She's made a living -- and a bundle -- out of talking about miracles. Now Marianne Williamson, best-selling author and spiritual friend of the stars, is embarking on a mission that is truly miraculous: She wants to change American politics.
"I feel we are seeking political solutions to what are basically spiritual problems in this country," says Ms. Williamson, 40, who will speak tonight at 7:30 at the National Theater in Washington on "The Spirit of America." "I think America's crisis at this point is basically a spiritual one, and political solutions aren't enough to solve spiritual ones."
For a decade, Ms. Williamson, a self-described "New Age feminist," has been one of the major exponents of Helen Schucman's massive book "A Course in Miracles," which teaches that negative feelings (anger, hatred, jealousy) should be replaced with love -- resulting in "miracles" brought on by these changes in perception. Ms. Williamson's own book "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles,' " was a huge best seller last year, selling almost 800,000 copies.
Her newly released "A Woman's Worth," which considers the role of women in today's society, tops the New York Times' best-seller list for self-help books. It's a simple (some would say simplistic), straight-from-the-heart meditation that includes such trademark Williamson epigrams as "womanhood is a mass pain of unspoken depth" and "we have a job to do reclaiming our glory."
Her next book, though, will be on the state of the republic (not good). Given that politics is a nasty, cynical business, how can flowery words and beatific homilies have any impact on it?
The firmness in Ms. Williamson's voice is evident as she speaks from her Los Angeles home.
"This country was founded upon the belief that the impossible was possible," Ms. Williamson says. "Bringing the supposedly impossible to life has been a core drama in our history. One of the reasons that Clinton inspired a lot of people is that he has used the words 'hope' and 'possibility.' Unfortunately, we haven't heard these words since the inauguration."
Besides, she notes, "Cynicism is the most dangerous force at work, the most dangerous American disease. It's a cheap, knee-jerk cynicism and one that implies that it is correct in its assessment. Cynicism destroys the fire in our bellies."
Cynicism also annoys Marianne Williamson because so much has been directed at her. Since such show-business fixtures as Cher, David Geffen and Elizabeth Taylor have been attracted to her teachings, she's been dubbed a "Hollywood guru" and "guru to the stars," and she even officiated at Ms. Taylor's most recent wedding. It's a perception she's trying desperately to shake, so much so that her publicist warned that an interview would not be granted if any questions along those lines were asked.
Purveyor of pithy sayings
In truth, it didn't really matter because Ms. Williamson, a native of Houston who moved to Los Angeles in 1979, can fill up any reporter's notebook in just a few minutes. She certainly can give nifty sound bites ("the direction America should take now is neither left nor right, but inward") and grand pronouncements at the drop of a hat ("the ideals that are at the core of this nation are transcendent, not political").
She's also an active participant in the journalistic process. "Can we strike that?" she says on a couple of occasions after considering what she has said. Or: "Please take that back. Let's say this instead." And then: "How's that? Does it read better?"
Interactive journalism, indeed.
And, yes, she is especially enthusiastic about her current interest: putting the United States in the right direction. It's not an especially new concern, she says, but more an extension of her earlier work.
"In both of my books, I touch on certain political things such as racism, and how we raise children," Ms. Williamson says. "It frightens me that public education is seen as a vehicle. And the greatness of this nation has never been based upon blindly accepting the status quo."
Not just for women
As for "A Woman's Worth," her current best seller, Ms. Williamson says it's "not a book for women, but a book about women. I can't think of a more important subject for women than men, and a more important subject for men than women. I do hope that men will feel more compassion for women after reading this book."
If they don't, they're not reading very closely. Ms. Williamson fills the book with such somber observations as this:
"More women cry, loudly or silently, every fraction of every moment, in every town of every country, than anyone -- man or woman -- realizes. We cry for our children, our lovers, our parents, and ourselves. We cry in shame because we feel we have no right to cry, and we cry in peace because we feel it's time we did cry. We cry for the world. Yet we think we cry alone."
A few pages later, she writes: "The world despises you. God adores you."
That's pretty dire stuff.
"Oh, it's a bit of a poetic license, an exaggeration, of course," Ms. Williamson responds quickly. "I wrote that because one of women's great strengths is passion, and in the presence of passion, the status quo cannot stand."
Questions above solutions
She says she's not seeking specific solutions, but merely raising questions. And don't suggest she's out of her element by wandering into politics. "I don't think you have to be in politics to care about the fate of this nation any more than you have to be a theologian to talk about spiritual matters. I personally am no big deal," Ms. Williamson says. "No one person could change all this, and I'm not saying anything that a lot of other people haven't already said."
So Marianne Williamson is boning up on her American history and is considering going back to college.
"I'll be working on this for at least the next couple of years," Ms. Williamson concedes. "I love reading about American history. For instance, did you know that the Revolutionary War lasted eight years?"
"Oh," she answers, sounding a little let down. "Maybe that's because you're from the East Coast."