Like her Russian Jewish grandparents who immigrated to the United States in 1904, author and spiritual visionary Miriam K. Center may be described as a seeker of bold new worlds. As she grew up in Savannah, Georgia, from the late 1920s through the 1940s, Center discovered that she was too unorthodox in her thinking and her too progressive in her general approach to life to be considered typically—or should that be stereotypically?––southern, Jewish, or female.
She nevertheless settled as a young adult into a marriage that produced three sons, the oldest of which died at the age of 15. She also established a successful real estate business and by the time she turned 50 had achieved the kind of social and material success, complete with all manner of trimmings, which many define as “the American dream.” However, as the dream unfolded in Center’s life, something remained missing.
In the mid 1980s, she gave up her business and her 30-year-old marriage, packed her life into a car, and drove alone from Savannah to California. There, she delved into studies of spiritual psychology and established the MKC Daughters of Destiny, a group devoted to helping women heal traumatized lives and develop a greater sense of self-empowerment. The group’s success inspired Center to establish a branch in Atlanta upon moving there in 1998 and in Savannah when she returned to her hometown a couple of years later.
Center launched her career as an author in 2000 with the publication of her novel, SCARLETT O'HARA CAN GO TO HELL . She joined the AuthorsDen Community in February 2006, but, ironically enough, has been too absorbed working on the edits for her forthcoming nonfiction book (on criminal doings in the South) to post as much work as she had planned. (It’s coming though.) Still, she managed to break away long enough one afternoon to enjoy a bit of CREATIVE CONVERSATIN’:
Aberjhani: As a moderator or facilitator for your Daughters of Destiny groups, I know that part of what you do is help women identify the structures and meanings of their individual spiritual paths. How would you say your own current spiritual journey began?
Miriam: It began with the question, “is this all there is?” Which I think most people eventually ask. I was 50, divorcing after a long term marriage, had owned and operated a successful real estate company, and buried my oldest son. I had two sons who were out on their own, and I had just become a grandmother. And I just knew there was something inside just screaming to get out, a voice saying, “there’s more here, there’s more here.” So I just closed my real estate business, jumped in my car, and drove to California all by myself.
Aberjhani: You drove from Savannah to California by yourself at the age of 50?
Miriam: Yes. Everybody said I was crazy, that I had left a good man and closed a good business. But there was another person inside me––or two or three––that wanted to come out and be free. That sounds strange but we all have different aspects inside of ourselves. Not many of us are brave enough or daring enough to go inside and retrieve those people.
Aberjhani: True. A lot of people get scared when they encounter facets of their personality that don’t fit comfortably into social notions of what we call the norm. That norm was something you embodied as a married southern woman but then moved away from.
Miriam: Yes, I was divorced when I started doing this. Getting divorced was my first step. And the divorce wasn’t because of any person’s problems or faults. There was just more of me that I had to discover, and I had to be single and free.
Aberjhani: In fact though, that would have to be part of your spiritual evolution, because your spiritual journey would have begun as a child, since you grew up Jewish, did you not?
Miriam: Yes, I was in a Jewish household but my father was an atheist. Well, he didn’t believe in going to any kind of formal religious gatherings. He didn’t trust organized religion. I guess that’s where I learned some of my beliefs. He said those people [in our community at that time] would stand there all day long and face the east then rob him in business. [laughs] He was pretty to the point.
Aberjhani: So you did not grow up attending synagogue?
Miriam: I did. I went to the BB Jacob Synagogue. And did what they told me to do. I mean I listened to what they said but I never understood a thing I heard. Never understood a word of Hebrew. Never understood what anybody was doing or why they were doing it. In fact, when I was a teenager, because all the Benedictine boys were so adorable, I thought maybe I would become a Catholic.
Aberjhani: [laugh loudly] I know you did not say that! Yes you did say that! My goodness. Now recently you had an introductory open house to celebrate a pretty extraordinary achievement: that being the first time your Daughters of Destiny group has gotten a building of its own, right here in Savannah, rather than having to continue meeting in your living room. Let’s talk about what you see as the primary function or mission of Daughters of Destiny.
Miriam: The primary function is to help women find their true destiny, to stand up for themselves, to find their authentic voices, be who they really are, do what they really want to do.
Aberjhani: That would be a lot for a man or a woman to accomplish. Exactly how would you say your organization helps women to achieve these goals?
