Sometimes, serving Jesus invites us into a holy madness that makes little sense to the world.I don’t mean being mad as in being angry at others. I mean mad in its classic sense–crazy, nuts, out of your mind. All those disparaging things we say about those who have lost touch with reality.For that’s what madness is. An inability to see the world with clear eyes, reacting according to that perspective. It is a break with reality-based living.Here on East Colfax, there are moments when only a holy madness will do. A madness chosen gladly in the face of a hard reality that seems unlikely to change.
I spent some time this past Sunday with an old friend, an elderly man named Don; I have known him for years but connect with him only rarely. He is old, near to the end of his life, but is making the most of his final days by giving himself to loving those in need. He is a bit nuts, but I think of him as my mentor.He told me the story of a young woman he has befriended. I know her well. She works in one of the motels and supplements that income by selling her body. Everything about her screams of the harshness of the life she has lived. It has left her weary, cynical and angry. Some bury the pain through drugs and alcohol, but she has turned it into an anger aimed at survival. She is not a pretty sight.
Don refuses to accept the harsh reality of her life. He speaks of her in glowing terms, talking of her gifts, her beauty, her kindness, how she inspires him. To him she is not dirty and sullied, but clean and virginal. He refuses to call her by her given name, choosing instead a new name worthy of how he sees her.He is mad and in his madness can only see the best version of her. Reality does not get in the way. Then he treats her accordingly. Every time I hear Don’s story, I am convinced that his madness is both holy and reflective of the heart of Jesus.My friend’s name is Don Quixote, the hero of The Man of La Mancha. Diane and I, along with Shadia, our youngest daughter, had a chance to see the musical a few days ago. My heart is always stirred by this crazy old man who refuses to accept reality. He chooses to live the life of a noble knight long after knights are gone from the earth. He lives in hope and faith and vision. He attempts great deeds though he is old and feeble.His friend’s is Aldonza, the battered maid/prostitute who works at a shabby inn (which Quixote sees as a great castle!). He renames her Dulcinea and treats her as an inspiring, pure and virginal inspiration for his great and knightly deeds, such as they are.
Don Quixote’s madness inspires me. Jesus has taught me much about seeing the most broken as created in his image, worthy of being loved. He has taught me to love them where and as they are, simply being present with them.But there is another lesson I need, the holy madness of Don Quixote. To see people not as they are, but as they can be. To see beyond their worst and see their best. Then, to treat them out of that beautiful vision in a way that calls them to Jesus and the best life that Jesus has for them.
Last night, in the motels, I practiced holy madness. With one young woman, wrecked by drugs, unable to stand, confessing her sale of her body to survive, I looked to see the beauty of who she might become. For my friend John**, abused as a child, years of addiction to meth behind him, overweight, crippled with pain, with little hope for life to change, I saw a vision of him lean, focused, serving Jesus and others.At the end of the story Aldonza refuses to be called Aldonza. She insists her name is Dulcinea. It is the madness of Don Quixote that helps her begin to change.If Don Quixote be mad, let me be mad; more, let all of us who follow Jesus be mad. Let us see people for who they can be; let us see them beautiful and treat them so.I don’t cry easily, but I cried on Sunday as I watched this crazy old coot who so captures the heart of Jesus. And I resolved to be more like Jesus and, yes, more like my mentor, Don Quixote.Pray for…all of us to imitate that kind of holy madness.
**Name changed to protect identity.