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By David Whitlock
“Last thing I remember,
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’”
----The Eagles, Hotel California
My cousins had picked me up at Love Field in Dallas, Texas. I was to preside at their father’s funeral the next day. After visiting with their family in their mother’s home, they drove me to my hotel.
At least I thought it was my hotel.
They had taken care of my flight plans, and my dad said I could stay in the same hotel with him, my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew.
“It’s the same hotel we stayed in last year when we were in Arlington, Texas, for Brian’s wedding,” Dad emphasized.
My cousins remembered exactly where that hotel was located because they had visited us there when we in Arlington the year before.
“We’ll see you at the church in the morning,” they said as they left me at the hotel.
I tried to check in at the front desk. “I should have a room under the name of my father, L.D. Whitlock,” I told the night clerk.
“No, we have no room under that name,” she informed me.
I went down the list: my brother Mark, my nephew Brian, his wife, Mandy. There was no reservation under any of those names.
“Hmmm, I’ll just call them,” I told the night clerk.
“We’re here, waiting on you, in room 231,” Mark told me on my cell phone.
Relieved that I was in the right place, I made my way to the elevator and down the long hallway to room 231.
I knocked loudly on the door, proudly announcing my presence to my family.
And much to my surprise, a kind Oriental man opened the door.
I apologized. He smiled, bowed, and shut the door.
I’m now nonplussed and on my cell phone to my brother: “Don’t you know your own room number, Nimrod?
Still on the phone, he asks his wife, Joy, to check the room number.
“231, the number’s right here,” I hear her say.
“That can’t be right. I was just there and an Oriental man is in that room,” I counter.
“What hotel are you at?” my brother asks.
“The same one as last year, just like Dad told me.”
I now have to hold my cell phone away from my ear because my brother is howling with laughter. In fact, his son Brian told me later, Mark was on the floor in hysterics.
Somewhere in the planning process, they had changed hotels.
“How the heck was I supposed to know?” I demanded.
And I can still hear my dear ol’ dad’s explanation in the background, “Well, I thought someone would have told him.”
Making my way back down the hallway to the elevator, and to the front desk, I can hear Don Henley and the Eagles singing, “Welcome to the Hotel California.”
But alas, the night clerk, suppressing a snicker at my plight, happily pointed me to the front door, where I could wait on my not-so-compassionate big brother to pick me up.
And later, as I got in the van with him and my nephew Brian, I was glad to be leaving a place where I didn’t belong. And I thought of how easy it had been to wind up in the wrong place.
Finding the place where you belong sometimes requires checking the sources, repeating directions, and making sure you have reliable information. It was C.S. Lewis who observed in his book, The Screwtape Letters, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Finding life as it is supposed to be, as it is truly meant to be, is like a journey. And the search itself prompts questions like, “Where are you going?” And “Who are you, really?”
That life is discovered somewhere in the admission that only One has the answers to the questions of our deepest longings---desires only satisfied by living within the Eternal Now.
The late Eastern Orthodox priest and church historian, the Rev. Alexander Schmemann aptly wrote, “Eternal life is not what begins after temporal life; it is the eternal presence of the totality of life.”
As we find our place in that life, we discover we’ve been holding the key unlocking the door to true freedom all along.
No, I don’t want to stay one night in the Hotel Californian or any other place other than the place I was meant to be, a place where I can breathe in the fresh air of eternal life.
And enjoy the freedom of coming and going in the Eternal Presence forever.
David Whitlock is pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in Lebanon and teaches as an adjunct professor in the Theology Department at Campbellsville University in Campbellsville.ꆱ