FYI, here’s my second episode of the podcast I’m starting on A Course in Miracles for social justice activists. I’m still struggling with the technology of it all. But the podcast site looks like this: https://acimforactivists.com/ Please check it out and maybe become a follower there. It’s going to get better, I promise.
Scroll down on the site and you’ll see the first episode too. I’m currently working on installment 3.
A few days ago, I posted a trial balloon episode of my first podcast in a series called “A Course in Miracles for Activists: ACIM for social justice warriors.” It used one of those generic automatic “translations” from-text-to -voice. It featured a professional voice, but one that had predictable problems in phrasing and sometimes in pronunciation that often characterize disembodied automatic voice recordings.
My effort was a kind of place holder. I was looking for feedback. (I’ve since removed the posting.)
But with the responses I received in mind, I’m now posting “take two.” Its content is quite different from my first recording and its voice is my own. However, I’m still looking for feedback. (And please don’t pull any punches.)
I’m also looking for subscribers to my new podcast site which you’ll find here: https://acimforactivists.com/ Please use the “Follow” button towards the bottom of the page.
So, give a listen and sign up if you’re so inclined. I consider this project another step in my own spiritual pilgrimage. I’m learning as I go — both about podcasting and the meaning of life.
Readings for Third Sunday of Easter: ACTS 2:14, 22-32; PSALMS 16:1-11; 1PETER 1:17-21; LUKE 24:13-35
Today’s Gospel story is about dashed hopes redeemed by acceptance of Jesus’ Spirit of love encapsulated in the simple act of breaking bread with strangers. It’s about the replacement of discouragement and fear with hope and the prospect of entirely unforeseen, even miraculous possibilities.
Given our present context of pandemic, quarantine and presidential campaigns, I can’t read it without thinking of the dashed hopes of progressives. I can’t help thinking about the defeat of the self-styled revolutionary, Bernie Sanders and the presumed nomination of the de facto restorationist, Joe Biden.
For progressives, it all seems disastrous and beyond redemption. Where’s the hope? However, the example of former candidate, Marianne Williamson who synthesizes her Jewish tradition with that of Christians, offers reason for hope. It’s just too bad that we didn’t listen to her sooner.
Before I get to that though, think first about our context.
Our Lost Campaign
Begin by considering the irony of the present moment. Here we are stuck with, Joe Biden, the weakest entry in the original candidate field. Meanwhile, the strongest candidate – the one absolutely demanded by our extraordinary times – has slipped into political oblivion. I’m talking about Marianne Williamson.
Recall that at the beginning, more than 20 candidates announced themselves as contestants for the Democratic nomination. As far as the mainstream media (MSM) was concerned, Joe Biden was the odds-on favorite. Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher by vocation, was dismissed out of hand.
The irony is that now that the smoke has cleared, Joe Biden has indeed prevailed. And Marianne Williamson is looking better all the time.
Biden prevailed despite his pedestrian debate performances. All of them were entirely unnoteworthy except for his appearing generally confused, inarticulate, and (as ever) prone to embarrassing gaffes.
More specifically, doddering Uncle Joe showed himself to be a staunch upholder of a moribund status quo that the Coronavirus crisis has revealed to be crumbling all around. Clearly in cognitive decline, and even as the United States registers more COVID-19 deaths than any country in the world, the man can’t even acknowledge what’s apparent to most people everywhere. The U.S. healthcare system is a complete and utter disgrace. It must be replaced by a single payer arrangement like that afforded the citizens of all other industrialized nations. For more than 50 years, none of them has had trouble figuring out how to pay for public healthcare. Old Mr. Biden can’t seem to wrap his mind around that simple fact. Poor man.
Then there was Marianne Williamson. At the beginning, she was an object of media ridicule. She was portrayed as a fluffy woo-woo new ager. Her inspiration drawn from A Course in Miracles (ACIM) was laughed at by the pundits. “Miracles?” They didn’t understand that in ACIM vocabulary, the term refers to any change of perception from fear to love. And such change is exactly what’s demanded by our times – particularly, as it turns out, during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes, Marianne was dismissed out of hand. However, those of us who have been following her for years and who had read her Healing the Soul of America, knew better. For us, she was a much deeper Bernie Sanders. In fact, when candidates like Mayor Pete, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Corey Booker, Beto O’Rourke, and Tulsi Gabbard rushed to stop Sanders and endorse Biden, virtually alone among former candidates, Marianne stuck with Bernie.
She advocated all of his programs, but her rationale for doing so was much deeper. It was grounded in what she called a “politics of love.” It recognized clearly that our country’s fundamental malady is spiritual rather than economic. Hers was the very message Americans need to hear at this watershed moment. Fear is the world’s way; love is the Spirit of Life. A politics based on love is not only possible, we must realize, but required.
And over the years, Marianne has proven herself more eloquent in delivering that message than any of her candidate peers. She is far more articulate and inspiring than any of them – any of them! If she were in Silent Joe’s place, she’d be on TV every day encouraging all of us in this season of distress and explaining how to deal with it internally and externally. And she’d crush Lyin’ Donald Trump’s tedious pressers by contrast.