Miriam: We nurture their inner child. We peel off layers of old thought patterns. We develop a greater sense of forgiveness. Then we develop positive affirmations and we bring out an inner creativity. Everybody has a creative side. And we create abundance by doing these things. Then we step in to manifest our goals. It’s just a healing power that comes from moving and sharing with each other’s ideas. If one woman is healed, we’re all healed because we’re all connected, we’re all links from the same chain. I see that from the drug addicts I work with, the women who come out of prison or jail, who leave failed marriages, failed jobs, or unhappy homes. We’ve all got the same issues. We all find ourselves asking the same questions: Who am I? Where am I going? Help me.
Aberjhani: What would you say that women can get from Daughters of Destiny that they cannot get from other women’s organizations? Like the Girl Scouts?
Aberjhani: I should not have said that, forgive me, I don’t mean to sound facetious. Well first of all I should ask what other kinds of women’s groups there are that address such issues?
Miriam: There are all kinds of women’s groups like the Rape Crisis Center. In fact, we’re going to have one of their counselors address our group one night and lecture on self protection and rape awareness. That’s one of the kinds of things I want to use our new building for. I want to bring all kinds of women’s groups in here. In the meantime, I call this my ministry and everybody’s welcome to come. We’ll have all ages, colors, sexual preferences.
Aberjhani: Your novel, SCARLETT O'HARA CAN GO TO HELL, seems to me like a unique work and act of creativity within the context of what you call your ministry. Critics have noted that although it is fiction, it reads like a compelling memoir. Can you tell exactly what prompted you to write it?
Miriam: I was prompted to write Scarlett by my own inner voices and truths revealing themselves to me. When I first thought of writing it, the title was "There's a Dead Chicken In My Oven." Because after my divorce, and probably that's why I divorced, I realized that something inside of me was dead and I began to find the other aspects of who I am as a woman, a person and a soul. It was a painful process, lonely and sad.
Aberjhani: So the book was pretty much like a natural by-product of your spiritual evolution?
Miriam: When I got to California after driving across country alone, I asked myself where do women like me belong, what do we do, who cares? I engaged in many spritual courses and groups and paths, starting with Krishnamurti, and moving on and growing inwardly and I knew that millions of women needed to hear that story. Scarlett is just the awakening before the spirituality was born.
Aberjhani: You also studied with Ron and Mary Hulnick at the University of Santa Monica to complete a master’s program in spiritual psychology. May I ask you to educate me regarding the difference between general psychology and spiritual psychology?
Miriam: Spiritual psychology is not just rules and regulations. It’s going down into the soul and finding the answers that the soul wants, because that’s what we’re all searching for. We’re all trying to reconnect with our souls. That’s what religion started out to be but some forms of our religions have veered from that and that’s why people are so hungry in our culture today for answers to questions about their identity.
Aberjhani: That’s very very interesting. So then apparently it would seem that within the lives of modern American women—at least as represented by those in the groups you have been working with—would you say that there is some kind of disconnect from their souls or their inner beings?
Miriam: Yes, there is definitely a disconnect there. Many women in these groups have said how certain religions were forced on them and they never understood them. And in the meantime they were abused. They were getting religion forced down their belief systems but they were getting physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by parents, relatives. You know Oprah Winfrey once said on television when she was talking about herself, that she thinks 90% of women addicts were abused. And I’ve seen that too while working with addicts. And she herself was an abused person.
Aberjhani: Yes she was.
Miriam: She said something interesting not too long ago. She said that she was at her father’s house, at a time when she had already become a known radio or television personality, and the man that abused her came to the house—it was an uncle I believe. And she said there she was serving him rice and peas and other food, and she was a successful television personality. She told her father she would never come into that house again if the man was there. She said she was not standing there and feeding the very man who abused her… She said she would never be in his presence again.
Aberjhani: Wow, isn’t that powerful.
Miriam: It’s just been about a month ago that she said that because she addresses the subject often on her show.
Aberjhani: Yes, she first brought that particular issue up regarding her personal experience with abuse back around 1999 I believe it was. She actually wrote a biography which was supposed to be published and in which she reportedly discussed the abuse at length. But there was so much controversy surrounding it, from her family and—I don’t think she was worried so much about the threat of a suit but she did express concern over the divisions that were being created within her family, and how different people were apparently not yet ready to confront the issue in the manner that she was. So she did the biography but then backed off from the publication of it. So I thought that was very interesting.
Miriam: Yes it was.
Aberjhani: And it’s also been very interesting talking with you for CREATIVE CONVERSATIN’ Miriam. Thank you very much.
Miriam: I enjoyed this. We need to do it again.
For more information on Miriam K. Center’s work and writings, please visit her Daughters of Destiny site on AuthorsDen and/or read the cover story, WOMAN TO WOMAN, at http://www.november.org/LocalScenes/Sky.html .
© 22 April, 2006