The First Cup Is for The Guest

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 Gutiérrez.

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.

Señor 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.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2003
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