But even more valuable at this time of COVID-19, Ms. Williamson would lay out her inspiring policy rationale. It is first of all, that we can’t believe any of our politicians who mouth the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” with its trickle-down rationale and its idea of American exceptionalism. Even more generally, she’d insist that the wisdom of the world is 180 degrees opposite that of the underlying wisdom of Life Itself, whether we refer to it like that or call it Mother Earth, Nature with a capital ‘N,’ the Ground of Being, or for that matter, “God.”
Yes, she says, America has been great. And that greatness must be restored. However, it is found not in some top-down arrangement, where leadership comes from billionaires, bankers, hedge funders, giant corporations, or politicians. Instead, the greatness of the United States is found in its founding fathers and mothers, in abolitionists, women suffragists, labor unions, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Green New Deal. Such understanding means that we must look for bottom-up leadership and policies rather than the stale top-down proposals emanating from D.C. and the likes of Biden and Trump.
In the current crisis, she’d say, American greatness is found in the immigrants (many of them undocumented) whom we’ve come to depend on to harvest our food, serve us in grocery stores, deliver our packages, and sweep floors and clean toilets in our hospitals. Ironically, the very ones vilified by President Trump are our economy’s real essential workers – more so than any of our politicians. Those workers are heroes and we all owe them a huge debt. They should be bailed out first. In fact, if bailouts are in question, the order of rescue should be (1) ordinary people, (2) mom and pop businesses, and (3) banks and corporations – not the reverse.
To get all of this in faith perspective, please read today’s liturgical selections for yourself here. See if you can discern the connection with what I’ve been saying. My own “translations” runs as follows:
ACTS 2:14, 22-32: The Earliest Christian FaithAddressed by Jews to Jews: Jesus was a wonderworker who fulfilled the “prophetic script” of being rejected and assassinated by his own people. But as with past prophets (as described by David) his soul has proven to be immortal. He lives! His Spirit cannot die.
PSALMS 16:1-11: Jesus’ Spirit Shows Us the Path to Life: We take refuge in that Spirit which his followers have inherited. When we’re disturbed it tells us what to do. It makes us happy, joyful, and confident even in the face of death.
1PETER 1:17-21: Follow That Path: Yes, they spilled Jesus’ blood like a lamb led to slaughter. But that wasn’t the end of him. His Holy Spirit remains (as it always has) to save us from a meaningless life devoted to the mere accumulation of gold and silver.
LUKE 24:13-35: The Miraculous Walk: That firstEaster morning two of Jesus’ disciples were walking to a town seven miles from Jerusalem. Sadly, they could talk of nothing other than the tragic events of the previous weekend. Jesus joined them unrecognized. With a jester’s smile, he asked about himself and his story. The two earnestly recounted the tale of their dashed hopes concerning a wonder worker from Nazareth assassinated by the religious establishment – and the women’s crazy account of a miraculously empty tomb, angels and new life. “There’s nothing odd about that,” Jesus explained still smiling. It’s the “prophetic script.” It’s what has always happened among our people. Still not recognizing Jesus, the two begged him to have supper and stay the night with them. During the meal, Jesus broke bread as he had at his Last Supper. And in that action, the two disciples recognized Jesus. Suddenly, he disappeared. The disciples practically ran back to Jerusalem to report what they saw as the result of breaking bread with a stranger who turned out to be the (risen) Christ. The world has never been the same since.
Yes, instead of Marianne Williamson, we’re stuck with sleepy Joe Biden. And, if you’re like me, you’re discouraged by this awful turn of events. Together we’re like those two disciples that first Easter Sunday walking down the road to Emmaus. And so far, this homily has been like the conversation of those two before Jesus joined them to put everything in perspective. It’s been about what might have been. All seems lost.
But the Christ-consciousness championed by Marianne (and Jesus himself) asks us to bring our darkness into the light of resurrection belief (however we understand it). That consciousness makes it clear that miracles are possible. In ACIM’s sense of fundamental changes in perception from fear to love, they happen all the time.
And at the moment, with the entire world shut down (who would have thought that possible?) we stand before what Arundhati Roy calls a “portal.” The doorway leads from our old world to a new one of the type described for us not only by Marianne Williamson, but by Jesus himself and all the great avatars of human history.
While Joe Biden calls us to turn back, Marianne Williamson joins Jesus in urging us forward into an awaiting new world. There the first are last and the last are first. It’s a planet with room for everyone.
We now know Marianne Williamson won’t be the one to lead us through the beckoning portal. It’s up to us all to rise to the occasion and resurrect everything to a new way of life. Yes, it’s up to us.
Readings for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 9:13-18B; PS 90: 3-6, 12-14, 17; PHMN 9-10, 12-17; PS 119: 135; LK 14: 25-33
Marianne Williamson’s campaign is not dead. True, she will
not be appearing on the stage of the third Democratic debate. Although she has
the required number of donors, Williamson has not yet attained the necessary 2%
in four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Nonetheless,
her campaign continues its concentration on Iowa, where she’s been working for
the last several months. Her people confidently anticipate her participation in
Debate # 4.
Recently, the New York Times (NYT) ran a long very positive column on Marianne. It was called “The Gospel according to Marianne Williamson.” It reminded readers of Ms. Williamson’s identity, her growing and highly enthusiastic audiences, and the persuasive power of her remarkable eloquence.
