“The Second Mountain” is the title of New York Times columnist David Brook’s new book. In it he describes his path between doubt and faith. The book speaks to deep human longings and the issues of loneliness, alienation, social isolation and hyper-individualism. The author shares his journey toward religious faith. Brooks describes himself as “a wandering Jew and a confused Christian.” As he explains, “I don’t ask you to believe in God or not believe in God. I’m a writer, not a missionary. But I do ask you to believe you have a soul.” There you have it, men. A leading journalist talking about having a soul.
Brook associates the soul and heart with our desires. We have been taught, argues Brook to be primarily thinking beings. He disagrees. He maintains the most important part of consciousness is a desiring heart. He argues that life on the “first mountain” – the mountain of personal goals, worldly success, career ambitions, and traveling in the right social circles is temporary and does not satisfy. “We ‘re defined by what we desire, not what we know.”
There is little time for the soul on the first mountain. The soul is powerful and resilient, but it is also reclusive. Soul will, “….eventually it hunts you down,” Brooks writes, “In this way the soul is like a reclusive leopard living high up in the mountain somewhere.” There will be times of a haunting appearance of the leopard. I am reminded of Mark 8:36, “And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process.”
The “second mountain” is characterized by other-centeredness and self -giving which in turn brings joy and fulfillment. The path to the second mountain is often through the valley of hardship and failure. Transformation begins to take place because the “ego self, the impressive rational way of being we constructed for ourselves on the first mountain” gives way to the emergence of the heart and soul. Heart “is that piece of us that longs for fusion with others.” Soul, “is the piece of us that gives each person infinite dignity and worth.”
The journey is more like a fall then a climb. We fall, “through the egocentric desires and plunge down into the substrate to where your desires are mysteriously formed….you are looking into the unconscious regions of heart and soul that reason cannot penetrate.” In the process we get in touch with what Brooks calls “the Big Shaggy,” that messy thicket that sits below awareness.
As adult men we have the tendency to cover over the substrate and drift off to sleep either ignoring or frightened of Big Shaggy. We live our lives on auto pilot, thinking that living in our heads gives us a true view of reality. We need to pay attention to the longing, desires and yearning of the heart and soul. Some of our deepest yearning are to know that we are loved by God and that we have worth as persons.
This book will make men stop and reflect on their personal journey. Hopeful it will awaken them to the reality of their own inner life. With an awareness of soul, ”it’s an easy leap to [conclude] that there’s some connection there, there’s some flowing force.” May the light of the gospel break through the darkness to inner “substrate.” “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ in the face of Christ” (II Cor 4:6)