Let Go and Believe: An Interview With Oprah Winfrey
“My confidence comes from knowing there is a force, a power, greater than myself that I am a part of and is also a part of me.”—Oprah Winfrey
This powerful affirmation opens each episode of the upcoming Belief documentary series on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The seven-night television event shares the spiritual journeys of believers throughout the world—people from all faiths and walks of life. Winfrey, a longtime Daily Word® reader, recently spoke with web editor Elaine Meyer about the Belief series, Daily Word, and the profound connection we all share.
Elaine Meyer: I’m sure our readers would be interested to know how you discovered Daily Word.
Oprah Winfrey: I became acquainted with it in Baltimore in my 20s. I was a big seeker for sure. I grew up in the church, so I was seeking to expand my vision of what God was. So Daily Word became my way of expanding my vision and perception of all that God could be, opening up to not just one way of seeing God. …
EM: What led you to the Belief project?
OW: The point of this series is to get people to see that everybody is looking for the center and yearning for the heart of God, in whatever language they use to describe it. We’re all connected. I know that because I’ve talked to thousands of people … I see the hurts, the sadness, the struggles, the joys, the triumphs—they’re all the same. And we’re all yearning for the same thing—to be seen and heard and valued and to know that our lives matter. And hopefully there’s something beyond this moment that life isn’t just about going to work or achieving. There’s something deeper, more mysterious going on. I have been able to discern that and come to know this in a way that’s very powerful for me, and helps me have a deeper appreciation for how I am connected to the lives of others by simply paying attention to that (truth) every day. I wasn’t just interviewing people on television, but actually making profound connections with the human spirit. My ability to do that was and is the success of the Oprah show. It’s about the connection.
EM: There are so many compelling stories out there. We encounter them every day in Silent Unity® and in Daily Word. How did you choose which ones to highlight?
OW: We wanted to get as broad an array of the human spiritual journey as possible, finding people in different parts of the world, in contradicting parts of the world—countries where you might not imagine they would be. And also finding people whose stories seem to be not aligned with your own, but when you go deeper, you get to see that they really are. … Mendel and Lucas (Episode 1, Belief: The Seekers airing Sunday, October 18) are literally in totally different worlds. Yet, the image of Lucas’ grandfather, Terry, walking barefoot across the land, calling on the spirits, and the image of Mendel’s rabbi father, teaching him the Torah (shows) they’re striving for the same thing. What you see and feel from both of those men—one barely clothed in his tribal attire, the other in the middle of Hungary in his rabbi attire—is a spirit of love that goes beyond any religious definition.
EM: So as you’re going through the series, were there any moments that connected with you?
OW: The power of forgiveness (shown by) the Muslim imam and the Christian pastor who put aside their differences (Episode 2 Belief: Love’s Story airing Monday, October 19). And not just (any) differences—‘You’re the guy who cut off my arm with a machete. … Not only am I going to forgive you for that, now I’m going to join forces with you to try and bring peace to the community.’ I look at a piece like that and it opens up … any remaining judgment, any negativity I have toward anybody, any remaining grudges that I might carry, I just let it go. Let go, let God! You can become friends and a peacemaker with the man who cut off your arm, or somebody who cut you off in traffic, (or) somebody who you think cut you out of a job or position …. It just shows you that we can let go of anything.
EM: With love all things are possible.
OW: With love all things are possible. So you can see that in a way that’s demonstrated to you and not just words spoken to you.
EM: What do you hope people will take away from this series?
OW: I think all the work I do is about opening the heart space. My whole career (has been) trying to get people to see how other people’s stories mirror or reflect into their own stories. Many times it’s easier to see it when you’re looking at a reflection rather than looking at yourself.
About the Belief Documentary Series
Journeying to the far reaches of the world, and to places cameras have rarely been, Belief searches the origins of diverse faiths and the heart of what really matters. From the epic to the intimate, webbed throughout each hour are stories of people on spiritual journeys, taking them to sacred spaces. Belief premieres Sunday, October 18, at 8 p.m. ET (7 CT) on OWN.