The article assured readers that Williamson is far more than some New Age guru or the spiritual advisor of Oprah Winfrey. Jokes and criticisms aside, she has nothing to do with crystals or burning sage. Instead, she is a widely-hailed, best-selling author, spiritual teacher, counsellor, and generally wise person. For more than 40 years, she has been a student and teacher of A Course in Miracles (ACIM), a book published in 1974) which Williamson describes as “basic Christian mysticism.”
It’s that latter qualification – Williamson’s connection
with Christian mysticism – that makes her continued campaign extremely relevant
to this Sunday’s liturgy of the word. That’s because the theme of today’s
readings contrasts the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the world just as does
ACIM. Serious consideration of that contrast illustrates the unique importance
of Marianne Williamson’s candidacy at this particular juncture in the history
of our nation and world.
For ACIM, the world’s wisdom is based on fear; God’s wisdom
is based on love. In fact, according to A Course in Miracles, love and
fear are the only two motivational forces in the entire world. That’s true in
our personal relationships, but also in politics. Either we see others as
enemies poised to attack us at every opportunity, and act accordingly. Or we
recognize our very selves in those the world would teach us to fear, mistrust,
More specifically, the politics of fear sees Muslims, Russia, China, the Taliban, ISIS, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQQIAAPs, and poor people in general as our enemies. Meanwhile, a politics based on love recognizes that none of those the world teaches us to fear is basically hostile. Rather, when we take 100% responsibility for the problems designated enemies ostensibly represent, a path opens up to achieving peace with all concerned.
Does such conviction seem woo-woo or unrealistic to you? If
it does, please be reminded first of all, that such belief is basic not only to
Christian faith, but (as Williamson constantly reminds us) to all the world’s great
religious traditions, including Islam. It is basic also to many secular
traditions that consider themselves atheistic or agnostic.
Secondly, remember that according to Christian faith, “God”
is synonymous with “love,” so that Williamson’s “Politics of Love” means the
politics of God. That means (thirdly) that rejection of political love as
woo-woo trivializes Christian faith and Jesus himself.
With all of that in mind, please read for yourselves this Sunday’s liturgical readings. (You’ll find them here.) To repeat, they contrast the wisdom of the world with the Wisdom of God. In any case, and for what it’s worth, here are my “translations” of their content. Their thoughtful review will help you see what I’m getting at in saying that Marianne Williamson’s “Gospel” is far deeper than revealed in the NYT article just referenced.
The wisdom of God Unlike the world’s Is sure and decisive. For human thought processes Focused on the body And its shifting reality Are necessarily confused. Hence, we cannot judge wisely Without assistance From the Holy Spirit Who consistently reveals God’s Reality As filled with love.
PS 90: 3-6, 12-14, 17
This is because Time has no meaning For God. Everything but Love Passes in an instant. Consequently Our prayer must be: “Teach us Your changeless vision Filled with kindness Joy and gladness.” Only such Synonyms for love Give meaning To our lives.
PHMN 9-10, 12-17
For example, An elderly and imprisoned Paul Long ago Rejected the world’s wisdom About slavery. Seeing with the eyes of Christ He says Miraculously transformed Onesimus From slave and chattel Into a man A partner A son and brother. “Follow my example,” The shackled one implores.
PS 119: 135
We agree: Show us your face, O, Lord, In slaves And in those behind bars. Yes, teach us your ways.
LK 14: 25-33
But the Master warns: “If, like me, you live According to God’s Wisdom, The World Will surely crucify you As the subversive You must be To qualify As my disciple. But be sure to Subvert non-violently For otherwise, The militarized Powers of the world Will surely crush you. Sabotage instead By insistent example That refuses To value anything The world treasures.”
Those are radical thoughts. They are 180 degrees opposed to
the “wisdom of the world.” Yes, the very wisdom of God teaches that we have no
enemies other than those our thoughts and resulting actions have created. It’s
reconciliation with our designated enemies (recognizing them as embodiments of
our very selves) that holds the promise of our very salvation.
No Democratic candidate other than Marianne Williamson dares
call us to such radicality. It’s that change in attitude that ACIM defines as
“miraculous.” Only that sort of basic transformation in consciousness can save
us from the unprecedented catastrophes facing our world today.
As Ms. Williamson puts it: “It’s unreasonable to expect those who drove us into the ditch we’re in now to be the ones qualified to get us out.”
No: our present context necessitates an entirely new leadership and consciousness – a new wisdom based on love rather than fear. That’s the vision Marianne Williamson offers us this election season. And it’s not New Age woo-woo. In reality, the wisdom in question is not new at all. It’s reflected in the teachings of Jesus. It’s the wisdom of Paul. It’s the theme of today’s liturgical readings.
After the first Democratic Presidential Debate, Marianne Williamson generated a lot of interest.
On the one hand, her name ended up being the most searched on the internet. With language and demeanor vastly different from the other candidates, people wanted to know who she might be.
