Recently I was thumbing through the Twitter-verse when I saw a tweet from the BibleBitches, a dynamic duo who, like me, spent time traversing the halls of Wingate at Wake Forest School of Divinity.
Their question above prompted me to reflect back on a situation I found myself in during my last year at Campbell University. I was fortunate to work for Campus Ministry, and some of my responsibilities included holding “office hours” at the new Campus Ministry house. The location offered an alternative space for students to come and relax with available Wifi, snacks, and rooms to hold group study sessions. Sometime during the Fall semester, two undergraduate female students became regulars on the days I worked. Through several conversations over the course of a few months, they learned of my position as a pastor and small discussions about faith would frequent our time together. It was this familiarity with each other that prompted an awkward conversation right before Christmas break 2015. One of the young ladies informed me that “something weird” was happening at the other ones house and would I be willing to come over and do a blessing on the property.
My first reaction…
My second reaction was to ask and see if her friend would meet with me and explain what she and her family were experiencing. Really what I was doing was stalling, because I had no idea how to even approach this situation. My degree in Christian Ministry was equipping me to be versed in basic theological concepts. Engaging in spiritual warfare was on none of the syllabi I picked up during my time there (and thus far, on none of the ones I’ve seen at Wake Forest either). All I knew of spooky “things that go bump in the night” was what I saw on film. Be it the original Exorcist movie, Insidious franchise or the Ghost Hunters TV series, Hollywood had done a better job of instructing me on how to approach the supernatural. I remember asking one of my professors and the interim pastor who served with me on staff at my former church what they thought; they both said a blessing wouldn’t hurt and would hopefully make the family feel better. Afterward, I met with the student whose house was in question in which I told her about my lack of experience with such matters. We agreed that a blessing was something we both felt was the best approach. She gave me an address and I planned to head over there later in the week.
The next few days I was on my own researching whatever the hell I was supposed to do. I thumbed through my copy of Shane Claiborne’s Common Prayer since I had seen a prayer for how to do a house blessing in it. I spent quite a bit of time online seeing what others recommended and had done. It was from this that I learned how to consecrate oil and water and how these items could be made part of a blessing ceremony. I also feel I need to mention I talked this over with my wife…A LOT. “Don’t let anything attach itself to you,” was something I read from my research and I heard the same thing repeated to me from my spouse. As the day approached I wouldn’t say I felt confident, but I did feel as if I had a plan.
When I arrived I didn’t notice the house being overly creepy, it was a simple ranch style home. The mother was out Christmas shopping, but I was assured she was okay with me being there prior to me showing up. The student and her siblings along with a friend were the only people there. I came in and sat in the kitchen with all of them. They each told me about their experiences. They never mentioned feeling “unsafe”, but said what they saw creeped them out. I described to them in detail what I wanted to do and made sure they felt ok with my approach. The family didn’t profess any sort of religious affiliation, so I wanted to make it clear to them that my practices were rooted in a Christocentric understanding of God. Everyone gave a thumbs up and we were underway. I started with a prayer, for the house and each of the people there. I made my way from room to room reciting either the blessing from Common Prayer or one of several passages of scripture I deemed appropriate. I brought along the oil and water and used oil to make the sign of the cross above several of the doorways and windows where activity had been seen. The family followed me as I made my way outside where I used water to pour at the four corners of the home. We came back inside and I, with their permission, blessed each family member with oil by marking them on their foreheads. Before I left I told them to be in contact with me if anything happened, good or bad. Reflecting back, I believe the entire ordeal took maybe an hour.
Did anything weird happen while I was there? Kind of…
At one point I made my way to a storage space they called the attic. For whatever reason when I placed my hand on the door I felt an “urge” to have the entire family do the same. In that instance, I asked them to repeat with me a verse of scripture which I remember being a Psalm. That was the only time while I was there that I “felt” anything which I would describe as “off putting.”I’ve shared this story with several people in the last few years, some of them were professors at the institutions where I’ve studied and others being fellow clergy. In those moments I got a response of either intrigue or a look that conveys “bless your heart.” What I never got was an affirmation of spiritual warfare being a legitimate issue or cause. Most agreed that comforting the family was a good step in a pastoral care sense, but acknowledging anything beyond this was perhaps asking too much. Like many issues of faith, I came away with more questions than answers. Do I believe there are forces in this world which we can’t see but know are there? I think so. One doesn’t need to reference the apostle Paul and his letter to the Ephesians when he speaks of “powers and principalities”, one need only look around at the influence of systems and large institutions in our present society for visible examples. “Dark forces”, demons, or other forms of the supernatural were what this family was describing. I joked earlier about my education coming from Hollywood concerning these matters, but I honestly feel the influence of Hollywood played a factor, at least in language and believed solution, of this families handling of the situation. Both of us relied on Hollywood because we had no other place to turn to discuss this issue. That’s a hard pill to swallow coming from myself as a representative of the Church. Time and time again I see the abdication of responsibilities where the Church’s voice is needed, and while I know this same voice has offered itself in exploitative ways, those times should not be allowed to define what the Church can and should be; a voice of compassion and comfort to a people who need it. The Church needs to talk about stuff like this more or be content to let others do it for us.
You might be asking, what happened to the family? I kept in touch for a couple of months afterward. They said things had “quieted down” and seemed to be satisfied with what had transpired. I lost touch with them the as the Spring semester began and graduation was on my horizon. I guess like any good scary story, this one has an unanswered question/ cliff hanger where we just don’t know what became of them.
I’ll leave my story here and pose the same questions the BibleBitches did in their podcast; do you think the Church does a good job dealing with stories like these? Does seminary education in your experience address the issue of spiritual warfare? Do you have a similar story you could “amen” me with?
As you were,