Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XXII — The Heart of Unity

If Charles was the mind of Unity it is equally evident that Myrtle was the heart of Unity. At times I would see her walking through some department of the School, notably Silent Unity, pausing to offer a word of greeting at each desk as she passed. Occasionally she would come to our fifth-floor editorial department. My glass-partitioned office was some twenty feet from the elevator, from which I would hear her voice as she emerged. I would try to catch the words as she approached, and catch up with her train of thought. She was an otherworldly sort of person who seemed to expect me to know what she was thinking whether I could make out her words or not.

“She came here from another planet; this is her first time on earth,” declared Imelda Shanklin who, I thought, had some rather other worldly approaches to life herself.

Certainly she seemed to live in a different world from most of us, a world in which only a gesture or a verbal hint should be sufficient to establish effective communication. She customarily took part with her husband in stated services as well as in study classes. In the midst of a lesson she might grope for a word, and, as I mentioned before, she would tilt her head ever so slightly to one side, and with an uplifted hand, invite response from the congregation. Voices from among them would chime in to supply the word, and with a nodding gesture of thanks, she would continue, perfectly at ease.

Like most women, she enjoyed shopping, and would often call upon one of her sons to take her to Petticoat Lane, as the elite shopping area of downtown Kansas City was called.

“When shall we pick you up—and where?” they would ask as she was getting out of the car. “I’ll let you know,” she would answer cheerfully. Some time later she would call in and say, “I’m ready to come home now!” and hang up without waiting to see if a car and driver were available or saying where she would be waiting. “So,” Lowell whimsically commented, “one of us would drive down one street and up another in the area until we would see her, happily oblivious to such details, expecting us to know where she’d be!”

—Said Unto Them, Come

In the late twenties and early thirties possible Unity teachers and leaders were chosen in rather unconventional ways. There was no Unity training school save the correspondence course for home study. Either Charles or Myrtle or both of them would “get a feeling” that some person should be a leader and without announcement or ceremony, would ordain him—or more often, her. It wasn’t very different from Jesus, walking by the sea, observing two brothers, fishermen, and saying, “Come, follow me,” and much less conspicuous.

My call to the ministry with John Ring, and Myrtle’s casual prediction in the letter she wrote before she’d ever seen me, that “some day you will be in the Unity work,” seem derived from this other worldly way.

It was in keeping then, that on my first visit to Unity Farm as I drove in my Oakland roadster up to the clubhouse at the Farm, I should find Myrtle Fillmore standing outside the entrance, with a winsome little four-year old girl in hand. It was only later that I questioned how I knew that this pleasant woman was Mrs. Fillmore or that she knew I was Ernest Wilson.

After a cordial greeting she said, “Ernest, this is my little granddaughter, Frances Fillmore,” and to her granddaughter, “Frances, this is Ernest Wilson. I know he’d like to hear you sing “The Prayer of Faith.” So out there in the sunshine I agreed, and Fran politely responded, “God is my help . . .”

It was some years later that a similar episode occurred. I was returning from Unity Inn to the administration building on Tracy when I saw Mrs. Fillmore, escorted by a teen-age youth, coming toward me as I approached the entrance. “Can you wait a minute?” Mrs. Fillmore called, “I’d like you to know this young man. His name is James Freeman, and he’s a poet. Say one of your poems for Ernest, Jim.” The youth flushed and he bowed his head in embarrassment. “I’d like to hear it, Mrs. Fillmore, but maybe another time would be better. And, glad to know you, Jim!” And with the years I’ve rejoiced in his artistry with words, and he’s even written a poem or two for special occasions, at my request.

A Light Touch

Without my realizing it as soon as I should have, the Fillmores were teaching me something that everybody studying and trying to live Unity should know. My friend, Norma Knight Jones, learned it from a scholarly Catholic priest with whom she shared literary interests. Pursuant to a discussion of authors, he mounted a ladder to reach a book on the top shelf of the extensive bookcases in his library. Looking down at her he was amused to see her staring in astonishment at the length of trousers protruding from beneath his robe. He burst out laughing: “Daughter, didn’t you know that priests wore pants?”

As I strove to adjust to the light touch the founding family gave to their faith, one of them might well have asked me, “Didn’t you know that we have a sense of humor?”

Indeed they did, and it appeared in a different manner in Charles and his two sons. Often it burst out spontaneously. Sometimes I think they used it to counteract the tendency many of us had, of putting them on a pedestal; sometimes too, perhaps, to sidetrack an involvement in one of the abstruse metaphysical puzzles which tilted no vital balance but seemed to obsess many of their followers.

Lowell loved puns, (“cinnamon puns”) while deploring them. They offered an escape from the endless day to day problems that were brought to him for solution.

One time he was called on to introduce me as an after dinner speaker at a Unity Inn banquet. “Ernest is called on to speak at all kinds of meetings,” he said. “He made quite an impression on a man who attended a funeral service in which Ernest presided. The man said that after hearing Ernest speak he wished he were dead!”

Lowell was a many-sided man. In his office at the School he had the most impressive array of African violets—including some bright red ones—that I have ever seen outside a nursery. On the grounds adjoining his and Alice’s home at the Farm an extensive garden of vegetables and flowers attested his care. He loved animals too, and was sympathetic to the rabbits that sometimes threatened to devastate his plantings.


© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.