On the other hand, Williamson generated a good deal of ridicule. Seth Meyers joked that she clearly won’t be around this fall. Ha ha; who would be so foolish as to think otherwise! Kate McKinnon (pictured above) offered a woo-woo Williamson impression that had Marianne eliminating global problems by burning all the sage on the planet. TYT’s Brooke Thomas dismissed Marianne as a “vanity candidate” intent merely on selling her books.
All of that was itself laughable for those who
know Marianne Williamson. We know she’s not a woo-woo lightweight; she doesn’t
need to sell more books; and if people understand just who she is and grasp her
fundamental message, she’ll definitely be around this fall.
And that’s because her absolutely radical approach
to politics supplies the simple key we’ve all been looking for to solve the
endless problems on our national list, be it climate change, the threat of
nuclear war, terrorism, or immigration.
Let me repeat: her approach offers a key far more
radical and easily understood than anything Bernie or Elizabeth even imagines
or dares to say.
The key I’m referencing is basic to the teaching of A Course in Miracles (ACIM), which has been the guidebook for Marianne’s life and teaching for more than 40 years. Williamson herself describes the course as basic Christian mysticism. It’s not a religion; it’s not for everyone; it doesn’t even demand belief in God. However, it does respond to the universal human quest for ethical principle and spiritual meaning, whether the quest is understood as generated by God, Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, the Buddha, Ultimate Reality, the Ground of Being, Life Itself, or Nature with a capital “N.”
But what about that key I mentioned?
It’s simply this: take 100% responsibility for your
problems and deal with them accordingly.
That’s it. And, though difficult to actually
implement, that assumption of complete responsibility will go a long way
towards eliminating not only personal and inter-personal problems, but all our political
conundrums as well.
How radical is that?
It’s the opposite, of course, from the approach of
Mr. Trump – and even of Marianne’s colleagues on the debate stage. In contrast
to Marianne, every one of them adopts the standard cliched and stereotyped
approach so familiar to all of us in our personal lives: I’m not the problem;
she is; he is; they are.
In political terms it’s refugees, immigrants,
people of color, welfare cheats, unprovoked “terrorists,” the Russians,
Chinese, Iranians, Somalis, Libyans, Syrians, MS-13 gang members, and drug
dealers. The list goes on and on and on. All of those included must be
punished, subjected to sanctions, bombed, droned, or killed.
But we never find fault in ourselves. Never!
Pertinently and most recently, such unwillingness to accept responsibility was expressed by President Trump in his racist harangue against Congressional Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Talib, Ayanna Presley, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC). According to Mr. Trump all four representatives outrageously blame the United States the problems of terrorism, Palestinian oppression, public misinformation, and immigration problems. Here’s what Trump and his audience ridiculed as patently ludicrous:
Ilhan Omar “attacked our country” saying that
terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in other people’s affairs. She even
blamed the United States for the crisis in Venezuela!
Rashida Talib said that members of congress who
support Israel have forgotten what country they represent.
Ayana Presley alleged that “ignorance is
pervasive in many parts of this country.”
AOC compared U.S. border agents to Nazis running
concentration camps and claimed that inmates in the camps were forced to drink
water from toilets.
To such accusations, Trump’s followers bellowed loud dissent.
How could anyone possible accuse Americans of ignorance, of terrorism, of
supporting Global South coups, or of maintaining concentration camps or at our
border, or of facilitating them in Gaza? After all, (in Mr. Trump’s words) we
are the “greatest force for peace and justice in the world.”
But, Williamson and ACIM implicitly ask, what if every one of those accusations is true? What if terrorism is largely blowback? What if the United States has indeed routinely undermined governments in the former colonies, including Venezuela? What if members of Congress generally appear more loyal to Israel than to their constituents? What if many Americans are indeed ignorant, and if those cages on our border – those baby prisons and child detention facilities – are actually concentration camps?
If we seriously entertained those possibilities, dealing
with the problems in question would involve change – not principally on the
part of our designated enemies – but on our own part. (Imagine that!) It would
compel us to terminate uninvited involvement in the affairs of other nations.
It would have us cease and desist, for instance, from regime change strategies,
from support of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and from abusing children
by separating infants from their mothers.
In theological terms as understood in ACIM, accepting 100%
responsibility for the world’s problems would involve:
Prioritizing the world as God created it, belonging
to everyone and perfect before humans appeared – without borders, which (though
useful for commerce and travel) are not part of the Love’s unchallengeable
Admitting that we are not an exceptional nation
– or as ACIM puts it: No one is special, while everyone is special
Forgiving those we habitually blame – meaning treating
them exactly as we would like to be treated
Realizing that no one is attacking us without
Yet being willing to treat genuine criminality (e.g.
as represented by those cages on the border or by the 9/11 attacks) with
humanely retributive imprisonment (and/or impeachment)
Put more practically (according to the points distinguishing
Williamson’s platform from that of others who also advocate the Green New Deal,
etc.), admitting our responsibility for the world’s problems entails:
Paying reparations especially to African
Americans, but also to indigenous tribes and to the countries our unprovoked
regime-change wars have destroyed.
