The Biggest Statue Of Jesus On Earth

I’ve never been to Rio. (Wait, isn’t that a song?) But the statue of Cristo Redentor (Portugese for “Christ the Redeemer”) gives me goosebumps every time I see a picture of it. If I’m honest with myself, I probably first saw this statue in an action movie, or possibly the TV show “Alias”; it’s the kind of jaw-dropping vista perfectly suited for a circling helicopter shot to indicate “Now we’re in South America!” as the action hero chases bad guys all over the planet. Wait, maybe I first saw it on “Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?”! That would actually be awesome. I’m going to go ahead and pretend like that’s true.

The Cristo Redentor statue is the tallest of its kind in the world. It’s 120 feet high, sayeth Wikipedia, and sits at the peak of the Corcovado mountain overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (the other six, if you’re interested, are as follows: Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico; The Colosseum; The Great Wall of China; Machu Picchu; Petra, in Jordan (known to most of us as the carved-rock city from the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, and where, P.S., I have AWESOME photos of my mother wearing a turban and standing right smack in the middle of that tall narrow cleft in the rock you ride through on camels to get to the entrance of the city); and the Taj Mahal. Nice.)

As cool as it would be to see all of these things in my lifetime (I’m one down, since I’ve been to Rome, and my parents and Colin have been to Petra), Cristo Redentor is my favorite. No joke, I will frequently Google Image Search it and just look at pictures of it if I’ve had a bad day. I’m not planning on going there anytime soon – it seems like it would involve a lot of hiking, and that’s just not how I roll – and I have absolutely no Brazilian heritage of any kind. So I don’t have an easily explicable reason for why I am so crazy-obsessed with this statue.

Except one.

I like the way it makes me feel. Which is a weird thing to say. But I mean, I like the metaphor of it. I like the idea of people getting up and going to work and eating lunch and walking in the park and raising children and doing laundry and playing the guitar and drinking beer and cooking dinner, in a city where you can see a 120-ft statue of Jesus, on the peak of a 2,000-ft mountain, towering over you everywhere you go. It must be so easy to be Catholic in a place like that. You’d never be able to forget who you were or where you came from. It would be there, all the time, looming over you, casting its shadow, a man with his arms outstretched to you, towering into the sky. I think I would like that. I think I would like having a visual reminder, something I could see everywhere I went.

I like tall things and high things and big things and sweeping, breathtaking views. It’s how I’m built. I have a crippling, debilitating fear of falling from even a foot in the air, but I love heights. They make me sort of queasy-terrified-thrilled,

like the way roller coasters or Hitchcock movies make you feel. Sometimes I feel like my aesthetic sense is the equivalent of someone who’s been eating too much spicy food all their lives and delicate nuances of flavor escape them. Actually, I think I AM that person. I cannot, for example, tell a glass of $5 wine from a glass of $80 wine. (Too many years of putting pepper on everything. I blame my mother. She did it too.) And sometimes I’m afraid I’m getting to be the same with, like, the world in general – as an educated, well-traveled, urban American, who has lived everywhere from New York (where I worked in Times Square among some of the tallest and most crazy-neon-spectacular buildings anywhere in the world) to Galway, Ireland, within easy distance of the Ring of Kerry – voted by National Geographic as “The Most Beautiful Place In the World” – to the wine country of Walla Walla, where I first had the experience of watching a sunset in a wheatfield, to Portland, where snow-capped mountains and hills thick with green trees ring the city and remind us that even in the density of our city of a million people we’re still part of a world where mountains and trees are considered important and worth preserving.

I’ve lived in a lot of beautiful places. I’m spoiled. I get twitchy and claustrophobic in places that are too confined. I grew up around water so I get the jitters if I’m landlocked for too long. (That was the hardest part about Walla Walla . . . ) I hate anything beige. I feel like there are people with these incredibly delicate, refined aesthetic senses, people who can walk through a field and notice, like, dew on cobwebs and the curl of the petals of a flower or the color of the sky when a storm is coming. I am not one of those people. I need scope, drama, scenery, flair. Luckily, there is a place in the world for both my kind of people and the other kind of people, since there’s plenty to look at for all of us.

I guess this is my way of saying that the kind of person I am – the kind of Catholic I am – likes things to be really, well, BIG. I do have days when a little thing happens and reminds me that God is there and that my life is pretty good – the taste of coffee at Jim and Patty’s. The crazed, infectious laugh of Nate, the 7-year-old across the street who thinks everything I say is funny. A really good episode of “The Daily Show.” Having a fire in the fireplace. Wearing jewelry my mom gave me. Our lives are full of those little moments, and it can be easy to get caught up in waiting for the thunderclap from the heavens, the voice booming “This is my beloved Son” down from the sky, the walking-on-water or parting-of-the-Red-Sea kind of moments. I don’t want to be a person who misses the little things in life. But every once in awhile, I think I would like to live in the shadow of the tallest statue of Jesus in the world, looking down at me and smiling with His arms reaching out to encompass the city of Rio de Janeiro and all the people down below who are eating and drinking and laughing and fighting and going to church and robbing banks and dancing and listening to their grandparents tell the same story over and over and chopping vegetables for soup and doing all the things ordinary imperfect people do, as if to say, from up there in the majestic heights – “All of you, good, bad, Christian, non-Christian, happy, sad, old young – I am watching over all of you.”

To quote the poet Kathleen Norris: “What a cause for celebration in the Body of Christ, who welcomes all who seek him. Blessed are those who throw the church doors open wide.”


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