Practicing What We Preach: Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson On Prayer & Politics
by Abigail Lewis

This blunt-spoken visionary tackles the messy subject of U.S. politics and what it will take to forge a higher consciousness in government.

Despite our constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, the United States has a long history of spiritual leaders giving voice to political concerns. Most have had agendas that served one religion or another, but for Marianne Williamson, the intention is more basic. She simply would like our government to reflect “the highest ideals of true democracy, brotherhood and justice” on which our country was founded.

Bringing us back to our roots is an ambitious goal for anyone, but to doubt that Marianne Williamson (her followers say “Marianne” as a single name, as one would “Madonna” or “Cher”) can make a difference would be a serious oversight. With wispy bangs, almost delicate features and liquid brown eyes, Williamson at first glance hardly seems like a powerful personage who could change the world.

Now, with seven published books to her credit, three of which have been number one New York Times bestsellers, Williamson is such a household name that Newsweek magazine recently referred to her as a “guru,” missing the mark in their predictably mainstream way. “Visionary” might be closer to the truth, but I would describe her more as a magnet. She has a disarming warmth which makes her utterly approachable, yet she’s also extremely articulate with a lively and irreverent sense of humor that captivates her listeners. I had my figurative hand slapped more than once during our interview, but it was done with a feather.

And she’s, well… real. There’s no retinue of obeisant assistants, no fancy limo or flowing robes. This is a single mom working to effect change in the world, while raising her young daughter alone. She doesn’t pretend to have answers about anything, least of all this particular issue. I wondered if it has been a difficult balancing act: not just career and family, but public figure and single parent.

“If I had an absolutely fantastic partner raising my daughter with me, I’m sure that would be wonderful,” she says thoughtfully. “On the other hand, when I witness what some single parents go through in their sometimes-hostile relationships with their children’s other parent, I feel so grateful not to be among them. [Emma’s] not having a father as part of her life, I’m sure is an issue which she will be working on in years to come. But I also think she realizes that just having a father the way some children do does not guarantee that the father is a positive presence.”

Emma, the daughter for whom Williamson is eternally grateful, was born in Los Angeles, California, as was Williamson’s career. During her stint in Hollywood, she spoke weekly on the principles of A Course in Miracles, “a complete self-study spiritual thought system” that rose in popularity in urban centers in the ’80s (see sidebar). That rise was, in Los Angeles at least, largely due to Williamson’s efforts.

She left Southern California for Michigan in 1998. Her move to Michigan had been to become the senior minister at a New Thought church, something she imagined “would be an interesting thing to do.” But despite what she describes as a fantastic congregation, she has also run up against the challenge of trying to work within a previously established structure, finding it “too difficult for me to want to stay there.” As of this year, she has left the church, but is remaining in the greater metro Detroit area. She says her 7th grade daughter is “very happy there, which means a lot.”

Williamson’s charm and gracious manner do not stop her from speaking frankly. When asked why she wrote her most recent book, Everyday Grace (Riverhead Books, 2002), she responds: “It’s time for our generation of spiritual seekers to put up or shut up. Some of us have been studying spiritual principles for decades. We have accumulated tremendous amounts of metaphysical data. In the final analysis however, what will matter is not what we knew, but what we did. Not what we preached but what we practiced while we were on this earth.”

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to share our wisdom, but this can’t be done with arrogance. It’s a temptation to think that after X number of years on the spiritual path, we have more answers than, say, born-again Christians. Williamson has a valid concern about people saying, “This is what I think and by the way, what you think is wrong. It’s the ‘by the way, what you think is wrong’ part that we want to watch out for.” She points out that arrogance and separatism are equally offensive whatever the belief system. “If you look at history, one of the most destructive forces possible is a group of people who think they understand God and other people don’t.” Indeed, this has been, and continues to be, the raison d’etre for numerous wars.

Creating Miracles

The Christian-based language of A Course in Miracles is not alone in believing that prayer can create miracles. “The rational mind, organization, strategy, and analysis are not the conduits of miracles,” explains Williamson. “Technology, business, science, money… none of those things are conduits of miracles. Prayer is a conduit of miracles.” Even those who do not align themselves with organized religious groups — even science — now acknowledge the power of prayer and meditation. In these altered states, the brain literally has different brain waves. We receive information more deeply than we do during normal waking consciousness. She continues, “So as Einstein said, we will not solve the problems of the world from the level of thinking we were at when we created them. To me, prayer and meditation are the ways we exit one level of thinking and enter another.”

Williamson laughs robustly when I tell her I prayed for a Democratic victory in the last election. I feared then, and continue to fear for the future of our planet with the lack of balance in Washington. I could not imagine that a reasonable God would see fit to allow us to destroy ourselves.

“God cannot do for us what he cannot do through us,” Williamson counters. “We need to pray for our government to reflect the highest ideals of true democracy, brotherhood, and justice. And then we have to ask God to support all the people in politics who represent those ideals but perhaps not fully, or perhaps timidly, or perhaps not yet with the courage necessary to move them forward most powerfully. So I think the deepest prayer in politics is not just for the victory of our side, it’s for the victory of certain ideals. And if there was a political party — and I think there was in this last election — that did not promote those ideals as powerfully and passionately as it might have, then perhaps this particular defeat of that party had to occur in order for its members to be awakened and reminded of the ideals for which they could stand.