Creating a cabinet-level Department of Children
and Youth intent on making our schools “palaces of learning” and our libraries
“temples of literature and art”
Funding a Department of Peace at the same level
as the so-called Defense Department
Imagine a world in which we took 100% responsibility for climate change, nuclear disarmament, immigration, and all the other problems represented by those we habitually blame. Imagine a president using her bully pulpit to set a constructive national tone (vs. the destructive tone set by Mr. Trump) and helping us all to accept 100% responsibility not only for the world’s problems but for our personal conflicts as well. What would happen to our marriages, to our families, to our local communities?
Answers to those musings constitute the reasons why Marianne Williamson, far from deserving ridicule, is the very candidate our country needs.
P.S. Watch how Marianne knocked it out of the park on Colbert last Monday night:
But what does that mean for activists who are
aspiring to follow in the footsteps of the great prophet, dissident, teacher of
unconventional wisdom, story-teller, mystic, and movement founder, Yeshua of
The question is obscured by long centuries of covering up those identities in favor of Jesus’ overwhelming identification as “Son of God.” Son of God swallows up all the rest and makes it difficult, if not impossible to engage in what Thomas a Kempis called “The Imitation of Christ.”
But for the moment, suppose we set aside
“Jesus the Christ,” and concentrate on that man his mother named Yeshua. He
lived in a time not unlike our own, in a province occupied by an empire similar
to ours. He found those conditions unbearable and devoted his public life to
replacing the “Pax Romana” with what he called the “Kingdom of God.” There the
world would be governed not by those wearing Roman jackboots, or by the law of
the strongest, but by compassion and gift – even towards those his culture saw
The latter was “Good News” for the poor and oppressed among whom he found himself and his friends – laborers, working girls, beggars, lepers infected with a disease not unlike AIDS, and those fortunate enough to have government work as toll gatherers. He ate with such people. He drank wine with them. Some said he got drunk with them (MT11:19). He defended such friends in public. And he harshly criticized their oppressors, beginning with his religion’s equivalents of popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and TV evangelists. “Woe to you rich!” he said. “White-washed tombs!” he called the religious “leaders” (LK 6:24, MT 23:27).
What does it mean to follow such an activist
and champion of the poor this Ash Wednesday March 6th, 2019?
I would say it means first of all to ask that
question and to pray humbly for an answer.
Other questions for this Lent: Does following
Jesus mean taking a public stance against empire and “church” as he did? Does
it mean praying for the defeat of U.S. imperial forces wherever they wage their
wars of expansion and aggression? Does it mean discouraging our daughters and
sons from participating in a disgrace-full military? Does it mean leaving our
churches which have become the white-washed tombs of a God who through failed
church leadership has lost credibility and the vital capacity to effectively
summon us beyond our nationalism, militarism, and addiction to guns and
violence? Does it mean lobbying, making phone calls on behalf of and generally
supporting those our culture finds undeserving and “unclean?”
Does it mean for Catholics that we somehow make our voices heard all the way to Rome demanding that Pope Francis save the church from itself by healing the wounds of the pedophilia crisis, reversing the disaster of “Humanae Vitae’s” prohibition of contraception, allowing women to become priests, and eliminating mandatory celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination?
Yes, I think, it means all of those things.
But Lent also calls for self-purification from the spirit that arrogantly
locates all the world’s evils “out there” in “those people.” In its wisdom, the
grassroots church of Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, of Daniel and Phil
Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Ignacio Ellacuria,
Jean Donovan, and Matthew Fox calls us to deepen our interior lives for
purposes of sharpening our discernment about how to contribute towards
replacing empire with God’s Kingdom. All of those saints, remember, were
condemned by the hierarchy just the way Yeshua was in his own day.
Six weeks is a relatively long time for the
purification necessary to eliminate undesirable patterns in our lives and to
replace them with habits exemplified in the lives of the saints just mentioned.
It’s plenty of time for working on our addictions to the pursuit of pleasure,
profit, power, and prestige. Each of us knows what behaviors in our own lives
are associated with those categories. So, it’s time to get to work.
As for myself . . . besides using this period for training my senses, I intend to recommit myself with renewed fervor to my daily practice of meditation, my mantram (“Yeshua, Yeshua”), spiritual reading, slowing down, one-pointed attention, spiritual companionship, and putting the needs of others first – the eight-point program outlined by Eknath Easwaran in his book Passage Meditation. Over the past two years, I’ve been keeping a spiritual journal to make sure I stay focused.
For the past two years, I’ve also been taking A Course in Miracles (ACIM) as explained by now-presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. I’m going through the manual’s 365 lessons for a second time and find it absolutely challenging. It’s helping me distance myself further from the world’s shadows projected in our Plato’s-Cave-world. It’s giving me, what I described in another context, a set of “magic glasses” that confer a world-vision 180 degrees opposite the one that reigns here in the United States.
During Lent, I’ll continue my ACIM work – including redoubled efforts on behalf of Marianne Williamson’s candidacy. Regardless of what one might think of her chances of success, her message needs to be taken seriously. In the end, it’s about replacing politics driven by fear with policy shaped by the compassion of Jesus and the most admirable people in history. (Marianne’s candidacy forces the question on believers: Do we really believe Jesus’ words? Do we?)
I hope anyone reading
this will feel free to offer other suggestions. I’m sure you agree that these
are extraordinary times. They call for extraordinary political and spiritual
commitment. In the spirit of Yeshua and all those saints I mentioned, we need
to pool our resources.
