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Worshipping in the Hill Country

by davesandel on March 25th, 2021


Thursday, March 25, 2021 (today’s lectionary)

Worshipping in the Hill Country

Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God.

As I drive through the secular landscape of Texas Hill Country toward Mexico and Big Bend National Park, religious artifacts and experience rise up to meet me. In Comfort, Texas, hub of German immigrant Freethinkers before the Civil War, a controversial, informative marker was installed recently. I think it might have been various fundamentalists who opposed this marker, as they opposed the Freethinkers (followers after Erasmus in Europe) in the 1800’s. The Freethinkers staunchly held to Christian morals, including the abolition of slavery and separation of religion and politics. But they disdained religious dogma. These beliefs got many of them killed when the Civil War began.

You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever.

Moving on from Comfort to Kerrville, I check into a motel at the base of a very high hill covered with statues and pictures of Jesus. A huge cross dominates the landscape. The grounds of this placed called “The Coming King” are open from 7 am till midnight, so I visit at sunset and again at sunrise. In a sculpture named “Hope,” under what might be two olive trees, Jesus hears the confession of a young woman at sunset. Across the way, east toward the sunrise, Jesus washes Peter’s feet.

Behold, I come to do your will, O Lord.

As I approach the cross, my way is blocked by a huge statue of Jesus (I guess) with sword on a white horse rearing up into the sky. I think of Stonewall Jackson leading his roaring troops into battle. Armageddon fills my imagination. Rivers of blood. Victory. Evil vanquished. I don’t know what to think, so I don’t.

Still, plaques laid into the sidewalks repeat beautiful Bible verses about forgiveness and grace, first in Spanish, then English, then German side by side. I am drawn to this Jesus, if not to some of the war-mongering and triumphalism of his followers. In a far corner I find a beautiful Star of David, homage to Israel and the seemingly eternal culture of waiting embodied by the Jewish people.

And most wonderful of all, I find another array of memorials to loved ones who have died. They call it a “prayer garden,” and again, as on the road over the Devil’s Backbone, tears roll off my cheeks. Colorful, beautiful, warm words, prayed on stones everywhere around the statues.

And the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin will be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us!”

Leaving Kerrville I’m determined to track down Laity Lodge, the HEB grocery chain’s well-established camp area for kids who have no money and for adults who do. I almost miss the sign, turn around, and head down a barely gravel road marked, “Mountain road. Honk at turns. 15 MPH. Laity Lodge 2.2 miles.”

Down I go into the valley. The sun is shining, thank you Jesus. I repeat the middle verses of Psalm 23. “I will fear no evil, I will fear no evil.” I’m not sure how the brakes on my Prius are taking this. I pass someone coming up, and I remind myself that this road has seen thousands and thousands of vehicles, including buses carrying kids from San Antonio and Austin.

Finally at the bottom I see a small sign pointing left (east) for Laity Lodge. But this is at the bottom of the canyon, and the road is covered with water. I’m turning around to go back, thinking the road is flooded, when a white pickup slowly rolls through the water. Rudy, wearing a big white cowboy hat, tells me the river is actually low, not high, and this is the only way to Laity Lodge. “Just stay on this side of the stones that mark the river,” he said, “and you’ll be fine.”

OK. This Enneagram Seven turned his car right into the water. Slowly but surely I made my way to Laity Lodge, which was closed to visitors (I knew that). I took pictures of this stunning place until a man interrupted me and said I had to leave, mostly because of Covid precautions. OK. We struck up a conversation then, and shared books that had changed our lives, and he invited us to come again soon. Told me to mention his name when I called. Laity Lodge is beginning, like many places in the world, to reopen, although cautiously at first.

There were no plaques in the sidewalk, no prayer garden of stones, no historical markers at Laity Lodge, only the spirit of giving and mercy and joy. In spite of my trespassing I was eventually welcomed, neither kicked around nor kicked out, and I was glad to experience Jesus once more in the HIll Country. The river-running water road and trip back up the mountain gravel seemed much shorter than it did on the way down.

(Isaiah 7, Psalm 40, Hebrews 10, John 1, Luke 1)


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