The Judds--Naomi and her daughter Wynonna--shot to the top of the country-music charts in the 1980s with a string of hit albums. Their success was disrupted, however, when Naomi was diagnosed in 1991 with Hepatitis C, a potentially fatal liver disease. She survived, and has dedicated herself to raising awareness about--and money to combat--the disease. Lately, she's ventured back into the entertainment arena with a talk show, "Naomi's New Morning." Something of a cross between "Oprah" and "The View," the show mixes celebrity and author interviews with segments, called "Naomi's Circle of Friends," in which clergy people from various faiths chat with Judd about a different issue each week. After taping a recent episode in the show's Manhattan studio, Judd remained on set to spend a few minutes talking with Beliefnet.
Read the interview below or listen to Judd talk about:
Video Clip: Judd interviews--and shares a dance--with psychic John Edward
Do you have a dream guest for your show?
If I could have one guest, it would definitely be Jesus Christ. [Laughs.] And I would ask him, "Did you have siblings?"
Once, I was doing an interview with Larry King on "Larry King Live"--of course, he's been married seven times, and, I think, Larry would call himself an agnostic--and I ask him during a commercial break, if he could have any guest, who would he have? He said, "God." I said, "What's the first question?" He said, "I would ask him if he had a son."
On the show taped today, you discussed beliefs about the afterlife. What are your thoughts on what happens after we die?
I certainly have always believed not only in God, but of course, that there is life after death. I got to hang out with a bunch of physicists. I know it's almost laughable--the hillbilly and the geniuses--but one of the first things I learned from my physicist friends and from some of the really hard-nosed scientists is that one of the immutable laws of physics states that energy can't be created or destroyed. And that tells me that everything is energy. If you want to get technical about it, or scientific, it means that we are electrobiomagnetic energy force fields, and we are recyclable.
Right now, this flesh and bone and muscle that takes a human form is not it all. I've always sensed that we are spiritual beings, and that we have a human incarnation--we walk around figuring out how to grow in love and wisdom and be of service. And that's what we're here on life's journey for. It's really a process of expanding or, in some cases, contracting, due to the consciousness we have and our free-choice decisions.
I got a letter yesterday from a dear friend--we've been pals for about a decade--his name is Dr. Francis Collins. He is with the National Institutes of Health, and he helped decode the human genome sequence. He's a super-believer, as am I, and he's writing a book on science and spirituality. He sent me a letter knowing how for years I've championed the belief that the two are not mutually exclusive, that they are in fact compatible. Science asks us how, and spirituality asks us why. I love people who are not afraid to hold up their belief systems to the light. The truth is the truth is the truth, and it's immutable, but insight keeps the truth in sight and it invites us to deepen our personal experience.
You just called yourself a "super-believer." What do you mean by that?
God holds my world together. It's as simple as that. And everything that I consciously do is imbued with an awareness that there's an invisible world. It's not just that person sitting next to you on the subway who looks grungy and may, in fact, have an odor about him. You wonder, how did they get derailed from understanding their birthright? Who didn't love them enough? Who didn't support and protect them and tell them that the deepest source of their identity is God? That's the deepest source of your identity, my identity, and the person reading this right now or listening to the sound of my voice. And that keeps me not only within a framework of what works--because I've sure made my share of mistakes and had a few errors, but I think hit a few home-runs out of the park, making Wynonna and Ashley--but I've figured out that if you pinch me, I say, "Ouch"--stuff hurts, stuff doesn't work.
I'm 60, and I've never been happier in my life. It's the weirdest thing. I am happier in my own skin, I feel more confident about my choice-making, and I find enormous gratitude as I go about my day and night.
First, my awareness, and this I credit to my mom. My real name is Diana Ellen, and I can still hear her saying, "Diana Ellen, what would God say right now?" And that held me in good stead, because I left the hills of Appalachia, went out to those anything-goes hills of Hollywood, and even though I didn't know a soul, I had in the back of my awareness, "You know what? It's not about this person's words or their lifestyle. There's a bigger picture here. It's about me finding out for myself what my beliefs, what my values, what my passions are."
And we went to church every Sunday morning. I even played piano at the Sunday school sometimes in my teens. And I was a very insatiably curious Christian. Mom tells a story about running into my Sunday school teacher at the grocery store on Saturday night, and she hurriedly pushed her cart past mom and said, "I got to get home and work on my lesson plan because I know Diana Ellen's going to be there, waving her hand frantically, 'Would you explain that Immaculate Conception just one more time?' OK, how did he raise Lazarus from the dead'" But I had a need to know that was all based firmly in the unwavering idealism and optimism that God was the creator of the whole stinkin' universe, and there was this tapestry, this elegant creation, and it was for me to explore and to ask every question I could come up with.
