By Anna Bowness-Park
This was Oprah’s final week in her show that has been running for two generations, and the beginning of a new chapter for her and her followers. I am not an avid Oprah fan, watching every installment, but her achievements have made a great difference in many people’s lives. This article is not an obituary, but a thank you. It is hard for even the skeptic, the cynic or the cultural snob to deny the enormous positive influence that Oprah has had on modern North American culture. And yes – I say positive! She has helped people to realize that they have potential. She has demanded they respect themselves and others. She has awakened something good in millions of her watchers. How did she do this?…
It was not by threatening us with eternal damnation, or coercing us to join something or to donate to her. She awakened good in us – through love. She truly loved her audience, individually and collectively. On her last show she said, “Something in me connected with something in you.” And I know that that something was love. She held people accountable for their behavior; challenged their preconceptions, their prejudices and fears; and demanded that every guest and audience member look deeper, honestly question themselves, and take ownership of their thoughts and lives. She freely admitted her faults and mistakes, and we loved her for this because then she became one of us. She embraced life enthusiastically and passionately – this, to me, is the heart of Oprah. She finally got us to talk to each other, and to listen – not superficially – but in the deep level of our experience. In our hearts. She got us to be real.
However, perhaps what I learned most from Oprah was how she related to the spirituality in her audience. How she was able to talk about the spiritual and religious. Religion and spirituality have undergone a transformation in the last couple of decades. Oprah understood that, and tapped into a deep well of need. She lifted the lid off the religious, and encouraged us to talk about our spirituality, separate from the rules, traditions and trappings of religion.
It is in this that she reminds me of Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science. (see here) She was a very influential religious figure during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s of an America that was bursting forward in so many ways – culturally, technologically and religiously. Coming from a humble background, beset by many of the same difficulties we still face today, she disputed the religious dogmas of her day, and of blind obedience to religious theology, such as predestination. As a woman, she challenged the male dominated clergy, and yet was deeply aware of the needs of humanity. She saw health from a fresh spiritual perspective, and healed – prolifically. She then wrote about how she saw health and healing in her seminal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She publicly engaged in the controversies and events of her day. She stirred thought. She began a newspaper – The Christian Science Monitor. She founded a church, based upon the healing works and words of Christ Jesus, and expected this church to continue his healing mission.
I am sure that every one of you who reads this can think of a mover, shaker or healer that has made a difference. Every era has its communicators that tap deeply into the human need for love, for a better sense of self, and for a higher sense of God as Love. We should look deeper than the candy wrappings and superficial human assumptions about these brave men and women who make such a profound difference in the world, and see what it is that empowers them. And there, we will find the quiet marvel of Love – a love that heals, makes whole and restores whatever was lost.