Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God….”

You recognize the passage, one of our generation’s most powerful, oft-quoted inspirational speeches: it is Nelson Mandela’s famous 1994 inaugural address…or is it?

In fact, Mandela never spoke those words; never wrote them, either. And although she is immensely flattered at the association, the true author of these legendary lines is as puzzled by the origin and endurance of this urban legend as anyone else.

“If Nelson Mandela had quoted me, believe me, I’d be bragging at every opportunity.” Marianne Williamson’s trademark, melodious voice gently laughs through the phone. “He simply didn’t.”

Ms. Williamson could just as easily brag anyway, if self-aggrandizement were in her nature. An internationally acclaimed author and lecturer, she has penned three #1 New York Times bestsellers, including the seminal A Return To Love, which skyrocketed Marianne to international fame a decade ago (and from which the “Mandela” speech is drawn). An immensely popular guest on Oprah, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and Charlie Rose, Marianne is also editor of Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century, a compilation of essays by some of America's most visionary thinkers.

In 1989, she founded Project Angel Food, a meals-on-wheels program that serves over 1000 people in the Los Angeles area daily; she is also co-founder of Global Renaissance Alliance (GRA), a worldwide network of peace activists whose mission is to harness the power of non-violence as a social force for good; and she is the Spiritual Leader of Renaissance Unity in Warren, Michigan; her message can be heard live Sundays, 8:50 and 11:20 a.m. ET, on the Internet at www.renaissanceunity.org/live.htm. We spoke with Marianne in October about her latest book, Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness and Making Miracles.


Is there an essential underlying theme in A Woman’s Worth and A Return to Love that you really want women to get?
Mahatma Ghandi once said, “If I could awaken the wisdom of Asia, I could save India in a day.” I think if we could awaken the wisdom of the United States, we could help transform the world. I see the possibility for great spiritual awakening of America—and along with many others, I feel a great urgency around this happening.

This last weekend we held a conference here in Detroit called “Women, Love and Power: Healing the World in the 21st Century,” with speakers including bell hooks, Riane Eisler, Anne Lamott Lamaze, Julia Butterfly Hill and Oprah Winfrey. The conversation throughout the day was about how might we as women align ourselves with our own spirits, rising above the forces in ourselves and in society that otherwise hold us back. It’s a conversation every woman can relate to.

The message that interested me when I was writing A Return to Love and A Woman’s Worth is the same message that interests me today: how do we—as people, both sexes—make the quantum leap forward into the next step of our evolutionary journey, past the fear and violence inside us that literally threatens the survival of the species?

We’ve gone from being a generation that dabbled in spiritual abstractions to one who desperately needs to apply what spirituality we’ve learned in very real and practical ways. Rehearsal’s over. With what’s going on in the world today, each and every one of us has a responsibility to future generations to sow whatever seeds of peace we can.

One of my favorite quotes is from the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin: “One day, after we have mastered the winds and tides and gravity, we will harness for God the energies of love. And then, for the second time in human history, mankind will have discovered fire.” That’s what we need today: to harness the love inside us, the way some people have harnessed hate. It’s the one true antidote to the dangers of our time.

 

What is it going to take to have that occur? What needs to be present that’s not here now?
First of all, people have to seriously realize what a critical moment this is and get over the delusion that enough bombs will fix everything.

Secondly, we need to start taking our spiritual practices more seriously: praying—and that means for our enemies (in the book of Matthew, Jesus says to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us) as well as our friends, meditating, forgiving, and surrendering to a Creator whose power is greater than our own. The Western mind is oversecularized and arrogant: our humbling before God is way overdue—and it’s also our salvation.

The worldview that dominated the West in the 20th century was one centered on material worth. We allowed a now-obsolete scientific perspective—a mechanistic, rationalistic, left- brained perspective—to convince us that the material world was more important than perhaps it is. Anything that couldn’t be scientifically quantified came to be considered practically irrelevant. The wisdom of the heart was deemed “lightweight” compared to the “superior” intellect. The soul was marginalized. And voilá: here we are.

 

Marianne, at the risk of offending some readers, is that a gender thing?
No, not necessarily. But think how differently the 20th century might have unfolded had women’s perspectives been taken more seriously.

Would you be just as happy to write A Man’s Worth as A Woman’s Worth?
The only reason I don’t write A Man’s Worth is that I’m not a man! I wouldn’t know how to write A Man’s Worth. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a less important subject—it’s just that you can’t write about what you don’t know.

