I confess to liking the way columnist, David Brooks, thinks and writes. I read almost every piece he writes in the New York Times. I have never met him nor have I been to hear him speak. I would enjoy doing both, but until then, I am left to read what appears in newspapers and other media. He recently wrote a piece entitled, “The Devotion Leap.” I had no clue what the title might mean. I suspected it was something on politics or the global situation. Even in these ponderings, I find what brings to bear philosophically and, even, religiously is fascinating. But my guess was wrong.
The first line of the article immensely surprised me. “The online dating site OkCupid asks its clients to rate each other’s attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 5.” Wow, I did not see this one coming! I was tempted not to read further. I am at the age where dating services are of no interest and even less help to me! Besides, the last thing I want to know is how other folks are going to rate me on an attractiveness scale. I am sure the truth would hurt!
My fears were born out. The median rating by women for men was between 1 and 2. “Only 1 in 6 guys was rated as having above average looks.” Again, I was ready to ditch the article. There is no way I am going to be that one guy rated above average looking! But because I trust Brooks, I persevered. Soon he began making some sense as he made me interested in what he was thinking.
When I came upon the following lines, I sensed it was true, but was a little troubled by the implications. Brooks writes, “They’re shopping for human beings, commodifying people. They have access to very little information that can help them judge if they will fall in love with this person. They pay ridiculous amounts of attention to things like looks, which have little bearing on whether a relationship will work.” Of course, this is not bad and I know people who have met their spouses through online sites. But the thought of “commodifying people” unnerves me. In a different context, that strikes me as not spiritual. And this leads me to the end of Brooks’ article where the philosophical and religious conclusions are found.
I understand that people going to an online site to find a significant other is operating with some level of self-interest. I would, too. Again, there is nothing wrong with that; I do things out of self-interest all the time. But there is another level humans are capable of achieving and this is where the spiritual tends to enter the picture. And this is where I pick up words from Brooks that underscore why I like him so much.
The shift from what I am calling self-interest to other-interest is typical of people acting spiritually. This predictably happens with love. Saying as much leads us to recognize that it is desire for love that normally drives folks to online dating sites. And many find love. And it is a different form of love that leads to different kinds of expressions. I like the way Brooks analyzes it.
He says, “In love, of course, the shift starts with vulnerability, not calculation. The people involved move from selfishness to service, from prudent thinking to poetic thinking, from a state of selection to a state of need, from relying on conscious thinking to relying on their own brilliant emotions.” He offers powerful insight with these two sentences. Spiritual love is grounded in vulnerability. We are sitting ducks for the Spirit and to God’s people in the world. We are pushed toward service. We become willing to give and, if needed, to give sacrificially.
Brooks helps us see how the spiritual aspect of being human is under duress. He notes, “When you look at all the people looking for love and vocation today, you realize we live in a culture and an online world that encourages a very different mind-set; in a technical culture in which humanism, religion and the humanities, which are the great instructors of enchantment, are not automatically central to life.” I really like this focus on enchantment.
I see enchantment to be the work of the Spirit. Of course, people looking for love often begin with a sense of enchantment. Perhaps being attractive is one form of enchantment. But I see enchantment much more deeply. Enchantment is related to intrigued and, even, captivated. God is the ultimate source of enchantment. I am even willing to see God as the Ultimate Enchanter! And God’s world is an enchanted world. The spiritual life is the beginning of the enchanted life.
I think that people who begin to live spiritually begin to have enchanted lives. They are attracted to the kinds of things God is attracted to. And they are enchanted by the kinds of ministries and services that God would do. A spiritual enchantment leads people to work in soup kitchens and things like that. A spiritual person is an enchanted person.
Enchanted people are more engaging people. They are willing to jump in and to stick with what needs to be done. They will be more satisfied. Spiritual enchantment is highly desirable. Everyone who opts for it will be highly attractive. That is good news.