FREE GOD STUFF

That’s what the sign said.

I must tell you, I was half expecting it.

Trip Advisor lists The Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden off Benson Drive–about 50 yards from where I bought my $650 car, for those of you who are keeping score–as the “#1 of 24 things to do in Kerrville.” I had to see it, being now a Kerrvillian.

The cross itself has not been without controversy. Some have even said it is an “ostentatious display.” (To call it that, though, is to be somewhat blind to the historical reality of the prototype, which was meant to be exactly that: a display to the Roman-ruled public to get back in line or else.) Since its erection, it’s reminded me of what I heard my parents say about Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Annenberg Building, “an austere rusted steel high-rise.” My parents had no choice but to see the building from their living room five blocks away. Nor do many Kerrvillians this cross.

Perhaps that’s the point.

So I, the contrarian, was skeptical driving up there, nigh 1.7 miles from my apartment, just across Route 16 from Dairy Queen and situated next to the Used Chevy dealership. (No, I was not required to walk the road to Calvary, since many here would have to do it in the heat and dust unlike–…never mind.) I parked and was alone in the lot. First, I surveyed to the west across Sidney Baker and Kerrville’s hotel row. Lowe’s in the foreground. Then I started to walk through the garden itself, past the statue of Jesus–whose bronze “skin” was more like what I’d expect the historical Jesus to look like than the A&E Cable TV version who just graduated from UCLA film school. The Lion of Judah was on a trailer with his own license plate, ready to move to a “good home.” I continued to walk past the fountain, whose spewing water was being blown about by a brisk morning wind. I had to crane my neck up to see the “Coming King” seated on a white horse and holding a sword. The horse’s veins seemed unusually emphasized. I thought, couldn’t the Risen Jesus’ horse be a bit more chill?

Past that was the cross.

It is open (hollow) and 7 feet deep; the cross itself is 77 feet, 7 inches tall. (All three dimensions: 7. Seven is considered the perfect number, hence one less–“666”–is the most imperfect or demonic number.) There was piped-in music that was forgettable.

An older gentleman approached from the west. We greeted each other. As I exited the cross, he entered, took off his stetson, put his left forearm against the wall and leaned his forehead against his arm and, I assume, prayed. It has been reported that at least seven people who were considering suicide prayed here and then decided not to. Ailments and addictions have been cured, so the reports say. I walked around to the side, having spotted the FREE GOD STUFF sign. Frankly, any time “God” is sandwiched between “Free” and “Stuff,” I find it hard not to turn a bit atheistic. Or at least modestly misanthropic.

It was in that foul mood that I continued around to the left, or west, of the FREE GOD STUFF shelter (which was like an aluminum car port), that also had a small Igloo cooler of bottled water and a spare wheelchair, and found the rock garden.

I stopped.

Hundreds of rocks ranging from a few inches wide to nearly a foot in length, and on which people had drawn pictures but mostly had written prayers, were carefully laid in a bed of brown mulch. I read one, and then I found I wanted to keep reading. This truly was the most personal part of the site–this was my mountaintop–made possible by the man who started the whole schbang, Max Greiner.

Two-thirds of the way down the mulch bed I came across a small, heart- or even shield-shaped rock with a Sharpie-drawn message, written–one would assume–by a young child. It read simply, “Peles God We With My Family.” There were hearts drawn on it as well as a crude cross.

For that child’s visit, I am grateful.

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