In our return to a focus on the spiritual, what steps can we take as individuals? Or, is that simply the place to start?
Most people know what they need to do. We know we should practice a spiritual path, and most of us even know which one is right for us, but we’re often lazy or resistant. We know we need to meditate and pray each day, we simply don’t take the time to get truly still. We know we need to be more forgiving, less judgmental, and so forth; we know we need to become more aware of things that are happening in the world. We know in our hearts we should do the things that would make us men and women of more integrity. We don’t need someone else to tell us what to do. We just need to do what we already know that we should do!

Is that what Everyday Grace is about?
Yes. It’s about applying the principles we already know in ways that actually change our lives. If we don’t change, then the world won’t change. And God help us if it continues in the direction it seems to be heading.

In the introduction to Everyday Grace, you speak about this being a book for those who seek to work miracles. What are the miracles you want to see us work?
The greatest miracle is when we remember who we are: that we’re spirits, not bodies; innocent, not sinful; powerful, not powerless—except before God. That we are the beloved children of a divine Creator. When an idea like that starts to penetrate the heart, something happens to you on a cellular level. From that one miracle, all other miracles follow. As your self-perception shifts, your thinking shifts; and as your thinking shifts, your feelings shift. When your thoughts and feelings change, your behavior changes.

That one miracle—the miracle of awakening from a dream of limitation and fear to a life of love and unlimited good—that is the miracle that will change the world. Our spiritual forgetfulness is the source of all our pain and suffering, and our spiritual remembrance to the key to transforming it.

 

You spoke of taking the time to meditate, the time to be quiet, to pray. What are ways that we can integrate the spiritual in our very material lives?
Read Everyday Grace—that’s a start! Read A Course in Miracles, do 12-step work, whatever is the path that works for you. But try to remember that in every moment you are making the choice between an open-hearted response to life or a closed-hearted response to life. However you choose to approach life is how life will seem to approach you. It’s a moment-by-moment creative process—a 24-hour, full-time job!

 

You mean, being a human being…?
Exactly—being a real human being. The real human is not just human, but divine as well. We are here to extend the divinity within us, so not only we, but the entire world might heal.

Every one of us is here on an important mission: to bless the world and everyone in it. The universe doesn’t need our opinions so much as it needs our prayers. It doesn’t need our policy statements—it needs our blessing. Political and military machinery can do a lot of things, but they can’t work miracles. Only prayer can do that.

Someone once said to me, “Surely you’re not saying that if we just prayed enough, that would fix everything!” I said, “Well, how do we know it wouldn’t? We’ve never really tried.”

A Course in Miracles says that some people would rather die than change their minds. I think some people—a lot of people—would rather send half a million troops to fight in Iraq than try spending a day praying for a miracle. And a miracle is what we need: a miracle in the relationship between the American and the Iraqi people.

And yes, we need to pray for Saddam as well as for President Bush. God’s love is a radical love. Praying just for the people we like—that’s not radical love at all.

 

Marianne, what do you think we’re doing right?
We’re doing a lot right, in our own country and in the world. We’re falling in love, we’re having babies, we’re being supportive and kind and tender to one another, we’re forgiving, we’re reaching for the stars, we’re creating art, we’re singing songs, we’re helping each other, we’re healing the sick. The world is full of billions of decent, compassionate people.

There’s no doubt that we’re doing a lot right—but we’re doing it as individuals. What we’re doing right, for the most part, remains centered in our own individual experience—or at least, in our interpersonal experience. Yet the big problems are in our collective experience. That’s where we need to apply a greater spiritual wisdom and willingness.

 

What do you suggest we do to bring forth our individual, dare I say, awakenings into the level of community?
I don’t claim to have the answers; I am interested in our asking deeper questions. When we start asking deeper questions, we will start getting deeper answers.

When we move deeply into an inquiry about who we are and what it means to be alive, then the ways to manifest a world that reflects that depth will automatically come to us. Thinking shallowly, we manifest shallowly. Ultimately, nature does not support a shallow existence, because that is a repudiation of our own magnificence.

Once again, most people know what they should do. The issue right now is not that people don’t know what they should do—it’s that they’re not sure whether or not they want to do it. Each of us has what it takes to do whatever it is we need to do to create for ourselves a most excellent life.

The conversation we need to be having now is not one in which we’re telling each other what to do, but rather one in which we say to each other, “Whatever it is, do it! I support you.”

That’s the kind of love we need now. We need a love that fairly dances in us. Love is not a passive emotion; it’s participatory or it’s nothing. It’s not something you just feel; it’s something you do. And once we really know that, then hate will disappear.