When I am stuck in a place where I am pre-occupied with my own emotions in a way that is detrimental, then in order to transcend out of it, I listen to say Bach’s Fuges. Being from the Baroque era, Bach saw his music as a reflection of God’s glory. So his music had the multi-faceted majesty of God’s glory. When I listen to Bach’s fuges I am transcend out of my self-absorbtion to a place of apprecation for the majesty of his music.
I have been reading David Brooks new book The Second Mountain. The book’s central thesis is that everyone climbs their first mountain, usually some career goal, driven by personal ambition. Then after they get to achieving their goal, they find that something is still missing, the first mountain wasn’t satisfying after all. Then they have to figure out how to climb the second mountain. This second mountain takes the form of ‘care for the other.’
The first mountain is often one driven by hyper-individualistic motivation and fancy restaurants. People who are the second mountain people give off themseleves freely, they are exhausted, but still they have a sparkle in their eyes. Brooks mentions a lady from Houston, Stephanie Hurek, who teaches kids after school – she thinks of every hour she spends with the kids as creating a better future for them.
Brooks is not a Christian. But the principle of the second mountain had some interesting Christian parallels. The kind of second mountain’s giving of the self for the sake of the ‘other’ is akin to Paul saying that he find himself being poured out as a drink offering 2 Tim 4:6. The call of the Bible is the call to a place of giving off of oneself to the love of neighbor.
Every person, Christian or not, has common grace. So everyone has the ability, up to a point, to give of themselves to serve the weak and the vulnerable around them. But special grace enables Christians to serve others even in the most desperate situations. Etty Hillesum was a Christian jewish person who was in one of the Nazi concentration camps. When she was set to go to take the transportation to the death squads, she had a kind word for everyone on the way out. From the train she threw a postcard that had words written “Christen, The Lord is my high tower.” Brooks gives Etty Hillesum as a second mountain person.
Brooks calls people like Staphanie Hurek and Etty Hillesum ‘weavers.’ They are second mountain people who are have given themselves to caring for people around them. They ‘weave’ the social fabric. In a sense the cross carrying Christian is a ‘weaver’ of God’s kingdom.
Going from the first mountain to the second mountain involves going through a valley. The valley is where the hyper individualistic ambitions die. For Brooks, the valley came when he got divorced and he had to move to an apartment. There he realized though he was very successful in life life, he was drive by selfish ambition. It was his first mountain which was not satisfying for him at all. Then he had to learn what it means to give up his former life and climb his second mountain.
From a theological stand point this valley experience is what Jesus talks about in Luke 9:23 where Jesus say anyone who wants to follow Him has to deny self, then take up their cross daily and follow him.
The cross carrying that Jesus talks about is a call to the second mountain. It is a call to self-transcendence by the way of self-denial. Within the Christian life, the pathway to this place of self denial, aka the valley, is something that one does not have to walk alone. As Christians we have the help of the Holy Spirit to make it through the valley between the first and the second mountain.
The call of the cross is the call to self-transcendence. God sent Jesus to us to forgive our sins, and also, to call us away form our narcissistic self-absorbed first mountain lives, to the world of self-transcendence as ‘weavers’ building God’s kingdom by being the loving presence of Chris to people around us. Then Christians will be people with a “sparkle in our eyes,” as Brooks notes, sparked by the Holy Spirit.