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Don Quixote and the Via Dolorosa


Times there are when readers will find books spiritual that were written with no intention of being spiritual books. The subconscious is often the best author, especially when it comes to the way divinity wends through the world it has woven. It is always good when books provide a revelation to their readers and writers alike. There is an unmistakable quality present when a novel strikes out to do or to discover something, and does and discovers something quite different. It is a quality that lends authenticity because it is true to life—and it is also true to Lent. Lent, like life, is a test to achieve and to bear up under the burdens that abound on the road despite difficulty and failure. There is a book about that road: the road of life, the road of Lent, the via dolorosa; or as Chesterton called it, “a straggling road in Spain, up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain.” It is a book few would think of turning to for spiritual inspiration when ends become frayed, crosses heavy, and purposes blunted or even broken. The Adventures of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is that book, and it is a book that can bring the peace of divine madness to those tempted to surrender to worldly sanity.

Having lost his reason reading books of chivalry, Don Quixote dons armor, mounts his nag, Rocinante, and sallies forth on the dusty plains of Castile with his squire, Sancho Panza, to pursue all that he has perused, to live what he has loved. He rides in search of a glorious world as he upholds a forgotten code of honor, bravery, justice, and nobility, dedicating his heroic deeds to his imagined lady, Dulcinea del Toboso. Beyond his village, the self-proclaimed knight errant trots and trips headlong into Renaissance Spain with paradoxical delusions that try to resurrect a dead world. The result is a colossal confusion of logic and folly, of reason and madness, of laughter and tears. Flying wildly with horse, lance, and squire, Don Quixote takes the road seeking knights, wizards, ladies, kings, and castles. But the road carries him to hard knocks and harder realities. Don Quixote only encounters rogues, goatherds, convicts, chambermaids, and inns. Again and again, his imaginings are denied. His manners are ridiculed. His purposes are foiled. The Knight of la Mancha, the Knight of the Sorrowful Face, is beaten, buffeted, bruised, and broken at every turning. But Don Quixote is resilient. He continues to see giants where there are only windmills, and to challenge and charge them despite falls and despite scorn. He sees what he has trained himself to see. What Don Quixote brings to the Modern Age after failing to find the Middle Ages is an Age of Faith.

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