Hotels and exorcisms: Transforming the broken into whole

Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hotel rooms creep me out. I've lived in too many tourist towns not to have a good idea of all the disturbing things that happen in them.

I asked one senior high youth who cleaned rooms about the most interesting thing he'd found in a room and his answer was a "pile of poop in the middle of the bed." That's an image along with many others inappropriate for publishing that I think about when I have to check into a room.

If I have to rent a room, I just stay up all night imagining all the hideous things that have happened or could happen. One of the many and quirky things of my psyche.

I recently had an overnighter in Memphis where I was forced to stay in a hotel alone. The retired arson investigator from Chicago who shared all his stories of serial murders with me on the four hour flight did not help my mindset. Then I had my cash swiped. Then I cried. I still had to face the room and a night alone feeling pretty small and vulnerable. Just don't let there be bloodstains. There wasn't, but this overwhelming loneliness and fear descended. I felt like a child, but realized with three kids in my house it's been a long time since I've been completely alone.

It was good for me to feel vulnerable and afraid. My instinct was to hunker down in the room, eat my remaining trail mix for dinner and read the rest of my books through the night. Even though it seems like a silly fear to many; it was gripping for me. So, it took every bit of courage for me to leave the room and go out.

I went for a walk down the road until I found the "Catfish Cabin" where they took good care of me. I got to help with a birthday celebration and when folks found out I was from Alaska it started a stir in the whole restaurant. I felt like Elvis. That gave me the courage to go back to the dreaded hotel room. The grip of fear was loosening and I wanted to break through.

I remembered at this point, the great gift of exorcisms. I've only been called in to do exorcisms twice. We call them house blessings because that sounds so much nicer.

I was called into homes where something very broken and dreadful happened to reclaim the scarred space as sacred. That's what I did in the stale and depressing hotel room, I prayed, tossed some water around and reminded myself that God is always transforming the scarred into the sacred, always making the broken into the holy, always present in the darkness with brilliant light.

That's the good news as we finish the Easter season in the Christian community. Jesus' whole ministry is about transforming the broken into wholeness, the diseased into fullness, and death into life. God is not about keeping things tidy, staying distant and untouched, but entering into the darkness and into the scars bringing light and life.

Fear can be paralyzing and we quickly throw perspective out the window. How surprisingly fast our minds and hearts race with panic and anxiety. It can steal precious and wonderful life from us. So, I know now some about how to regain perspective. 1. Seek community. I needed a meal with others even if they were strangers. 2. Throw some water. Water is a powerful symbol and tool for God's cleansing spirit. 3. Say my prayers. That's where life can be put back into right perspective, where fear can be confronted, and abundant life renewed.

Hotel rooms still creep me out. I'll still bring my own bedding and pillow and wash off the remote control, but I won't allow that fear or any fear to steal my life and spirit, to leave me in the scars instead of the sacred.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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