I explored all the world's great religions. One time, in my 20s, I was at a Buddhist temple. I was just checking it out. My mother just had a stroke [when she heard]. I explained to her the next day, I said, "Mom, I just have to know. I have to compare." I remember working an extra shift and saving up to buy the Time-Life series on the world's great religions.
What did you learn from these other faiths?
One thing I did learn about from Buddhism that I still really enjoy and appreciate today is about detachment. Because I am a very passionate, creative woman. I can obsess. It's an issue that I try to stay vigilant about. But sometimes I have to detach, for instance, about concern for my children and grandchildren. And that's when the little phrase, "Let go and let God" becomes my mantra.
But I think as Christians we're supposed to talk to the cabdriver who brought me this morning--Abdul, he's Muslim. He's so devout. He's got a 17-year-old son . I said, "What would you do if your son converted to another faith?" And he said, "I would disown him, I would never speak to him again." And we got in this real passionate discussion. "Abdul, tell me more. This doesn't make sense to me."
Every time I am with a person of faith, a person who, first of all, knows their beliefs and values--I think values are what we consider important, what our priorities are, what's important to us--I can't wait to ask them questions. I consider it an inner-view, and that's actually what I do on this Hallmark show. A lot of the frivolous, superficial stuff that I see on TV, it's so meaningless, so harmful. And when I found out they wanted a show that was about exploring complex, everyday issues and what's behind the headlines, to dig deeper and really get down to the one-on-one human, I said, "You mean, I can do an inner-view?" It's as if we're sitting at my kitchen table or my couch, in our robes, just asking questions about faith.
We had a woman on last week, very normal family, goes to bed in their suburban house, they've got the security system on, they're under their flannel sheets, they're warm and fuzzy. A gang breaks in, rapes the teenage daughter in front of them, the husband--who's shackled at the time--still resists, and they kill him. So they're sitting on this couch with me, the wife and one of the daughters, and they're talking about how, as an ordinary person, something like this happens, what does each member of the family do at that time? One daughter, the daughter who was raped, is kind of self-destructing and acting out right now; she hasn't gotten to her evolutionary stage yet of healing. The mother, who I was absolutely in awe of, now works with Restorative Justice, and goes into prisons and meets with the men who did this.
These are people like you and me. I've watched this stuff on Oprah and the other shows, but now I'm sitting next to this person. I go home at night, and my husband and I just talk for hours about how grateful we are personally that this is enriching us. This is what I call TV worth watching.
Why do you think so much television is afraid to explore these issues of faith?
It has to do with the epicenters of the entertainment business. New York is a tiny island, L.A. is its own planet. And I have been inordinately blessed to get to travel a lot and to be from a blue-collar family in Appalachia, so I'm a done deal as far as knowing that people are inherently good, that we should strive to practice personal excellence and live by the Golden Rule--because it works--and I think that this particular show, "Faith & Values," and certainly Hallmark, are going to set a standard now. I think this is going to be a hit, and once people get a taste of it, it's like an egg-sucking dog at my farm. If you've got a hound that gets into the hen-house and starts eating eggs, you can't stop him.
Do you have a favorite prayer you can recite for us?
I came up with a prayer that I had to use when I had Hepatitis C. I was so critically ill. I was really in a fetal position in a dark room. I was a sick kiddo. And frankly, I was so out of it sometimes, I didn't know where I was or who I was, because it messes with your brain. It's a systemic disease and it messes with your brain chemicals as well. And I structured this prayer to be my guidelines, and I would say:
Father by whom all things are made, without whom nothing ever was, is right now, or ever shall be, I know--I have a legal, binding contract with you, that was sealed with the blood of my Lord and savior, Christ Jesus on his cruel cross at Calvary so that I can, freely, at any time, enter into the throne room, and on bended knee seek mercy, guidance, and inner peace.
And then I would acknowledge what I was mindful of, what I was grateful for. For instance, today I am so grateful that these people have been vulnerable in sharing their stories, coming on and trust me enough. They talk about secrets on national TV. I'm very grateful for my team, because we do the bend-over double belly laugh. I did the "Tony Danza Show" this morning. In the car, I forgot I was coming to do another show. We were just singing at the top of our lungs to the radio. I just love life. So that would be what I was grateful for today.
My need today, that I would include in my prayer, is that, here in New York, I walk down the street just to merge with everyday folks, and I see folks who won't make eye contact, who have been living in this culture that is so loud. I live in the wilderness, so I am used to birds and the wind and the trees, but I hear people being abrupt with each other, and I am just mindful today to smile and be open to anyone that needs a hug. When I get on the streets, it's like, hug more, talk less. Just be.