The Washington Post recently ran a long article on Marianne Williamson’s presidential campaign. It was the first acknowledgement of Ms. Williamson’s political efforts that I’ve seen in the mainstream print media.
The article was written by Anna Peele who not only introduced her readership to Marianne Williamson. She also indicated how Ms. Williamson offers an essential element no other Democratic candidate can possibly supply.
In fact, Marianne Williamson’s candidacy addresses the psychological and spiritual concerns at the root of voters’ issues regardless of their party affiliation or religious orientation including those self-identifying as “spiritual but not religious” and even agnostic and atheistic.
By doing so, Williamson effectively rescues for the left the power of spirituality that has been the exclusive province of right-wing Republicans for the last 50 years and more. Unlike Republican Christians who use religion to defend the status quo, Ms. Williamson links profound spirituality and critical consciousness at their deepest levels. The consciousness ends up distancing itself 180 degrees away from our country’s reigning ideology about history, economics, politics, and personal responsibility.
At the beginning of her article, Ms. Peele admitted she had
never previously heard of Marianne Williamson, whom she first understood in
terms of a “self-help author and motivational speaker” as well as the spiritual
advisor of Oprah Winfrey. Peele was intrigued by Williamson’s own job-description
as “creating miracles” – something the author admits she wanted to believe in,
especially given the state of our nation and world under President Trump.
Seeking that miracle, Peele confessed during her first encounter
with Williamson that she was anxious about our country’s future. She mentioned
her own anger and fear.
She was surprised by Williamson’s response. It was in summary: “Toughen up. We’re not porcelain dolls, you know. We need to get real and absorb with courage and endurance the hard knocks delivered up by Trump’s kind. After all, we’re following in the footsteps of Civil Rights heroes and the suffragettes who risked their lives resisting the old policies currently resurrected in today’s Oval Office. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work!”
Peele’s admits that she found that initial exchange actually
inspiring. It bordered, she said, on the very miracle she had been seeking. The
journalist’s vision, she says, had changed – of both Marianne and her campaign.
(And that by the way, is what the term “miracle” means in Williamson’s vocabulary
– a radical transformation of perception. It’s about developing critical
From there, Peele’s article describes Williamson’s January
28th formal announcement of her candidacy and her basic theme. It’s
that America’s real problem is not with the likes of Donald Trump, but with us,
our juvenile preoccupations with our personal lives, our resulting political disengagement,
and our surrender of political terrain to corporations and the one-percenters. “It is time for us to rise up, the way other
generations have. Cynicism is just an excuse for not helping. Whining is not an
option . . . We need to identify the problems in this country. Then we need to
identify with the problem solvers.”
Williamson identifies herself as one of those problem
solvers. In fact, she portrays her upbringing and 30- year career as a
spiritual teacher as uniquely qualifying her for addressing the fundamentally
spiritual problem underneath our country’s current dysfunction. No one else, she
says, demonstrates that qualification or of even recognizes the problem as such.
Now 66 years old, Williamson comes from a Jewish family headed
by a stay-at-home mother and by a father who practiced immigration law. When
his daughter was just 13, Mr. Williamson took his entire family to Vietnam
during the height of the war. His intention, Williamson says, was to “make sure
the military-industrial complex would not ‘eat my kids’ brains’.” She never
forgot that childhood lesson about the reality of war and its horror. It made
her but a life-long anti-war activist.
But Marianne Williamson is not just some aging hippie activist
with a past devoted to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. That was only part of it,
she quips. “The rest of the day, we stopped a war.”
In 1975, Williamson’s activism found its theoretical grounding in what has since become a spiritual classic, A Course in Miracles (ACIM). The book was allegedly “channeled” by Helen Schucman, who described the dictating voice as that of Jesus, the Christ. Williamson calls the book “basically Christian mysticism.” (I would call it a course on developing critical consciousness.) In any case, the book changed her life. On its basis, she began a spiritual practice that gave her that earlier-mentioned radical vision of the world.
Eventually, Williamson composed what she calls “ACIM Cliff
Notes” – A Return to Love.
Oprah Winfrey loved it. It became a New York Times best-seller. And Williamson’s new career as a spiritual teacher was born. However, her spiritual teaching distinguished itself from others like Eckhart Tolle (whom Williamson considers an enlightened spiritual master) and Deepak Chopra by its continued commitment to the brand of anti-war social justice deeply instilled by her father.
Williamson’s activism led her to launch Project Angel Food in 1989. It delivered meals to HIV/AIDS patients too ill to feed themselves. In 2014, she ran for Congress in California’s 33rd district. In 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2017, she organized “Sister Giant” seminars to raise political consciousness especially among women and to motivate them to run for public office.
In 1997, Williamson demonstrated her political acumen by publishing Healing the Soul of America. It’s a 256-page book that has become (in its 20th anniversary edition) her basic stump speech. In Healing, she exhibits her knowledge of American history, her firm grasp of economic realities, and her acute sensitivity to “the signs of the times.” Williamson writes, “When this book was first published in 1997, I wrote that there was a storm ahead, or an awakening ahead. Alas, that storm is upon us. But even now, in the midst of our national turmoil, there is an awakening as well.”
