A few weeks ago, my friend Brad invited me to go with him to hear Marianne Williamson speak.

“Really?” I scoffed. “You really go hear her speak?”

“Yeah, she’s great. She speaks every Tuesday. You should come if you’re free,” he said in a tone that was neither defensive nor effusive.

It was the kind of take-it-or-leave-it statement that always piqued my interest. I wondered just who this Marianne Williamson was and how she’d managed to get the attention of Brad, someone I’d never known to be exceptionally new-agey or metaphysically feel-goodey.

Side note: Los Angeles is at its core a small town, so when one generates any amount of controversy, as Marianne had in the past, people hear about it. Before I really knew anything about her, I’d decided that she was the kind of self-help guru who sold a very commercial message of canned hope and faith to masses of desperate people, in the midst of mid-life crises, clamoring to find some kind of meaning in their lives. In other words, I had a little contempt prior to investigation.

But I digress.

Anyway, I met Brad at Marianne’s lecture the following week. The theater was packed. About 900 people quietly waited for Marianne to take the stage. When she ascended the stairs and stepped into the spotlight, she looked exactly how I thought she would. Very attractive, fit and camera-ready, with $700 hair, wearing what looked to be a $2500 suit, complete with Christian Louboutin heels. Okay, I admit the shoes surprised me. I suddenly thought she was fabulous. But again, I digress.

Once onstage, she sweetly asked if the lighting was OK and if she looked all right. The audience reassured her. She graciously blushed a little bit. “This woman is good!” I mused. Then, we prayed together. And then she started to speak.

Immediately, she caught me off guard. This was not a lecture for the faint of heart, nor was it a lecture for those who were waiting to be spoon fed something mindless and easy to digest. This was a call to action. This was a careful, oftentimes what I would call PhD level, analysis of metaphysics in everyday life, with occasional references to leitmotifs in fairytales so that her points could be more clearly understood. She even discussed Albert Einstein. I was totally blown away.

Then came the questions and answers. Some people asked about what she’d spoken about. Some people asked about very specific issues in their lives. She received each question with kindness and grace and provided a direct, clear and personalized answer, while at the same time relating the issue back to a larger theme. What struck me, though, was that she was not about to co-sign anyone’s BS. In fact, she actually said to one woman, “You are 33 years old. It’s time to stop behaving like a Ditzy Dora and start living as an adult.” Oh, yes she did.

At the heart of her lecture was a simple truth. We are currently living in fear. And fear cannot be wished away. The only way to get rid of fear is to replace it with love. Love for ourselves, love for others, and love for the world around us.

It was then that I remembered something my high school English teacher had said when asked about the rumors that a man named Shakespeare didn’t actually write all those plays. Were they written by a group of people? Was Shakespeare a pen name for a man called Francis Bacon?

My high school English teacher’s response was simply, “It doesn’t matter who wrote these plays. The fact is that they exist, that they are wonderful, and that their impact and influence continue to be felt centuries after they were first published. Whether or not a man named Shakespeare wrote them is immaterial… At least to me.”

And then I thought about Marianne. I related to her message. Thousands and thousands of people around the world related to her message every day.

So, at the end of the day, does it matter who Marianne the person truly is? I think what matters is that her message is clear, positive, full of hope, meaningful, impactful, and potentially life-changing for all those who care to listen.

Sometimes, when we get so busy scrutinizing the fallibility and very humanity of a specific messenger, we often miss the message.

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