Watch the Belief trailer
Sunday, October 18 *PREMIERE
“Belief: The Seekers”
Witness stories from around the world united by one of the most basic human needs – a desire to find purpose and meaning in our lives. First, 19-year-old Cha Cha, a devout evangelical Christian college student, hopes to reconnect with her faith after a recent trauma has shaken her to the core. Next, Reshma Thakkar, a young Indian-American Hindu woman from Chicago, travels to the banks of the Ganges River in India for the Kumbh Mela, joining millions at the world’s largest spiritual gathering. Meanwhile, in Budapest, Hungary, 13-year-old Mendel Hurwitz prepares for his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish transformation from adolescence to adulthood. Mendel’s synagogue in Budapest once faced extinction, and this tiny population of Jews are struggling to keep their culture alive. In the final story, Terry Gandadila, an Aboriginal elder in Australia who is nearing death, passes on the wisdom and knowledge of his tribe to his grandson. Together, they walk the songline, an ancient roadmap that the tribe believes reveals how the world was created and how to live life in accordance with their ancestor spirits.
Monday, October 19
“Belief: Love’s Story”
Journey around the world in search of what it means to love one another. First, in western Pennsylvania, Ian and Larissa Murphy are two evangelical Christians who fell in love during college. Ten months into their relationship, Ian suffered a traumatic brain injury, dramatically changing their relationship while also showing them what it means to love unconditionally. Next, we meet Rena Greenberg and Yermi Udkoff of Brooklyn, New York as they prepare to marry in the Hasidic faith, which believes every person is born with one half of a soul, and only through marriage can the two souls reunite with each other. On the other side of the world, former professional skateboarder Jordan Richter from northern California is embarking on the Hajj, a pilgrimage that is one of the five tenets of his adopted religion, Islam. By joining millions of pilgrims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Jordan hopes to make peace with his past and cement a promising future. Finally, two leaders in Nigeria who were former enemies 20 years ago, Christian Pastor James Wuye and Muslim Imam Muhammad Ashafa, come together to reconcile and to honor one of the most sacred teachings at the heart of both their faiths: love your enemies.
Tuesday, October 20
“Belief: Acts of Faith”
Our beliefs can be a powerful guiding force to endure and overcome in some of the most difficult situations. In this episode, everyone faces a challenge to overcome, and they find their source of strength in a variety of different ways. In Topeka, Kansas, Judi Bergquist visits her son’s killer in prison with the hope that the act of forgiveness will help them both move forward with their lives. Next, under the blue Guanajuato, Mexico sky, Enedina Cuellar Pacheco-Ramirez is riding on horseback with Christ’s Cowboys in the hopes a miracle heals her son who suffered traumatic injuries in a tragic car accident. Together with thousands of riders, she makes the rigorous trek to the iconic 65-foot-tall statue of Cristo Rey. Finally, on the small Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, a young boy, Bebe, will act out a deathdefying rite of passage into manhood. Bebe will bravely land dive off a giant wooden tower with just a tree vine tied around his ankles, participating in a sacred ritual that his tribe believes blesses the soil for a bountiful harvest.
Wednesday, October 21
“Belief: A Change Is Gonna Come”
Explore how our beliefs help us change. First, Anju, a young woman in central India, has committed to forgo all of life’s conveniences and permanently sever ties with her family in order to be initiated as a Jain nun. Anju must first pass three tests designed to challenge her commitment. Next, Howard Fallon and his daughter Shane arrive in the Nevada desert for Burning Man, an annual festival that provides an experiment in community art, self-expression and culminates in the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy. Howard and Shane are seeking to reconnect and heal after unimaginable personal loss. In another part of the American desert, Ashly Hines, a member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, prepares to participate in the Sunrise Ceremony, a spiritual ritual into womanhood. Finally, scientist Marcelo Gleiser stands at the foot of one of the most powerful telescopes in the world. He has journeyed to the heart of the Atacama Desert in Chile to look deep into space for clues as to how the universe was born and how it is changing over time. He finds the more he searches the universe, the more he must embrace the mystery of the unknown.
