April 24, 2013
Marianne Williamson’s religious revolution
I was supposed to be in the middle of a very deep, earthly, heavenly, kabbalistically guided meditation last Shabbat when the Kingslayer from “Game of Thrones” invaded my higher consciousness.
It was an odd, even disturbing connection to make in the middle of the second annual “Seeds of Peace” conference, a multifaith meditation and social justice event held at the All Saints Church in Pasadena, where nearly 500 fellow spiritualists had gathered to eat gluten-free paprika brownies and let the tenacious and timeless (and ageless) best-selling spiritual guru Marianne Williamson stir their sensitive souls. So why, exactly, the nefarious warrior played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on “Thrones” felt invited to this silky setting was perhaps best explained by my meditation guide, the Israeli mystic Gilla Nissan, who said, “We are here to reconcile contradictions.”
When I first entered the event through the church courtyard, it was almost too easy to be fooled by its frou-frou fripperies: men and women roaming about in full religious regalia; booths touting exotic, energetic jewelry and spiritual journey books of every stripe; Zen-like healers performing what looked like public exorcisms while a group of drummers banged out beats for a blissed-out crowd. There were a stunning 19 options for morning meditation, including Japanese Shumei philosophy, Lotus Sutra chanting, Raja yoga and color science. But while cosmic consciousness is a venerated ideal, this multifaith mash-up wasn’t only about pathways to private heaven; it was about fusing piety and politics and bringing heaven down to earth. This was no place for “Om, blah blah blah blah …” as Williamson put it, but rather, a more defiant “Om, really?”
Battle-ready in her spear-like red stilettoes, Williamson served as the bridge between meditative rapture and political outrage. She urged the crowd to crusade against corruptive forces, naming corporate special interests as the most odious. She decried empire, aristocracy and the average American citizen’s lack of legal proficiency, oft quoting Franklin, Lincoln and Kennedy to prove her own political pomps. “Too many are undisturbed,” she said, that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the suspected perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, “was not read his Miranda rights” upon arrest. “That is not just for him, it’s about all of us,” she declaimed to uproarious applause.
A fiery, didactic orator, Williamson did not disguise her disdain for the spiritually self-centered. “An enlightened state of consciousness is not the endgame of the spiritual journey,” she said. “The whole point is not to dwell in some light and let darkness fend for itself. We’re here to be a light,” she said, transparently channeling her inner Jew.
“We cannot ignore the political realities that confront us now,” she railed. “We need to be politically savvy if we’re serious about transforming the country.”
Enter the Kingslayer, and a bold and bitter truth that HBO’s “Game of Thrones” expresses so entertainingly: In the pursuit of power — and power is necessary in politics — the ruthless and unscrupulous tend to rule the roost, and the nice and the noble get their heads chopped off. The Kingslayer didn’t usher his family dynasty to the throne armed with holy dispensation; he won it with the sword he used to slay the reigning king. It’s a troubling truth. But the vortex of history, like the kabbalistic view of the Tree of Life, is fraught with the tension of opposites: good and evil, light and dark, love and indifference, boundlessness and boundaries. All are forever in conflict in the world and in the soul.
As Nietzsche wrote, “Everything becomes and recurs eternally — escape is impossible! … The idea of recurrence as a selective principle [is] in the service of strength (and barbarism!).”
Good begets good, violence begets violence and so on. Even the Kingslayer had to confront his enduring attachment to the sword when comeuppance finally came and his hand was cut off. Despairing of his fate (“I was that hand,” he groans), a female companion derides his resignation: “You have a taste, one taste, of the real world where people have important things taken from them, and you whine and cry and quit.”
As Williamson likes to say, “Cynicism is just an excuse for not helping.”
I asked filmmaker and journalist Ruth Broyde-Sharone, the organizer of “Seeds of Peace” and a member of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, how she found the will to unite so many differing, often divided groups in common purpose. “Well, it happened when I was in college” — at Northwestern, outside Chicago — “and I was asked to leave housing because I was Jewish,” Broyde-Sharone said. “I never quite got over that moment. I didn’t even walk when I graduated because I was hurt by what happened.”
But she didn’t whine or cry or quit; she became “a self-appointed peacemaker” and joined the campus human relations council. With “so many areas where injustice prevailed” Broyde-Sharone has spent the next three decades doing interfaith work. She even wrote the book, “Minefields and Miracles: Why God and Allah Need to Talk.”
For her, the spiritual and the political are inseparable, even if at times irreconcilable. She dares to imagine a world where no single religion rules but where common religious values are heirs to any throne.