My First Understanding of Vacancy; A Happy Memory
Four girls ages 8-19 stuffed into a car, bags packed with swimsuits and excitement, round the West Virginia turnpike while counting mile markers on the road until the next mountain tunnel on the trip tic; three tunnels means progress. The static on the radio occasionally breaks to the same popular tune, “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. It’s 1979 and there is no GPS or cell phones or satellite radio on this 15 hour drive. There is only the AAA highlighted route, a scarce gas station and my dad’s CB radio on which we take turns saluting wayward truckers “Ten-Four Good Buddy!”
After 14 hours of fighting over the front seat and the stitches on the back seat cushion delineating territories, we get the first harbinger of fun; a palm tree. Then the directive; “Look for vacancy signs, Girls! Our reservation isn’t until tomorrow night!” We need a place to stay for the night. Now begins my favorite part. The catch. Which red flashing neon vacancy sign will unlock the first splash of the summer?
After a long day in the car for us kids, and I can only imagine how long for my parents, we are promised a swim at the hotel, no matter how late our arrival. That’s the only memory of VACANCY in my mental files, and it was a word with positive connotations, until recently.
Dreaming A Spiritual Revelation; Vacancy for Unwanted Guests?
I had a sore throat when I went to bed. It kept me tossing and turning and when I did fall asleep finally, it was to enter into an uncomfortably vivid dream.
I was in my pajamas at my parents house, feeling sick and exhausted, messy bun on top of my head. The doorbell rang. I turn the handle and door pushes open from the other side and it’s four people who seem familiar, but aren’t friends. Shocked at my own appearance and lack of energy, plus the fact that I cannot speak due to my very sore throat (which somehow translates into my dream) the people come in, uninvited and unwelcome. They are followed by more groups of people, who all seem to know each other and are aware of the plans to have a party at my house–a plan with which I was never made privy–and instead of evacuating these intruders, I start to dig around in the kitchen for drinks and cups. I take beverage orders, trying to remember if someone wanted the remnants of the milk carton, or that flat, half-empty can of soda left open in the fridge, since I was not prepared to entertain (a nightmare in itself for my inner Martha Stewart). The dishes are dirty so I am serving odd-ended beverages in cups that hide in the back of my real-life cupboards, like old toddler sippy-cups and plastic tumblers that host Pokémon figures from a bygone era in real life, that hasn’t yet happened in my dream life.
I run around hosting; inviting but annoyed, accommodating but uncomfortable, feeling mostly frustrated that my words won’t be forced out to stop this madness, all seemingly because of my sore throat. The scene goes on for what seems like hours, ending only when my sweet doggy paws me back into the realty of a quiet room, and the only lingering reality of my dream is my horribly sore throat, and the feeling of helplessness from rude intruders.
What’s it all mean?
I sit in the beach condo we are borrowing for a few days and I settle in with the scripture of the day (Luke 11:15-26) where the crowd is accusing Jesus of driving out demons by the power of the enemy, and he explains why that is impossible. He then goes on to explain the way a demon inhabits a person:
“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone,
it roams through arid regions searching for rest
but, finding none, it says,
‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’
But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order.
Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits
more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there,
and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.”
I don’t quite understand what Jesus is explaining to the crowds until I remember my dream and the feeling of unwanted intruders.
Then I remember what Dan Burke said in the prayer workshop I attended on the weekend before last. He references writings (including his own several books on prayer and a Vatican document “Jesus Christ the Bearer of Life” ) regarding deep prayer as the path to holiness. Contrary to creating space for God is the spiritualism of “creating space” in our spirit and mind for ourselves, i.e. a “vacancy”. Popular trends using ancient methods of spirituality gone awry to focus on “self”. The danger of this is akin to what Christ describes in scripture as the empty house, and is explained in this Vatican document;
“Christian prayer is not an exercise in self-contemplation, stillness and self-emptying, but a dialogue of love, one which implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from ‘self’ to the ‘You’ of God.” (see also Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2705–2719).“
I imagine if we came to stay at this beach condo a few weeks ago and there had been guests already here. We would have been unwelcome, because we were uninvited. There would have been no room. No vacancy.
The Right Guest: Reservations only…
When we fill ourselves with the right “guest” (the Holy Spirit is often called “The Faithful Guest of our soul”) because we invite him in, and then He can rightfully consume our hearts. He makes it impossible for those unwelcome and unpleasant (like the ones that invaded my dream) to take over. The No Vacancy sign is posted. Only registered Guest gets the key. And He can stay as long as He likes.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful…