New York Times columnist David Brooks’ latest book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest For a Moral Life” (2019), “debunks” his thoughts and ideas in his 2015 book, “The Road to Character,” incidentally a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. He disproves what he wrote not by tearing them apart but by building on them, giving them a fuller, deeper, more holistic meaning and import.
He refers to “The Road to Character” as the first mountain, where the life task is driven by a self-centered impulse combined with external factors of expectations, culture, environment, etc. It is the period when we earn a degree, start a career, build a family and, in general, work toward attaining a certain status in society.
But all these fall apart for various reasons. There is the inherent, “Is this it? Is this all there is to life?” Some people experience a setback in their professional or personal life and “get knocked off that mountain.” Others are hit by tragedy.
This moment of falling apart, getting knocked off the first mountain, brings one down into the “valley of bewilderment and suffering.”
Brooks says, “These seasons of suffering have a way of exposing the deepest parts of ourselves and reminding us that we’re not the people we thought we were.”
In short, we become vulnerable in our brokenness. It is in this vulnerability wrought by suffering where we choose to either be crushed or “cast among the stars.” The latter leads us to a genuine reintegration, a wholeness rooted and grounded in mission and authentic identity.
If the first is the mountain of The Transfiguration, the second is the mountain of The Ascension. The Transfiguration was, for the disciples, an assurance that they were on the right track, an assurance they needed for the coming “scandal” of the Passion and Cross of Christ.
For three years, the apostles, who were Christ’s closest friends, dedicated their lives to him—the years of the first mountain. Then the Cross hits them and everything changed. One betrayed Christ, two returned to their former lives, and many cowered in fear and hid in a room together.
Then the journey, the ascent up the second mountain, began with the appearance of the Risen Lord. The real radical reorientation happens here.
“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures . . . When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24: 27, 30-32)
The second mountain
After going through the valley of suffering—the sense of defeat and desolation, doubt and regret, perhaps, for the mistake of following Jesus for three years—and looking back with the eyes and accompaniment of the Risen Lord, their “hearts [burn] within” once more.
The period between the Resurrection and the Ascension is the journey up the second mountain. In the final ascent, Christ reminds and entrusts to his disciples his mission in the Cross and Resurrection to redeem humanity and the world.
He gives them the guarantee of help: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24: 49)
The Ascension begins the missioning of the friends of Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . .” (Matthew 28: 19) and proclaim God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.
It is important to note that, as Christ ascended into heaven and entrusted the mission to his friends, they are now on the second mountain and “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24: 52-53)
This is a succinct description of the second mountain, the grace of the Ascension. We live our life in and as mission. We live a life of joy: “Therefore you, too, have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16: 22)
We live a life of gratitude, from which comes our giving-back in love and service. Joy, gratitude, service, love, mission, all of these come back to us now as we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. —CONTRIBUTED