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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER X — Celebrities

The eclectic nature of our San Diego work had attracted speakers and followers from many religious cultures: Dr. F. Homer and Henrietta Curtiss, founders of The Order of Christian Mystics; Mirza Ahmed Sohrab, representing Abdul Baha, successor to his Father, Baha O’llah, the Persian prophet, renowned for the architectural marvel, the Bahai Temple at Wilmette, Illinois; and Hewat McKenzie, founder of the British College of Psychic Science. An incident that concerns—and I use the word advisedly—Doctor MacKenzie is that at the close of his visit he asked me if I would call a cab for his return to his hotel.

“Oh, no! Mr. Wilson has a car,” John protested, “I know he will be delighted to be your chauffeur.”

I looked at John pleadingly. I had only recently been able to buy my first car, a Model T Ford. I had practiced driving on the quiet streets surrounding the church. The only driving I had done in traffic was the initial trip from the downtown salesroom to the church. Now I was called on to pilot this distinguished, dignified Londoner to the very heart of the city. I tried to get out of it without seeming discourteous. Nothing of the kind. John Ring was unmoved by my remonstrances.

Gingerly I assisted the doctor into the passenger seat, and cautiously picked my way through the least traveled streets, arriving breathlessly to the side entrance of the U.S. Grant Hotel, in my excitement stepping on the gas and the brakes at the same time, making a violent but successful stop.

Dr. McKenzie hastily stepped to the curb, obviously shaken. His relief as he thanked me was most eloquent: “Young man, I’ve never been so sure of being killed in all of my life.”

Imelda Octavia Shanklin was one of the notable Unity visitors. I read in the San Diego Union that she was to speak at the local Unity Center, and phoned to ask if she would speak for us. She explained that she could speak only for Unity, but when I expressed disappointment, volunteered that if I could get some sub-teen children together she would be glad to join them in an informal afternoon meeting. I eagerly agreed, and got some dozen or so little folks to come after school to meet the famous editor of Wee Wisdom.

“Tell me,” she ventured, seeking to put them at ease, “How do you work out your problems?” There was no response.

“Little folks have problems, same as big folks. Won’t you tell me yours?”

Finally one youngster raised her hand. She nodded smilingly.

“Please, Miss Shanklin, we read Wee Wisdom and don’t have any problems.”

Richard Lynch was another visitor from Unity. He declined a lunch with the comment that he was on a diet, but he did want to see our church. He recalled taking me on a tour of Unity headquarters, asked a lot of questions about how I’d “come into Truth,” and described how he had become interested, and advanced from being a clerk in the Prosperity Bank Department to becoming a Field Lecturer. This enabled him to travel widely, which he loved doing. That struck a responsive chord with me. Ever since my Mother had sent me, as a six-year-old boy, on a train trip from Minneapolis to Anoka to visit my grandparents, with my name and destination written on a slip attached to my blouse, I wanted to go places, see people, find new worlds!

“Some day you’ll be at headquarters just as you now appear in Unity publications,” he predicted. “I’ll look forward to seeing you there.” But it was at Unity in New York City that I was destined to see him the next time.

If you’ve borne with me in the earlier episodes of this chronicle you may recall that John took me to see and to meet Ruth St. Denis, America’s rival to Britain’s Isadora Duncan. Miss Ruth, as her friends called her, had gotten inspiration for a dancing theme from a Turkish Deities cigaret picture as Isadora had derived hers from a Grecian urn. Miss Ruth had kindly included me in her chat with John Ring. She had patted me on the cheek. “I hope to see you again. I would like my husband, Ted Shawn, to know you. Maybe you’d like to visit Denishawn sometime.”

Nothing could have seemed more unlikely, but one Sunday morning a tall, dark-haired, handsome young man inquired for me at the church door before the service. It was Ted Shawn.

“Business has brought me here. My wife told me about meeting you, and suggested that I look you up.” I was surprised that she would have remembered our brief meeting.

I introduced him to Mr. Ring and escorted him to the narrow balcony overlooking the sanctuary, equipped with a comfortable lounge where he could attend the service without being conspicuous. He stayed for the modest lunch prepared by John’s sister, and remained for what turned out to be an extended visit afterward. He was well-informed on metaphysics and comparative religion, an interest that he told us his wife also shared. He expressed particular interest in my research on the symbolism of color, sound and form; and the relation of religion and the arts, which were a dominant interest with me at the time.

“I want to develop a series of lectures about the ancient peoples who danced their religion—Miriam at the Red Sea, David at Zion, for instance; but I don’t have enough time for the research,” Shawn confided. “Also I am working on the idea of a church service in dance form. I think you could be a help to me. How would you like to come to Denishawn in Los Angeles for the summer as our guest, drafting some lectures for me? You could help me work out some plans for the religious dance service, too.”

I was both flattered and appalled by his invitation. What did he actually know about me? What did I know about him and his world of dance? He didn’t fit into my previously conceived picture of a limp-wristed, effeminate man, flitting about amid a bevy of scantily clad young women. He was too masculine, too husky, too virile, too much like a professional athlete, maybe a football player. Wasn’t he taking a long chance in extending me such an invitation? Wouldn’t I be exposing myself to unknown complications, even derision, in accepting his offer? I thought of his wife, her dignity and charm. The appeal of her performance had been lofty, inspiring, even religious in character. If Denishawn expressed what I sensed in her performance it would be a fascinating world to explore.

I stammered out my appreciation of his offer. “You may be overestimating what help I could be. It would be a great experience for me, but I don’t see how I can spare the time from my ministry.” I looked to John for support.

I should have known. I could see the gleam of excitement in his eyes. “By all means you must do this,” he exclaimed. “You will learn much and give much. Mr. Shawn, this young man always denigrates his abilities. He won’t disappoint you.”

“You probably know him better than anybody. I value your opinion,” he said to John; and to me, “Since Mr. Ring is willing to release you from your duties for the time, it’s settled. How soon can you join us at Denishawn?”

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