Ironically, a sort of awakening led to the election of
Donald Trump in 2016. In Williamson’s analysis, that outcome was an expression
of deep popular despair on the part of a population worried for decades about
making ends meet, sending their children to college, and paying skyrocketing medical
bills. “It was either going to be an authoritarian populist or it was going to
be a progressive populist,” she says. “Now, the person we got is clearly a con
artist and someone who lacks basic respect for democratic norms.”
Donald Trump however isn’t the problem according to
Williamson; he’s merely a symptom of an underlying condition that other
candidates are not qualified to heal. Those others, Ms. Williamson is fond of
saying, approach the presidency as technical administrators. They even talk
about running the government “like a business.” But government is not a
business to be governed by some bottom line. Instead, it’s more like a family
where all the children are equally important.
Moreover, the job of president isn’t primarily
administration. (There are plenty of well-qualified technicians that presidents
can nominate to fill cabinet posts.) No, the chief task of the president is
setting a tone; it’s motivation, inspiration, and supplying vision. Franklin
Roosevelt realized that. “The role of the president, at this time in our
history,” Williamson says, “has more of a visionary function. FDR said that the
administrative functioning of the president is secondary; the primary role of
the president is moral leadership.”
None of this is to say that Marianne Williamson is vague
about policy proposals. She shares many of them with the others just
A Green New Deal
Medicare for all
Increase in minimum wage
Criminal justice reform
Overhaul of public education
Raising taxes on the rich
To this list now familiar among progressive candidates,
Williamson dares to add the issue of reparations to the black community for the
wounds of slavery to which she traces so many of our nation’s current ills. Such
repair, she estimates, would cost $100 billion to be administered across fields
by a board of African-American leaders over a period of 10 years. Williamson
says that without addressing the problem of racism and its fundamental causes,
the soul of our country will remain deeply traumatized.
Despite the mine field that the reparations proposal
represents, the Post article observes
that Marianne Williamson would be a formidable debate opponent for someone like
Donald Trump. Unlike the latter, she can speak eloquently for hours without
written texts of teleprompters.
After every lecture, she answers questions of all sorts from
audiences about faith, politics, religion, race relations, economic problems –
and the meaning of life. She’s never at a loss for words. Moreover, by her own
account, she’s used to being called a “lightweight thinker, New Age con artist,
a b_ _ _ _ — if you really know her.” Can you imagine, Anna Peele suggests, Marianne
answering one of Trump’s insults with a magnanimous reflection on the state of
his own soul? Wouldn’t that would be fun to witness?
As Williamson puts it, Trump “is a master of false
narrative. And if you come back at him with anything other than the deepest
truth, he will eat you alive. But if you do respond from a place of deepest
truth, he is completely disempowered. I plan to speak to the consciousness of
the American mind. Where he has harnessed fear, I’m seeking to harness love.
Where he has harnessed bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia, I’m
seeking to harness dignity and decency and compassion. And that does not
defeat. It overrides.”
Anna Peele’s Washington
Post article suggests (correctly, I think) that our country needs the
change in consciousness and communication of deepest truth of which Marianne
Williamson speaks. By addressing that level, she promises to answer a need that
the left has traditionally proven incapable of confronting.
That inability has not hampered the political right. They’ve
understood the power of faith to motivate people to political action. On the
left, African-Americans have a similar understanding, though in the opposite
political direction. The same is true of liberation theologists in the Global
South – and (dare I say it) of militant Muslims.
In summary, Mary Ann Williamson’s use of the term “miracle” for the achievement of critical consciousness along with her courageous invocation of spiritual traditions from her own Judaism as well as from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and New Age understandings of Ultimate Reality promises to enrich enormously the upcoming selection of Donald Trump’s progressive opponent.
And she may prevail. As Anna Peele attests, Ms. Williamson
is good at creating miracles.
Readings for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 6:1-2A, 3-8; PS 138: 1-8; ICOR 15: 1-11; LK 5: 1-8
In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter Jesus’ radical message of social justice and of the abundance-for-all that results from accepting his insights. Significantly for this series on the presidential candidacy of Marianne Williamson, her program parallels that of the Master whose miraculous teaching has constituted the center of her own career for the last 30 years and more.
Before I get to that, however, allow me a word about miracles and Marianne’s presidential campaign.
For starters, she herself is very clear about one thing: without a miracle, our country (and the world) is doomed. But that doesn’t mean her thinking is negative or pessimistic.
That’s because (and this is crucial) Marianne’s use of the term “miracle” does not reference marvels contrary to the laws of nature. Instead, her understanding of the word is something more significant even than the “miraculous” catch of fish reported in today’s Gospel reading. By miracle she means a profound change in consciousness. It’s a change in attitude from one governed by fear and guilt to an outlook inspired by love and forgiveness. As I said, without that change, we’re all finished.
Think about it. Isn’t it true that fear and guilt absolutely
govern our lives? We’re taught to be very afraid of the Russians, Iranians, the
Taliban, ISIS, Muslims, immigrants, climate change, nuclear holocaust, poverty,
the police, gun violence, and death. And standard answers to such threats
always include denial and violence in the form of war, more guns, sanctions,
walls, prisons, weapons-modernization-programs, and an unlimited consumerism
that has us drowning in our own waste.
