I have been asked several times in recent weeks what I think of Marianne Williamson for President 2020. This post offers some thoughts on that, perhaps with more clarity than I’ve managed in person. Williamson’s political career and activism are a helpful model for thinking about A Course in Miracles, politics, social justice and advocating for effective change. I’m glad she’s running.
The conclusions I’ll reach – TL;DR, as the kids say – are as follows:
1. Marianne’s book A Return to Love was helpful at an early juncture of my study of A Course in Miracles, and I remain deeply grateful to her for it;
2. Williamson’s political activism raises important points about the nexus between acting in the world and ACIM principles of love, responsibility and inner peace. I think most students benefit from reflecting on her example (even if they reach different conclusions, which naturally happens); and
3. I haven’t decided who I will vote for in the Democratic primary, but I think Williamson deserves a careful look based on her values and commitment to peace and equality. The Democratic party and the country generally can do a lot worse than Marianne Williamson. I consider her candidacy valuable and nontrivial.
I. On Bodies and A Course in Miracles
It’s a common misconception of many ACIM students that the course prohibits or curtails our behavior to some degree. We shouldn’t eat meat, for example. Or be police officers who carry guns. Or seek and receive treatment for illness or injury. Doing so compromises our spiritual integrity.
One of these misconceptions is that we can’t be politically active. Liz Cronkhite, a public course teacher and writer, puts it this way in her book ACIM Mentor Articles:
Politics is about blaming an external person, group or situation for your pain. The idea that we are affected by external things is directly opposed to how the mind really works . . . The projector, not the projection, is what really needs to change (128).
I think this approach reflects confusion about bodies, A Course in Miracles and learning in at least two ways.
First, A Course in Miracles clearly contemplates active devotion to our sisters and brothers. The lessons and text invite us over and over to give attention to those who are not us.
The Bible says that you should go with a brother twice as far as he asks. It certainly does not suggest that you set him back on his journey. Devotion to a brother cannot set you back either. It can only lead to mutual progress (T-4.in.1:1-4).
Additional textual examples abound. Consider W-pI.157.5:1-2, T-2.V.A.18:2, T-29.III.4:1-2 and T-19.IV.A.4:10. We really cannot practice A Course in Miracles apart from tending our relationships with each other.
Indeed, Tara Singh has been the most helpful course teacher for me because of his gentle insistence that our course study is not merely intellectual or meditative but but also enacted. He places service at the heart of our embodied experience. So long as “one” and “another” appear, they are called to serve one another.
True service has life behind it. It is contact with the Christ within that responds to the Christ in others . . . Service is an action of heart to heart (The Joseph Plan of A Course in Miracles for the Lean Years 32).
There is no suggestion here that one has to be political in order to serve their sisters and brothers. But service to them in some form is not an option. It is in those relationships that we learn what it means to be an observer observing, and how what we observe observes us in turn. I have no argument with Liz’s overarching point about projection; but the learning clearly happens in these lives in this world.
The second way in which this overall dismissiveness of bodies and behaviors happens is – to use Liz’s example – that the decision not to participate in politics is itself a political decision. It’s not unlike the quandary folks have with food and A Course in Miracles: the decision to be vegan or vegetarian still leaves intact the body that needs nourishment to function. The decision to avoid politics still leaves politics as an externality to be accepted or rejected.
You are here. You are a you and you are situated in a culture. Things are happening. Wars are being fought. Capital is being distributed. Food is being shared. Rights are being defined. You are not separate from any of this. Even if you choose to merely observe from a still quiet distance, treating it all as an illusion, you have still made a choice.
Ultimately, we will learn that the body is wholly neutral (T-20.VII.4:4), and that its usefulness lies wholly in how we use it to learn that only love abides, and that knowledge of this abiding love arises in service to our sisters and brothers (M-12.5:4, 6). The body never disappears as such; rather, it is forgotten because its whole value is only reminding us of love.
Thus, A Course in Miracles is actually a course in making better choices that gradually enhance our identity with and as love, while minimizing the pain and discomfort associated with identifying as separate entities competing in zero-sum conflicts (e.g., T-7.VIII.7:3).