Thursday, October 22
“Belief: God Help Us”
When tragedy, illness or loss feel overwhelming and relief seem beyond our reach, many believers appeal to their faith for strength. First, Karen Cavanagh, a Catholic from Slingerlands, New York is called to the Sufi path as a way of healing from a traumatic brain injury. Karen travels to Konya, Turkey to combine her Catholic faith with the practice of becoming a Whirling Dervish, a group who worships through meditative dance. Next, in Lima, Peru, a teenager, Beto, prays to the Lord of Miracles, a painting of Christ on the cross that is revered throughout the country. Beto is selected to march in an annual procession honoring the icon, bringing pride to his family. Then, in Lebanon, 13-year-old Walid, a Syrian refugee whose family fled their home in war torn Syria, still finds a way to participate in Ramadan, the Islamic faith’s month of personal and spiritual reflection observed with fasting and prayer. Finally, in Indonesia, 19-year-old Buddhist monk Bodhi Cuhyono believes meditation can help him find a source of inner strength after enduring a challenging childhood. Guided by his mentor and teacher, Bodhi travels to the holy site of Borobudur in Indonesia – the world’s largest Buddhist temple – to celebrate Vesak, an annual ritual that commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.
Friday, October 23
“Belief: The Practice”
For many people, committing to a spiritual life through study, practice and compassion reveals faith. First, Shi Yan Fei is a young Buddhist monk at the Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng, China, who came to the monastery because of his passion for Kung Fu. While Shi Yan Fei has nearly mastered Kung Fu’s physical movements, he has encountered difficulty mastering the spiritual element. Next, 65-year-old John Davie is hoping to reconnect with his Catholic faith as he embarks on the “Way of Saint James,” a 500-mile trek through the countryside of France and Spain. For a thousand years, Christian pilgrims have walked the “Camino,” which culminates at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Then, Mohamed El Haskouri, a teenage boy in Morocco studies diligently to perfect his recitation of the 80,000 words of the Qur’an in an ancient art called Tajweed. Finally, two teenage girls in Israel, 18-year-old Jewish cellist Hagit and 17-year-old Muslim flutist Mais find common ground and friendship in their shared love of performing classical music with the Polyphony Orchestra.
Saturday, October 24
“Belief: A Good Life”
Explore how beliefs help us face the fear of death and the mystery of what happens after we die. In this episode, we witness how death can also be a powerful call to action – to embrace life and those we love. In the shadows of Mt. Everest, Lekshey Choedhar, a young Buddhist monk at the Pema Tsal Sakka Monastery, learns a valuable lesson about the fleeting nature of life. There, Buddhist monks make devotional works of art called sand mandalas, which they then destroy in a ritual that symbolizes the impermanence of existence. Next, atheist Alex Honnold walks the edge between life and death as a world-renowned free-solo climber. He faces his mortality and finds meaning in his life as he climbs — with no ropes or harnesses — up a towering cliff in the Moab desert in eastern Utah. Then Donna Winzenried, a military wife and mother of three in Colorado Springs, Colorado who has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, fights for her life by holding on to her Methodist faith. Next, India is home to more than a billion people and one of the world’s largest religions, Hinduism. Once a year, on the first day of spring, Hindus from all walks of life unite to celebrate the festival of colors – Holi. Gopesh Goswami, a Hindu priest, celebrates Holi as an opportunity to set aside daily responsibilities and experience joy, togetherness and the essence of a good life. Finally, from a space shuttle orbiting Earth, astronaut Jeff Hoffman stares out at a pale blue dot suspended in the vast expanse of the universe. He describes it as a transcendent experience, an overwhelming feeling that human beings are all truly connected.
Photos courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.