#2st_francis_of_assisi

St Francis of Assisi did it. He lived on his own, no salary, no institutional support. Of course, he was insane. I recently saw a review of a new biography of him— St Francis did everything he could to make himself physically miserable. He slept on the floor, in the cold. No flannel pj’s, no fire, and no bed. No food, except scraps he beat the dogs to. One tunic, and no mention of a Bosch or Miele washer/dryer in his Tuscan lean-to. Plus— oh yeah— he would whip his own back and legs until they bled and he lost consciousness. Later in life he developed black, pustulent tumors on his hands and feet; the word was he had the stigmata, a sign from God of his saintliness.

I get it. You abuse yourself like that only because you are in such emotional pain you have to make that pain visible. St Francis must have been enthused to find a way of linking that need for self-abuse to religion. Projecting across eight centuries: I feel you, Francis. I get it.

I know people who abuse themselves in similarly visible ways: they self-mutilate. They put cigarettes out on their forearms, or cut themselves in places you can see. There’s also alcohol abuse and drugs. But the way we talk about these things is wrong. We hear the phrase “a cry for help”, implying that we should all want the pain to stop. What St Francis helps me say is: you can’t take away my pain. It is who I am. You can make it less visible to you, by medicating me or locking me up. But all I want is for you to have some idea of what it feels like in here. And that is why the homelessness, the self-flagellation, the refusal to see a doctor, the bloody pustules on my hand.

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