So given this experience of being a body in a world, why not use that body to the best good that body can imagine? If that means rejecting politics or sex or meat, great. If not, that’s great too. It doesn’t matter if the world is real or not real; what matters is the love we bring forth with, through and for one another.
You can even run for President . . .
II. On Reading Marianne Williamson
I don’t know Marianne Williamson personally, but if I ever met her I’d thank her, and my thanks would be heartfelt. When I was a few weeks into reading A Course in Miracles, and feeling somewhat confused and ready to discard it, I went to the library and the only book I could find about the course was Williamson’s A Return to Love. I read it, contextualized ACIM accordingly, and went on with my study.
Now, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, my view of the course soon changed (and changed and changed). I don’t read Williamson’s anymore. But its helpfulness to me at that early point was critical. Critical. Had A Return to Love not appeared in my experience of the course in the time and way that it did, it’s possible I would have turned away from the course altogether. And had I turned away from it, I might never have read Tara Singh whose teaching in time led me to David Bohm, Humberto Maturana, Louis Kauffman, Francisco Varela and others.
And given the helpfulness of those authors in teaching me how to be happy and helpful, it would have been a loss indeed.
Never minimize those folks whose slight nudges and directives strengthen your beginning. They matter. A lot.
Williamson ran unsuccessfully for Congress in California in 2014. She founded Project Angel Food, through which volunteers bring food to home-bounds folks with AIDS and other severe illnesses. She is a co-founder of The Peace Alliance. She has written and organized extensively for women’s rights, global poverty and food security.
Her commitment to social justice and equality has been a mainstay of her public presence for a long time. In a culture that can be overly shallow and trivially-focused, and where celebrities don’t have to do more than indulge their ego and its image, Marianne Williamson has been consistently thoughtful and responsible.
This doesn’t mean one has to agree with all of her proposals or positions. Naturally some folks will disagree. But Williamson clearly models our role as servants unto one another. We are here to bring forth love, according to the contexts in which we find ourselves.
For most of us, those contexts are our work lives, families and local communities. We don’t have substantive public personalities; we don’t have followers numbering in the millions. For example, my reach extends mostly to the classrooms where I teach part-time. What does service mean in that context? I understand it to mean an ongoing responsibility to be inclusive, honest, diligent, attentive and open-minded. I have to be the first learner.
Similarly, in the context of family and local community, I work to be a better listener – especially with women and folks whose cultural voices have been marginalized and dismissed. This is an ongoing education project for myself. I also work to alter my and my family’s patterns of consumption to better address threats to our shared ecosystem – growing and raising our own food, shopping at cooperatively-owned businesses, carpooling, biking when possible and so forth.
Obviously the scale of my influence is smaller than Williamson’s, but the principle is the same. Where do you find yourself? What needs to be done? Who needs your help? How will you know? How can you do better?
We are not separate from our experience of the world! A Course in Miracles exists as one means by which we might better understand the nature of the observer/observed divide, and what that means for the bringing forth of love.
I understand Marianne’s campaign in that capacity; it is, in that sense, coherent.
III. Voting for Marianne Williamson
A cynical view of Williams’ 2020 presidential candidacy is that she’s merely polishing and elevating her brand. She’s selling books. She doesn’t care about the world; she cares about Marianne.
That’s possible of course. But I think her record makes clear that she actually cares about making the world a better place for all people. Running for president advances that goal, either because she intends to win and/or because she hopes to influence the shape and scope of the national discourse through 2020.
So I’m glad she’s running. Her campaign represents a natural extension of her ongoing commitment to being a thoughtful and discerning voice in politics and social justice. We all benefit by thinking broadly and carefully about these issues, students of A Course in Miracles included.
Arguably, the best case against Williamson’s candidacy, is her relative lack of experience in the political realm. We want candidates who speak to our concerns and problems, but we also want candidates who have the requisite skill set to enact those policies in a two-party, bicameral, constitutional democracy of a vast country in which significant – sometimes polar – differences abound.
It’s true that politics is the domain of applied vision. I think that Marianne Williamson’s strength is her capacity to express a coherent vision of a just world founded on love, peace and inclusivity.
I think it’s an open question whether and how she would bring that vision into existence
Somebody might object that I’m basically expressing a preference for career politicians here, and that it’s career politicians who brought us decades of war in the Middle East, the near-collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008, voter disenfranchisement on a wide scale and so forth.
