I just checked it off my bucket list – Machu Picchu that is. And how much I learned! This 15th-century Incan citadel is located in the Andean mountains of Peru. Built of carefully constructed stones with no mortar, it has withstood centuries of earthquakes and outlasted many stone structures built after it.
The engineering genius of its construction melded with the precision-like placement of its buildings, aligned with the sun at the Winter Solstice, is inspiring. Its location, nestled among and surrounded by 9,000 foot high Andean mountains, is breathtaking.
There is a deep spirituality to this place in which numerous gods and goddesses were worshipped. There’s the God of the Sun, Inca Sapa; Goddess of the Moon, Mama Quilla; and my favorite, Pachamama, Goddess of the Earth.
In addition, displayed prominently throughout Peru is the God Viracocha, creator of the earth, the sky, the other gods, and humans. He is depicted as a fierce warrior, frightening to behold, with weapons raised in each hand. His intent is to scare, to frighten, to protect one from harm. And he is displayed everywhere, in every market, shop, restaurant, and hotel.
Mingled within this Incan culture are soaring Roman Catholic cathedrals built by the Spaniards who conquered the Incas in 1532, filled with elaborate, baroque depictions of Jesus, Mary, the saints, and more. In the entrance of one hangs a painting of the crucified Christ, bleeding, writhing on the cross and to my surprise upon seeing it, I suddenly burst into tears.
I’m not one who is drawn to ‘bleeding Jesus crucifixes’. Yet, here I was literally moved to tears. Why? Upon reflection, I think it was the pure vulnerability of the One I call my Savior. Here was no depiction of power. Quite the opposite. This was raw pain, powerlessness, vulnerability on full display for all the world to see.
It is this vulnerability in the person of Jesus that marks Christianity as unique among world religions. At its heart, Christians have a crucified and risen Savior. Jesus rose victorious, but first he suffered pain to the point of death.
On the cross, Jesus embodies powerlessness, pain, abandonment. His words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”* are ones many of us have uttered at some time in our life. And that moment can be one of deep and abiding connection.
This is why Christians are mandated to care for the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger in our midst. It is why Christians are meant to reach out to the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized wherever and whoever they may be – whether black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, none of the above, gay or straight.
In the midst of the powerful, warrior god of the Incas, it is the vulnerable, crucified Christ who reached out from the painting and into my heart. May you, too, find a deep and abiding connection to something or someone beyond yourself that speaks to the very depths of your soul.
Wherever you may find it.