In fact, it’s precisely that fearful thinking that continues
to inform the candidacies of our country’s political classes (Democrats as well
as Republicans). All of them except Marianne Williamson are imprisoned in old
thought patterns. All of them are locked into political group think which
typically dismisses Marianne’s approach as “unrealistic,” “impractical,”
“inexperienced,” too idealistic.
Ignored is the fact that their own “realistic” thinking has
brought us to the brink of extinction. Their “practical” consciousness has
given us the war in Iraq and at least six other countries, the resulting uptick
in terrorism, a planet on fire, world hunger in the face of enormous food
waste, homeless populations freezing to death outside abandoned buildings, huge
wealth disparities, the threat of nuclear war, more prisoners than anywhere
else in the word, and a whole host of other problems.
All of those catastrophes, Marianne tells us, will remain
without solution absent the miracle – absent the change in consciousness – that
her campaign represents. She’s fond of quoting Einstein who said that the same
kind of thinking that brought us into a crisis cannot extricate us from its
Now get ready: For Marianne, the answer to all those perceived threats is love and forgiveness. Yes, she actually dares to say that – to say what Jesus said! But for Williamson, both love and forgiveness are understood in terms of realizing the unity of all human beings. In other words, only a switch in consciousness from seeing others as separate to envisioning humankind’s underlying unity can save us.
Can you imagine seeing ISIS, the Taliban, Muslims,
immigrants, refugees, people of all races, religions and skin colors – and
Mother Earth Herself – as truly related to us at an intimate level?
Actually, it’s more than that. As Marianne tells us
repeatedly, “There is really only one of us here.” All those demonized groups are us. That’s the meaning of Jesus’
teaching about loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our neighbor is our self. When we hate and kill him
or her, we’re hating ourselves. We’re committing suicide!
Radicality like Marianne’s is precisely what today’s
liturgical readings call us to. They remind us that followers of Jesus (and
about 75% of Americans claim to be that) should not shy away from love and forgiveness
in the form of wealth redistribution and reparations to exploited classes. No,
it’s the heart of our faith. It’s the only realistic solution to our problems,
both personal and political.
Consider today’s Gospel story. According to Luke, the crowds
of those following Jesus are so thick that he has to get into a boat, a little
bit from shore to address the people.
Thanks to what we read from Luke two weeks ago, we know who was in the crowd and why they were so enthusiastic. They were poor people responding to Jesus’ proclamation of a Jubilee Year. (For Jews, Jubilee, “the year of the Lord’s favor,” was good news for the poor. That’s because every 50 years it called for radical wealth redistribution in Israel. Debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, harvests were left un-gleaned and land was returned to its original owners.)
Recall that using the words of Isaiah, Luke had Jesus summarize his Jubilee message like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jubilee represented biblical law. But it was honored more in the breach than in
the observance. Astoundingly, Jesus was calling for its revival. Hence the overwhelming crowd.
Not accidentally, Isaiah’s words are a description not only of Jesus’ highly popular program, but of Marianne Williamson’s presidential agenda. It embodies Jubilee Spirit by advocating:
Concern for our society’s and the world’s dispossessed (Good News to the poor)
Prison reform (Release of captives)
Health care (Recovery of sight to the blind)
An end to neocolonial wars (Letting the oppressed go free)
Reparations to descendants of African slaves (Jubilee)
Wealth redistribution that has the rich paying their fair share (Jubilee)
Forgiveness of student loans (Jubilee)
Next Jesus demonstrates the counter-intuitive abundance-for-all
that inevitably results when his program is implemented. He tells his friends
to go out into deeper waters and cast their nets despite the fact that their
previous efforts had yielded no results. [Marianne constantly stresses the need
for us to “go deeper” if we’re ever to go about Healing the Soul of America (the title of the 20th
anniversary edition of her 1997 book.)]
Following Jesus’ instruction, the fishermen net a catch so
great that it threatens to tear their nets apart and sink both of their boats.
The message: abundance is the result of following Jesus’ program prioritizing
“good news to the poor.” Abundance doesn’t trickle down from the elite; it
percolates up from the poor.
And, of course, that latter point is underlined by Jesus’ final words in today’s reading, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” In other words, Jesus confirms his “preferential option for the poor” by selecting working class fishermen – not the rich and elite – as his first disciples.
Like Marianne Williamson (and all who miraculously overcome
the fear Jesus references), Peter, James, and John leave everything (including
evidently the fish they’ve just caught) and follow Jesus into the unknown.
Their audacious act, their detachment from fear, possessions, the past, and the relative wealth they’ve just attained all demonstrate their readiness for further expansions of consciousness – for further miracles.
In our own day, Marianne Williamson’s unusual presidential
candidacy summons us to similar changes – to similar miracles.
Yes, it’s true: it may take a miracle to get her elected. But that’s her point. It will also take a profound change in consciousness to save our world.
Let’s work for both wonders. Let’s expect both. We desperately need to change our minds. We
desperately need a woman like Marianne Williams as president.