Those are good arguments! On the one hand, they mitigate for electing better career politicians (they do exist, contrary to public perception). On the other hand – the hand upon which Williamson’s Presidential hopes rest – you might want to vote for a newcomer whose fresh perspective can help create a more functional and responsive system.
I think reasonable people can opt for either of those positions.
IV. Marianne for President?
For me, the really interesting aspect of Williamson running for president is that it allows us to reflect on our own experience as spiritual people who study or have studied A Course in Miracles.
What is the nature of our relationship with our sisters and brothers? How do we help them? Hear them? Support them? How does that study relate to the course?
There is no one answer to that question. And the answer we come up with today might well change in a year or ten. Inquiry is never terminal!
But I do think that Marianne Williamson’s approach to service and activism makes clear why answering the question matters. That is, the specific answer is less critical than our willed and applied engagement. She’s running for President; I’m teaching and gardening. You’re doing something else.
The point is what are we doing and how does it relate to the bringing forth of love in our shared living?
I am grateful to and for Marianne Williamson. I respect and admire her work ethic, integrity and teaching. I look forward to her campaign in 2020. It offers yet another chance to choose love again.
“Never minimize those folks whose slight nudges and directives strengthen your beginning. They matter. A lot.” ~ Sean
For years I had stumbled upon references to “A Course in Miracles” in my reading. Then I read Williamson’s “A Return to Love” and, like you, her words at long last nudged me to ACIM itself. And, also like you, I no longer read her . . . but I am beyond grateful for the guidance her book provided.
Also, you write with such clarity here, Sean, about what it means to live and relate in this world and how our actions can demonstrate and thus, amplify, a commitment to being present in the open-hearted, open-minded, all-in way that grows love.
When I struggle with some teaching in ACIM, I have come to realize that it usually is about “level confusion.” At the level of the world — the illusion, if you will — I have preferences, engage in various activities, choose to exercise and eat a certain wait to promote bodily health, decide in what areas I wish to be of service in a communal context, etc. On the level of the course, I understand that none of this matters but the “how” which is Love as noun or sky on sky or perhaps that oft elusive field out beyond ideas . . .
Thank you for writing and sharing this Sean. It helped me wrap my mind around my disjointed thoughts about Williamson’s candidacy.
You are appreciated. . .
Thanks for sharing, Cheryl, and for the kind words. I miss you.
I’ve been revising my thinking on Marianne Williamson for the past year or so. In general, I think her kindness and good will are self-evident, and any attempt to divorce them from ACIM practice and principles generally reflects a deeper confusion about bodies and minds.
I think ACIM tends to reinforce a traditional mind/body binary (duality) that has haunted Christianity for most its history (and which reflects a more integral human experience of separation that can actually be solved, significantly by not resisting the appearance of separation).
Bodies are fundamentally neutral; what we do with them reflects our learning and understanding, which occurs in language and related abstractions like ideas, and so appears more tenuous. But if we see the body less an an illusion and more as a learning device or channel, then it loses value for its own sake and the focus helpfully shifts to what is coming through it: which is love or fear (which is basically obstructed love).
So in that sense the divide or separation is nonexistent. It’s not that the body is real or not real, but simply a means to remember and extend the remembrance of love.
On that view, there are no levels.
And I think it’s possible that Williamson has a fairly sophisticated and integral understanding of this – so much so that she frightens folks who (like me, say, or Ken Wapnick) tend to rely on overly intellectual and academic frames, need to be the smartest guy in the room, use language to control others, etc.
There is a gender aspect here as well, largely because I think emphasis on separation is a patriarchal move, and women tend to perceive and resist (i.e., choose another way) that move more readily than men.
Although my contribution to this broad dialogue seems to be mostly wordy, I remain interested – more and more so – in folks who embody love without a lot of fretting or venting or explaining or whatever. Feed each other, sing the babies to sleep, let the old ones lean on us . . . and gently and patiently keep constructing a world where it is easier for all of us to be so simply and happily loving. Why not? And, of course, how?
Well, I don’t see a reason why not. And in terms of learning how, listen to women seems like a good start.
All of which you already know, of course 🙂