Andy Schmookler

I’m ready for a new mission.

Ready – because I’m sick of looking at the ugliness.

(For the past 17 years, I’ve felt called to the mission of doing whatever I can to prevent a destructive force, that’s risen in America, from breaking everything that’s good in our nation.)

Ready – because for the first time in years, I feel maybe “the force of the good” in America understands the nature of the battle well enough to know how to fight it. Which gives me leave to withdraw from the field.

Most of all, ready because my spirit is calling out to turn away from the darkness and turn toward the sacred.

(Being so long embattled and seeing so much ugliness have sapped my spirit.)

I want to write about those things worth celebrating. Those things that feed the soul.

In a previous column called “The Costs of History,” I described how, in 2004 – before I felt duty-bound to engage in the battle – I’d been embarked on a project I called “Mapping the Sacred,” which was feeding my soul.

“Mapping the Sacred” was the fruit of a spiritual experience in which I saw something profoundly moving about the nature of wholeness: i.e. how the various components of wholeness – love, integrity, honesty, justice, etc. – feed into each other, and point together toward some fundamental whole that underlies them all. An underlying “good” at work in our world.

But I can see now that the new mission can’t be simply a return to that project. That’s because what I’ve been doing the past 17 years has been like a photographic negative of the picture I intended to show in “Mapping the Sacred.”

It has been the opposite – i.e. mapping evil, i.e. that which destroys the sacred – and showing the ways the various components of “the destructive” work together to make the world more broken. (E.g. in “The Lie as a Tool in the Toolbox of Evil” that appeared here recently.)

Mapping “the good, the true, and the beautiful” now would just draw my attention back to “the evil, the lie, and the ugly.”

What I seek to do now – in my columns here henceforth – is less to map the sacred than to illustrate it.

By “illustrate it” I mean to find those places and experiences where my spirit touches upon something that nourishes the soul. And then to find a way to express what I’ve seen and experienced that might be meaningful also to others.

In assigning myself to accomplish that, I hope to open up the parts of me that I feel have become more closed over these difficult years of battling the ugly. I’ve come to the point in my life – 75th birthday – when I feel that job one is to become more open to:

• A sense of awe at beholding the immensity of our reality – like that with which I concluded “Make Me One with Everything.”

• Experiencing the beauty around me – like that experience of “wow!” I will describe here soon in “The Forest is Coming.”

• The sense of the inter-connected wholeness of our world – like that I sketched a while back about how “Fables Help Us See More Whole.”

• Deep love – like I wrote about here a few years ago in “The Sacred Space of Lovers.”

• The profound aliveness to which the path of creativity is one route, in a forthcoming piece, “The Value of the Creative.”

I hope to make that spiritual turn, but I recognize that it’s hardly a certainty.

Uncertain – because I have learned from experience that the kinds of moments of spiritual illumination that I’m seeking are not to be commanded by my will. (I can use my will to create the setting conducive to such soul-feeding experiences. But when they come, it is by a kind of grace, or as something from a deeper level than I control.) Just as a birdwatcher can make a sighting more likely by going out into the land, but cannot control what birds might show up.

Uncertain also – because I can already feel that my 17-year mission has worn deep grooves in my mental life. Whatever we do repeatedly with our minds inevitably forms habits of thought. And habits are not easily broken. I expect it will take some time to establish the new habit.

With the time it will take, I get an image of the exchange of the baton by runners in a relay race. The runner who is completing his leg of the race still has the baton as he enters the zone within which the baton will be passed to his teammate to run the next leg.

“To run the next leg” – I’m a guy who has always needed a leg to run, i.e. a “mission.” My mission now is to work to create illustrations of “the sacred” that can nourish also the spirits of readers here. Perhaps this time transcending our dreadful divisions.

Andy Schmookler is a prize-winning author. Many of his works can be found at