
“Not like that,” she said. “God has given me the ability to heal people with my hands. I’m . . . ,” she hesitated, “I’m the new Jesus.”
I can’t say I was surprised. I didn’t see a lot of Jesuses in my pastoral counseling practice over the years, but I knew it was a pretty common delusion in folks who struggled with mental illness. My aunt, a psychiatrist, said there were always one or two in the hospital where she worked. The thing is, if there were a real one he or she would sound the same as the delusional ones. In the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark, the story goes that Jesus’s family thought he was crazy and tried to get him to come home. When I meet a Jesus, I like to keep an open mind. It would be really good to have another one around these days. We could use the teaching and healing, anyway.
“I’ve got some bad tendonitis in this wrist,” I said, holding my left hand out toward her. “Would you mind?” She stood up fast with a shy smile. Tentatively, she reached for my wrist and held it in both her hands.
“I’m not that good at this all the time,” she said, “but I’ll just try.”
She held on as I watched her. “Um, I may not be doing it right,” she worried. “I don’t know.”
I kept still. I was really hoping that she could fix my hand. It had been painful for a couple of months. After a while she sat back down.
“I don’t know if I did it right,” she said. “I may need to keep practicing. Do you want to go outside and talk there?”
We went to sit in the courtyard outside my office. She lit a cigarette and told me about her plans to go to the hospitals and put her hands on people, once she got better at healing.
“I’m a little worried about you doing that,” I told her. “People get scared of folks who feel like they are Jesus. You know that, don’t you?”
“In fact, most of them end up in the psychiatric part of the hospital eventually, from time to time.”
She was looking right at me now, no more flickering sideways glances.
“Do you hear what I’m telling you?” She nodded. “I would be very careful who I talked to about this. Just mainly talk to the psychiatrist, okay?” She nodded. “Thank you for working on my hand.”
“Sorry it didn’t work.”
“Yeah, me too.”
I called her sister and told her we need more people who want to teach and heal, and who can have the presence of mind to doubt their powers when they don’t work. Unfortunately, her kindness and sense of calling put her at risk of being taken advantage of by unethical people, so the situation was sad and worrisome. I hoped the psychiatrist could help.
I don’t think there is someone coming to save us. I don’t think there was someone two thousand years ago who came to save us, either, but I love what they say he taught. I think we have to teach what we know, heal the best ways we can, and take care of each other when that’s a possibility. I’m not closing off any of the possibilities, though. I will choose to live with curiosity and the expectation of being taught and healed, and to be the kind of person who will welcome the next Jesus to come through the door.
The Rev. Meg Barnhouse is a Unitarian Universalist minister and a fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.