Sacred America, in lucid and poetic prose, is the story of ordinary people who have dared to follow and trust the voices of their own souls in the midst of everyday life in the United States. It is also the story of another America, one not seen on the nightly news. What Roger Housden finds on his journey across the country suggests to him that, contrary to popular belief, the United States is among the most creative and spiritually vibrant cultures on earth. Sacred America is his proof.
Just as Alexis de Tocqueville set out across our country in search of democracy, so too did Housden, an Englishman, travel throughout the United States in the waning years of the twentieth century in search of this country’s heart. He discovered that, despite or perhaps due to the moral turpitude of Wall Street and Capitol Hill, the spirit of the American people is flourishing. Americans are continually redefining what it means to be human, what they want from democracy, and, most important, how a democratic society is an expression of the sacred.
As an outsider, Housden was both surprised and impressed by what he found — the extent to which the aspirations, genius, actions, wisdom, and compassion of people in all walks of life are woven into the social and cultural fabric of America. For Housden, this presence of Being in the midst of everyday life, rather than in formal places of worship (though he found it there too), is reinventing what a sense of the sacred means for the American individual at the turn of the millennium.
Sacred America acknowledges that a spiritual materialism prospers here to an extent that would stagger any European mind; spiritual techniques and teachings have become major product lines along with everything else. Yet Housden also finds a genuine human spirit flourishing, found in small-town Wyoming, on a bus ride to Manhattan, on a remote Indian reservation, in an artist’s cave in New Mexico, in the life of a letter carrier in California, and even in Hollywood. Further, he finds groups of people coming together to share their various faiths in a truly open spirit: at Wellesley College in Massachusetts; among the politicians of Washington, D.C.; at Habitat for Humanity; at a retreat center for ex-cons in North Carolina; as well as in churches, at an Islamic conference, in Buddhist meditation centers, and in the traditional Hispanic faith in northern New Mexico.
What is significant, Housden discovers, is that no one is in charge of this emergence of the human spirit. No one is doing it. This other America — so different from the image that much of the world holds of this country — is not a cause that you fight for or a movement orchestrated by any religious or spiritual denomination. It is something at work, Housden suggests, in the collective psyche. It is something we participate in, rather than direct or control. A broader intelligence is at work not as some external force acting on us but from within us as a collective. It is changing the way Americans feel about themselves, restoring a sense of meaning and moral authority to the wellspring of individual conscience — Housden calls it the intelligence of the knowing heart. Sacred America is emerging, Housden concludes, as that growing community of individuals who are interconnected not by the external dictate of creed or culture but by the prompting of the heart’s intelligence.