“What turned this election is how many Democrats did not vote. And until Democrats give people a real reason to support them, namely because they passionately support ideas that traditionally informed the Democratic party, then the results will not differ from this last election. Fortunately many Democrats, including many Democrats in power, have taken that lesson from this last election and hopefully the election in 2004 will turn out differently.”

Williamson believes that there are a number of politicians who represent the merging of political and social values. “On all levels of government there are people who are trying to forge a higher consciousness politics, who are not necessarily covered on CNN,” she says. “Just because you’re a congressman doesn’t mean you can be on Hardball this week. You have to be invited.” She continues, “We need to meet them. We need to take responsibility for finding out who our state reps are, who our Congress people are, for taking a good look at what our Senators do. We need to write to them, call their offices and express our opinions about their votes. Many of us complain that there aren’t people with higher values within the political realm, who in fact aren’t deeply aware of who their own reps are. We have to take responsibility for finding out more.

“Conservatives in America at this point in our history tend to have better habits of citizenry. They’re informed and they show up to vote. And they express their opinions in more vital and passionate ways. We need to decry them less and mimic them more.”

Snubbed by Publishers

It’s pretty amazing that someone who is this politically passionate, and who edited Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century, a compilation of essays by some of America’s most visionary thinkers, isn’t respected in the publishing world as a political thinker. “When I wrote my book, Healing the Soul of America,” she says, “nobody wanted to hear about politics from me. I’d written a book about politics and all people wanted to hear about was spirituality. Publishers won’t touch me with a 10-foot pole on anything political. They demand that I write about pure spirituality, and from the very beginning of this book tour, people have wanted to know about politics. I told my publisher when I was writing this book that since 9/11 people really want to hear this information. But it was made clear to me that in the publishing industry, Marianne Williamson on politics is mud. So I can’t wait to tell them that people do want to talk about politics.”

Williamson writes in Everyday Grace, “We want an assignment from God but we want it to be more glamorous.” Certainly being active in politics is more glamorous than being a spiritual teacher. I ask if this is a logical next step for her.

“When it comes to spirituality and metaphysics,” she replies, “I’m an out-front type person. When it comes to politics, my natural role is behind the scenes. I don’t think my highest expression in the political realm is as a candidate, at least not now. For one thing, my personality does seem to attract passionate responses, negative and positive. Within politics, that would be very difficult for me. I don’t think I could take the slings and arrows. On the other hand, I think of myself as someone who’s very involved in politics. And one of the interesting things about making a move to Michigan has been the close friendships I’ve forged with elected representatives from that state. You don’t have to be a candidate to be involved.”

At a recent public appearance sponsored by the Church of Religious Science, I was discouraged to hear her say that peace may not really happen in our lifetime. Does she really think it’s that far away?

She responds, “It depends on how old you are! Twenty, 30 years… maybe 40. When we were young, we really thought we might create the world of our dreams in our lifetime, and I think part of our maturing is having more realistic expectations. There are abolitionists who lived their lives in the service of abolition who did not live to see the Emancipation Proclamation. There were suffragettes who did not live to see the 19th amendment signed into law. If you look at history, not everybody who lives for a goal lives to see it fully accomplished in his or her lifetime. But I think that understanding is part of what gives seriousness, substance and power to our commitment. That I care about it so much is going to be my contribution to the planet whether I live to see it materialize or not. That’s mature living. And maturity to me is the issue for our generation. Politically, socially, psychologically, emotionally. [Our generation] has had the longest post-adolescence in the history of our country, probably our world. But its over now. I dont think any adult is still a child after 9/11.”

Williamson knows she doesn’t have all the answers, or maybe any of them. But she also realizes that, “We’re not going to receive deep answers until we start asking deep questions. And as we ask deeper questions and start living the deeper questions, ultimately deep answers will arrive.”

Abigail Lewis is Editor-in-Chief of Whole Life Times, Conscious Choice’s sister publication in Los Angeles, CA.

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What Is A Course in Miracles?

A Course in Miracles, “scribed” by Helen Schucman, Ph.D., through a process of inner dictation she identified as coming from Jesus, is a self-described “complete self-study spiritual thought system” first published in 1975. Its three-volume curriculum consisting of a Text, Workbook for Students, and Manual for Teachers teaches that the way to universal love and peace — or remembering God — is by undoing guilt through forgiving others.

It explains a way that fear and guilt can be overcome through miracles, which are defined as maximal “expressions of love.” Miracles are also defined as the shift in perception from fear to love.

Although the language of the Course is that of traditional Christianity, it expresses a non-sectarian spirituality. The summary introduction in the Text explains that, “The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all encompassing can have no opposite. “This course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.”

There are currently over one and a half million copies of the Course in circulation worldwide. It has been translated into nine languages and 11 more translations are in progress.

Visit for more information. — AL