Read Beliefnet's complete interview and listen the audio excerpts below.
Jane Fonda talks about:
Beliefnet: Although you didn't identify with a particular religious path until recently, your book seems to tell the story of someone whose spiritual consciousness has been developing her whole life. You were raised as an agnostic, or an atheist?
Fonda: I always assumed it was as an atheist. Looking back now, I guess it was more an agnostic upbringing. My father's parents were Christian Science practitioners.
What happened to me was, and I remember exactly where I was on the day: I mean, I was really in pain, and I said out loud-I was by myself-"If God wants me to suffer like this, there must be a reason." And it took me by surprise; I did a double take. I thought, "Where is that coming from?" And from that time forward, I became aware of, I call them coincidences. I just became very aware that the absolute right person would come into my life at the moment that I needed to know something. The exact right book would come into my hands. Oftentimes by people I didn't know. They were like sign posts! And I thought, "Has this been going on all along and I just didn't notice?"
And along about that time, I heard Bill Moyers say, "Coincidences are God's way of manifesting," and that lodged in me. That just really struck me and about that same time, I met Ted Turner and moved to Georgia-[laughs] Atlanta, Georgia!
|When I need an answer, or I need someone to be helped, it's always the same: my hands in prayer position and my thumbs pressed against my third eye, my forehead...|
Now, I had never lived in an environment where people went to church regularly and had a living faith. And I was, utterly fascinated because they were smart people, President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn and Ambassador Andrew Young and many others who were friends with Ted and people of deep faith. And I was married to Ted, a professed atheist, for ten years and for eight of those years, I spent a lot of time listening and talking and asking questions of these people.
By that time, it had come to feel like I was being led. It was a somatic feeling that I was being beckoned, and I often felt that there was a light drawing me. And I'm not a woo-woo kind of person! I'm not a New Age person. I grew up in the fifties. But it was a very powerful feeling.
So if you leap almost 50 years later and I'm living in Georgia and I'm having this feeling of being led and I find myself so curious about this faith that these people all around me are practicing. I felt my emptiness being filled up with reverence.
This is the hunger that you talk about in the book-
--and finally that hunger is being satisfied.
With what I was really searching for all along. It was spiritual hunger. I was learning to be satisfied by spirit, [whereas before] I had been trying to satisfy the hunger with other things. And so, you know, like many people, I could have sort of settled with being spiritual.
You mean, settled with being spiritual, as opposed to becoming religious?
Correct. It would have just been meditation, but it became prayer.
I think it's partly that I live in Georgia; it's partly that it's my culture. You know, I wasn't attracted to Buddhism although I really respect it. I wasn't attracted to Islam although I really respect it. Or Judaism. I'm attracted to Jesus.
Did you feel a divine presence?
Yes, yes. I was feeling. I was humming with reverence. I felt the presence of the Almighty very much in my body-and I wasn't having a nervous breakdown [laughs] and I wasn't spacing out, or anything like that. It was very heavy and-you know, it's hard to get the words out these days because it's so loaded politically, and it scares me to say it-but I was saved.
Because the teachings led you to believe it was a patriarchal system?
Yeah, yeah. What I was feeling on my own was not a "Lord above." It was not-well, it certainly had nothing to do with woman being the downfall of man. You know-
You couldn't relate to the "old man in the sky" idea-
It wasn't a man in the sky! It was, it was: Come on! When we talk about-depending on how you talk about it-God, the Almighty, Sophia, a greater power, whatever-can't you understand that this is beyond gender? This is beyond anything that we can imagine. I mean, we can't even describe it. I understand why people latch onto gender things, but this is not a man. But because people have taken it so literally, it becomes gender and hence, hierarchal. And it just made my teeth grate. The more I studied, in the very kind of linear, fundamentalist way, the more I felt reverence leaking away from me.
