Saturday, January 19, 2008

Michael Ventura: "Panhandle Christs"

Panhandle Christs

On I-40 you drive past Groom, Texas, in seconds – a tiny town barely managing to be a town anymore, like many of its kind, clinging to the highway for dear life. Just west of Groom stands the second-highest cross in our hemisphere (there's one slightly larger in Illinois). Its massive, shiny metal glints in the sun, 19 stories high, visible for miles in that flat land. One may wonder whether something so large is a monument to faith or to unadmitted doubt, or some of both; but one may be sure that nothing so expensive is created in a county so poor without deep need. This is thunderstorm country. On many nights Groom's cross must be lit and struck by lightning like the lightning announcing Yahweh's presence in Exodus 19:16 – a light-show counterpointed quickly in 20:21, where Moses draws near "to the thick darkness where God was." The vast plains of the Texas Panhandle are an apt setting to depict the lights and darks of the divine.

Surrounding the Groom monument in a wide oval are refreshingly, earnestly human statues: the Stations of the Cross. Groom's Jesus is Anglo, not Palestinian, shorter than today's average height but taller than Jesus likely was. (The Gospels never suggest his appearance was unusual, so his height was likely average for the time, about five feet.) Groom's cross dwarfs us, but its statues silently convey what feels almost like an appeal: "See, we were much like you; it isn't so hard to understand our sins, our faith, and our sufferings, not if you look into yourselves."

Day and night there are always a dozen or so trucks and cars in the parking lot and people looking up at the high cross and, more accessibly, into the eyes of the statues...

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