Formerly Ordinary

Don and Sancho

I love the Don Quixote books by Miguel de Cervantes.

The author himself was almost more amazing than his fictional creation. Having lost the use of his left hand in a military battle, he simply recovered and re-enlisted! Only having one hand was not going to stop him fighting!

He was later captured in battle and spent five years in captivity being held for ransom. He led an escape with his fellow prisoners but after a few weeks hiding out whilst trying to send for help, they were betrayed and re-captured.

His family finally paid the ransom, which left Cervantes enormously indebted.

He tried to write his way out of debt but was only intermittently successful.

Hs book Don Quixote, is the last book of the medieval age. In it Cervantes looks over his shoulder wistfully at the glories of the medieval age – valour, chivalry, duty, romance (in the fullest medieval sense of the word).

The world Europe was becoming – a world of lace-draped courtiers, hangers-on, flunkeys, sniping gossip merchants fighting for courtly favour and advancement – was anathema to Cervantes, the man of action.

Don Quixote is a love poem to an age that is fading, whose glories are passing, a red-blooded age which is being replaced by something pitifully anaemic and colourless.

There are many things that I find inspirational in Cervantes’ book. One in particular is the name of his horse. It is a rather bedraggled, knock-kneed beast, past its prime. Yet on embarking on his quest Quixote gives his faithful old nag a new name. He calls it “Rocinante”. It is a play on words for in Spanish “Rocin” means “an ordinary horse” – nothing special, no qualities that would give it value or significance –  the suffix “ante” means “formerly”. So “Rocinante” means “Formerly, an ordinary horse”.

There is something in this that deeply moves me.

There is the idea of anticipation, of hope, the conviction that whatever the quest may bring, even the mere fact of engaging on it is, in itself, somehow decisive, honourable, and glorious.

What the horse used to be counts for nought, it is on its way to becoming something new, as yet unknown, its qualities and capabilities are about to be revealed.

Of course, you can see the resonance that I find here with the Christian faith.

Once we engage with Christ we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), we set on a journey that has our total transformation as its goal (2 Corinthians 2:18).

What we were, the old limits, failings, weaknesses no longer apply. It is Christ’s own life in us that is determinative of what we shall become. As we cooperate with Him there is no limit to what the divine life, flowing through, us can achieve.

Interestingly, the Bible also speaks of us being given a new name, a secret name, a name only known to us and to God but which will perfectly express the essence of our identity. This name is not given at the start of our adventure, but at the end. As such it is not so much the hope but rather the reward, the concrete expression of all that God has worked in us.

“To the one who is victorious … I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Rev 2:17 NIV

Maybe for someone, that name might just be “Formerly an ordinary man”.

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