I never ever would have gone public with this, ever. A person who had been driving me at that time (because Ted and I shared a car) went on a website and said he had brought me to Christ. And it just spread like wildfire and became front page news. I was outed, and it was just a tremendous betrayal. I never would have [gone public with this] because it was too new. And then I discovered that it wasn't what I was-I thought, this is wrong for me.
Did you stop going to Bible study?
And I read Elaine Pagels. I had read "The Gnostic Gospels" years before and it had really impressed me. In fact, I read it when I was first feeling God. And then I read "Beyond Belief," which is a book she came out with recently, and it had a lot of references to early Christians and Gnostic Gospels, and so I read the originals. In fact, I got the whole Nag Hammadi library and through that reading, I began to realize that I am on the right path. That Christianity is my spiritual home. This is where I'm meant to be. And that I have to discover for myself what that means.
|I think feminism is another way of teaching what Jesus taught, that we are all full human beings with the right to have our humanity seen and respected.|
And this is very new and so you know, it's hard for me to go into it in great detail because I'm only a few years into this journey. But I am riveted, I am fascinated with religious history, with Biblical history, with the early Gospels, with Robert Graves, King Jesus, I'm just, I can't get enough. This is a very real journey for me.
Have you been able to find a spiritual community in Atlanta that you can identify with?
I want very much to do that. I would have to say that I have been for the last five years, writing my book which means that I don't leave home very much.
I started venturing out when I finished the book last fall and discovered that there's a whole community nationwide of feminist Christians. I finished the book and then I heard about this book "Faith and Feminism" by Helen LaKelly Hunt, and now I've gotten to know her and through her, discovered that there's a lot of us out there. And it's like, "O.K., this was waiting. I needed to finish [the book] and this was waiting for me." And it's very exciting.
And of course there was Anne Lamott. When I first became a Christian, I read "Traveling Mercies" and I realized, "Oh, I'm not alone, thank you." It was this book that literally came to me by accident that was my view of what it means to be a Christian. And I gave it to my children because I said, "This is what I'm talking about" because they're just sort of horrified [laughs] with my whole process.
Did that help them understand you? Did they read it?
I don't know. I think my daughter read it because she loves Anne Lamott-so I think she did-but they just, they just don't want to deal with this trip that I'm on.
Was there one "Ah ha" moment for you?
No. It's been a journey; little baby steps. And then long about 1998, it became very vibrant and vivid for me and that's when I began to pray-and prayer, it was very powerful for me.
And you hadn't ever prayed before then?
No. I had meditated and still do. And it's different.
What kinds of things do you pray about?
And then when you have questions and you're going through a difficult time, are your answers revealed to you through coincidences, or how things happen in your life?
What role did religion play in your break-up with Ted Turner? Is this why you split up?
Oh, it was one among other reasons.
When did he say that Christianity was a "religion for losers" (for which he later apologized)?
Before I met him. And you know it's funny because he ends all his speeches with "God Bless". He studied; you know, he was an altar boy. He was considering becoming a missionary. He's read the Bible cover-to-cover twice. He's been saved seven times, including twice by Billy Graham.
How does he feel now? Do you ever talk about your spirituality with him? Do you think he might change his views?
I pray for that sometimes, but I don't know what will happen. We don't talk about it much.
You seem to consider him a soul mate, and yet you don't have a spiritual connection-unless it's something that's there but he doesn't recognize as such.
I feel it in him, and I feel it blocked, and it makes me sad.
"Monster-in-Law" is your first movie in 15 years, so this is the first time you're going back to Hollywood as a Christian. Do you think it's hard to be a spiritually grounded person in that business?
I sure think it helps. I'm not sure that I would have become a Christian if I had continued to live in Hollywood because the notion wouldn't have occurred to me. I think I would have continued to identify the coincidences and the sense of being led, but in a secular way.
You mentioned that you read Helen LaKelly Hunt's book, "Faith and Feminism." Do you agree with her argument that the feminist movement needs to incorporate a spiritual element?