From a tradition which has produced the likes of Aimee Semple McPherson and Kathryn Kuhlman, today’s new high priestess of popular religion has become Marianne Williamson. Starting in the early 1990s with best selling books, “A Course in Miracles” (39 weeks on the New York Times best seller list) and “A Woman’s Wrath” (19 weeks on the same list), Williamson continues to find a hugely enthusiastic audience for her many lectures, seminars, workshops and media appearances.
In fact, a profile in Mother Jones (November/December) magazine suggests that she is the most influential female personality on the American spirituality scene today.
Observers find that beyond her highly professional stage presence her appeal lies with her ability to affirm the obvious human longings for peace, joy, and fulfillment in the here and now. She draws on traditional faith and gives it a contemporary self-help accessibility. Not denigrating intellectual questions, she relates her own struggles for peace of soul to the needs she understands are facing her listeners.
Beyond that, observers say, she has tapped into the non-denominational character of today’s audiences, teaching that the particulars of doctrine and church life are not as important as the intent of the human spirit to find fulfillment. Besides having a thoroughly professional public relations staff, she is finding strong support for her teaching that the spiritual seeker can find gratification without undue sacrifice or compromise with established faith communities.
Recently, Williamson’s messages have included more references to helping the poor and stressing that some societal problems can and must be addressed by public policy makers. She says that “spiritual seeking without service is self-indulgent” She even plans to lead tours of the Washington, DC ‘s “halls of power” next spring, including famous senators’ offices, reports the Utne Reader (November/December).
Williamson has a name for party faithful who hold to her view of “holistic politics (although she said she is not running for office) — the American Renaissance Alliance.
(Mother Jones, 731 Market St., Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103; Utne Reader, 1624 Harmon Place, Suite 330, Minneapolis, MN 55403)
— By Erling Jorstad