The true spirit of open thought
Several months ago, my former congresswoman called and told me the chaplain of the House of Representatives was retiring and another would soon be chosen. She wanted me to apply for the job.
"Oh, come on, Lois," I said. "They would never choose me! I'm a woman, I'm a Jew, and I'm the leader of a New Thought church!"
"That's true," she said. "They wouldn't, but they should. I just want you to apply."
And so I did. I answered the questionnaire to the best of my ability, telling them honestly how I saw the position and what I'd do with it if it were mine. Surprisingly, I was called in for an interview. And that interview was not nothing. I sat in a room surrounded by 12 or 15 members of the House, the feeling in the air both serious and respectful. One congressman had a very difficult time with what he called my "radical theology," my having said that I think God sees all of us as sinless.
As a matter of fact, he walked out of the room at the mention of such blasphemy.
But beneath that layer of dogmatic posturing, I sensed a genuine yearning for spiritual solace among people who have eyes - who realize that the hatred that infests their institutions has had a corrupting influence on the entire nation, and recognize that the lack of harmony among them is obstructing their capacity to live joyful lives, much less effectively govern this country.
It was one of those situations where you walk out of a room more hopeful than when you went in. I left more hopeful for Congress, because I had seen eyes light up at the mention of God's healing grace.
I knew, of course, that my card was a wild one, and I heard all the talk of the Roman Catholic priest who did quite well in his interview, the fundamentalist preacher who said he could only minister to Christians, and so forth. Nor was I surprised when I heard that the priest was passed over for a Protestant, once the choice reached House Speaker Dennis Hastert and majority leader Dick Armey. But all of that was just business as usual. Of course it's a man. Of course it's a conservative. Someone tell me what else is new.
But now I read that Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called for the abolition of the chaplaincy position, arguing not only that the current choice has been obviously discriminatory, but also that the mere existence of the position violates the line between church and state.
But I don't believe the position should be abolished; what should be abolished is the emphasis on the religious rather than spiritual functioning of the role. What is happening in that situation is what is happening around the world: An old mind-set argues religious dogma, while a new sensibility pleads for healing and forgiveness - no matter by what name. It's a battle that's already been won, in truth. It's the direction in which the world is evolving. I believe - I hope - that 100 years from now, in the halls of that great institution, there will be a chaplain playing a tremendous role in support of those who work there.
Her question will not be to any of the members, "What is your doctrine?" It will be only, "Can you see each other's common humanity? Can you forgive this person for not agreeing with you? Can you ask God to show you the innocence in each other?"
And then there will be a true movement of the spirit, a true opening of the mind and a healing of the heart, among people who could desperately use that. Think spirituality, not just religion, and the role of chaplain is not only in keeping with the Constitution - it's very, very needed in that House.
*Marianne Williamson is the author of the forthcoming, 'Healing the Soul of America,' a revised edition of 'The Healing of America' (Simon & Schuster, 1997). She is the spiritual leader of the Church of Today, the Unity Church in Warren, Mich.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society