NY Times columnist David Brooks spoke recently at The Gathering, an annual conference of Christian philanthropists, and his remarks have to be read to be believed. It’s an elongated and even more explicitly sympathetic version of what he said at the 92nd St Y earlier this year, and as such, could not be more worth your time–if you think you’ve got him pegged, think again. To whet your appetite, here’s a stirring portion about ‘what love can do’ (which is followed in his address by an equally stirring portion on the fruit of suffering). The ‘Adam One’ reference is pretty much what you think it is, i.e. the Old Adam. Brooks talks about it in terms of Adam One being the part of us that is geared toward “resume virtues” like success and power, and Adam Two being the part of us that yearns for “eulogy virtues” like goodness and love. Oh, and for what’s it’s worth, I strongly suspect he got the Tillich quote from a friendly source (DB, if you’re reading, how about an interview?!), ht VH:

dorothy-dNone of us gets through life very long without being knocked to our knees either in joy or in pain. And a bunch of activities expose the inadequacies of an Adam One life.

The first is falling in love. When people fall in love, something opens up in them. A great passage I read about failing in love was written by a guy named Douglas Hofstadter, who is a mathematician at Indiana University. He was on sabbatical many years ago now with his wife, Carol, and their two kids who were then 5 and 3. And all at once Carol suffered a brain aneurysm and died. He kept her picture on the bureau of his room and he must have looked at it every day, but one day he looked at it with special attention and here’s what he wrote about seeing her face:

“I looked at her face, and I looked so deeply I felt I was behind her eyes. And all at once I found myself saying as tears flowed, that’s me, that’s me. And those simple words brought back many thoughts that I had had before about the fusion of our souls into one higher-level entity. About the fact that at the core of both our souls lay our identical hopes and dreams for our children. About the notion that those hopes are not separate or distinct hopes, but were just one hope. One clear thing that defined us both. That welded us into a unit. The kind of unit I would dimly imagine before being married and having children. I realized that though Carol had died, that core piece of her had not died at all. But that it had lived on very determinedly in my brain.”

So the first thing love does is it humbles us. It reminds us we are not even in control of ourselves. It’s like an invading army that reorganizes your sleep patterns, your thoughts, your emotions, and is the kind of invading army you welcome and you want to be invaded by.

The second thing it does is it decenters the self. The Adam One world your centered on yourself. But a person in love finds the center of his or her life is not inside oneself. It is outside in the soul of the beloved. The ultimate riches are outside and not inside.

Huey-Lewis-RS-430-September-13-1984Many writers have noted that love illuminates the distinction between giving and receiving. Montaigne had a passage which I think C.S. Lewis sort of stole…where he said, “The person who allows a friend to give a favor is doing the most favor. By giving the friend the pleasure of being able to give that favor.”

Because the souls are merged.

The third thing love does, is that it opens up ground. Love is like a plow opening up hard ground and allowing many other loves to grow. Self-control is a muscle. If you use it a lot, you use it up. Love is the reverse. The more you love, the more you are capable of loving. And so many people fall in love and through that love discover other loves.

And finally, love leads to holiness. One of my heroes is a woman named Dorothy Day, who wrote a great book called, “The Long Loneliness,” in which she describes giving birth to her daughter. And one of the things she said in that book after she described childbirth very grossly, but vividly. And she said, “If I had painted the greatest painting, if I had sculpted the greatest sculpture or written the greatest symphony, I could not have felt the more exalted creator than when I did when they placed my child in my arms. And with that came a need to worship and to adore.”

And so it was with the birth of her daughter that her eye turns heavenward. That’s the motion of love. First, decentered. First, humbled. Down to the bottom, you can’t even control yourself. And then upward, heavenly. It’s down and up. And that’s what love does.