Tuesday, September 10, 2013

mad for faith

This gentleman in the times when he had nothing to do—as was the case for most of the year—gave himself to the reading of books of knight errantry; which he loved and enjoyed so much that he almost entirely forgot his hunting, and even the care of his estate.  So odd and foolish, indeed, did he grow on this subject that he sold many acres of cornland to buy these books of chivalry to read. … [In the end], he so buried himself in his books that he spent the nights reading from twilight till daybreak and the days from dawn till dark; and so from little sleep and much reading, his brain dried up and he lost his wits. 
Is it possible that Cervantes is working for NSA -- reading my email, causing me to live out the outline of his life for Don Quixote?  Naw!  That would be crazy.

But I just committed the sin I wanted to discuss in this post.  I often hear the word "quixotic" used as a pejorative.  Often as a shot across the bow before raking the opponent's stern with the conversation-stopping "racist."

To most people, "quixotic" means a person who is so impractical in his view of the world that he seems -- or is -- mad.  Even Cervantes seems to believe that with his "lost his wits" slur.

If you read the novel -- and you really should, it is a classic for good reason -- you will discover that Don Quixote is not mad.  He makes a conscious decision to become a knight errant -- and to then sally forth into a cruel world to right all wrongs.

My head launched itself into these considerations while listening to Joan Diener's haunting version of "What Do You Want of Me?" from Man of La Mancha.  The prostitute Aldonza sings about her confusion over Don Quixote's actions, and wonders why he sees her as his Dulcinea.

Why do you do the things you do?
Why do you do these things?
Why do you batter at walls that won't break?
And why do you give when it's natural to take --
Where do you see all the good that you see --
And what do you want of me?
The song includes the same doubts found in Tim Rice's "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar.  Mary Magdalene sings of her confusion over Jesus' unconditional love.
Yet, if he said he loved me,
I'd be lost. I'd be frightened.
I couldn't cope, just couldn't cope.
I'd turn my head. I'd back away.
I wouldn't want to know.
He scares me so.
I want him so.
I love him so.
Cervantes may have wanted to serve up a Don Quixote that would mock the convention of knight errant literature in early 1600 Spain, but the Good Don has become something far more to the rest of us who see him as a Christ model.

Vladimir Nabokov nailed it.  "We do not laugh at him any longer. His blazon is pity, his banner is beauty. He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish, and gallant."

Even Cervantes slips when he describes Quixote's death.  Sancho Panza accompanied his friend as a squire on their idealistic quest.  But Sancho did it with the human frailties we all know far too well -- greed, confusion, fear, and lots of skepticism.  But always as a friend.

He did not believe in knight errantry.  But he believed in his Lord.  As Don Quixote, "cured" of his illusion faded on his death bed, Sancho realized he had inherited his Lord’s faith.  Through fidelity and love he was converted to a faith of grace.

On Sunday, we discussed the topic of racism in our study of Christian grace.  We heard from Patricia Rayborn, an African-American woman who grew up hating white people.  She found the power to forgive in her faith.

"Are we getting along is the wrong question.  The question is, "Are you my neighbor?  Am I my brother's keeper?  Am I my sister's keeper?  No matter what color she is?  And if each of us would pose that question to ourselves, the larger question would be irrelevant."

She closed with this piece of wisdom.  "When you forgive, you rediscover the humanity of the other person.  But, even better, when you forgive, you rediscover the humanity in yourself."

Don Quixote would have understood -- and it is why I would not mind having "quixotic" added as a title to my name.

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