Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The First Cup Is for the Guest. (Spirituality)

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The First Cup Is for the Guest. (Spirituality)

Article excerpt

Let me tell you a story about two cups of coffee. A few years ago in Cusco, Peru--capital of the 15th century Inca empire--I spent an entire morning searching for Edilberto Merida. Merida's clay crosses with an Inca Jesus writhing in agony defined a generation of Peruvian art--the people's art, the art of the real. Photos of his work were on the covers of books by theologians Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutierrez.

Everyone had heard of Merida, but no one knew where he lived. I was ready to give up when a man approached me. Are you lost, he said? I'm looking for the great artist Merida. He was astonished. I am Merida, he said, extending his large rough hands. Are you the sculptor who makes the crosses? I am he.

Senior Merida led me to his house wrapped around an open courtyard. Before taking me through the gallery he insisted on a small refreshment. With great ceremony he boiled water and milk on a gas ring. He mixed them with a coffee extract that looked like soy sauce. The coffee was served in a lovely china cup with a cloth napkin. He watched me with absolute delight as I drank in its rich aroma. It was delicious.

We spent the afternoon discussing his work, particularly "Mother Hunger"--a grotesque sculpture of a gaunt woman with her starving children pushing out through the prison of her rib cage. It was a conversation about life--and the process of "becoming children of God," as John's gospel puts it--disciplined, always, by the groans of those begging for, demanding, freedom.

THE SECOND STORY is from a Kosovar refugee camp outside Sarajevo. The people living there had their houses, businesses, and land stripped from them by Serb forces. Eighty-year-old Adem had lost 30 members of his family. "I am alone," he said, "Better I should have died than to be left like this." We were invited into a converted cattle barn where 40 families were living in curtained-off, 6-by-8-foot quarters. Crammed into the common kitchen, the men recounted in a detached manner how Serb irregulars had driven them at gunpoint from their homes.

The "artwork" in the refugee camp consisted of graffiti someone had scratched into a wall. It showed a teenage boy holding a gun to his own head. …

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