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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XXI — The Greatest Overcomer I've Known

I wish that everyone who becomes interested in Unity could have known Charles Fillmore as I did. His life is a profound illustration of the declaration that has challenged me all through my career, “You can if you want to enough.” To many it must seem strange that the leader of the Unity movement, which stresses the healing, transforming power of prayer, should be physically afflicted. Even after I had come to know him well, I still marvelled at his courage in proclaiming that healing power from within a so obviously afflicted body. But the spirit within that body was not afflicted, and his body responded to that indomitable spirit to a degree that seemed little short of miraculous. He had impaired eyesight and hearing; a childhood accident had resulted in a withered and shortened right leg. With amazing candor he describes in one of his books how he began applying the spiritual concept that resulted in his wife’s “miracle healing” of tuberculosis, his eyesight and hearing improved and he began to have more feeling in his right leg. Not only more feeling. As a young man he wore a four-inch extension on his right shoe. By the time I first knew him that extension had been completely discarded, the shrunken flesh on the afflicted leg had filled out, and he wore an ordinary right shoe.

He lived every day of his life as if he were going to live forever, and openly proclaimed this intent before thousands of adherents:

“I’m not only going to get well, but I’m never going to die,” he declared.

Did he go too far, claim too much, in light of his less than complete attainment? “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Or to put it another way, if you have not been able to master a mathematical problem, shall you therefore deny the principles of mathematics?

Charles Fillmore was a prophet and a mystic. He foresaw houses of glass; television walls instead of boxes, telephone communication without wires, poles, or cables; the overcoming of time, space, and aging. He believed in mental telepathy; accepted reincarnation as “the gospel of a second chance” to attain to the goal of “coming in to go no more out,” as the Revelator put it.

He was the greatest overcomer I have ever known, greater than most of his followers ever came to know. I count it as one of the major events of my life to have been so closely associated with him as I was privileged to be. Even in the most informal times of working with him or for him, I could never be unmindful of his spiritual stature, a fact that I think he knew and tried to modify.

Off the platform he was a delightful companion, interested in everything and everybody. He loved to banter with me—actually, I think, to modify my awed attitude toward him. “Where did you get the dingy necktie?” he once exclaimed to me. Abashed, I responded with the name of a shop to which Lowell had introduced me. “Where did you get yours?” With a chuckle he responded, “At the ten-cent store!”

Only once have I ever known his wit to be equalled. This is how it came about.

Silent Unity broadcasted an eleven o’clock healing message daily. I was called on to fill in on this program. Before long I was asked to do a daily early morning program.

Crystal sets had given way to commercially efficient sets. Radio was becoming big business, which caused The Star to demand more and more of the “prime time” shared by the two stations. It was valuable commercially.

The Star’s demands irked some of the Unity people, and Rick Fillmore, the more aggressive of “Papa Charley’s” two sons, persuaded his father to protest this unfairness to The Star’s publisher. I doubt whether Mr. Longan had ever heard such an approach to a conflict of interest as Mr. Fillmore offered:

“It is not fair of you to demand so much of the time we share on radio. Spirit tells me that you should relinquish some of it to Unity.” Biased in Mr. Fillmore’s favor as indeed I would be, I still must agree that Mr. Longan’s response was a classic:

“Well, that’s just fine, Mr. Fillmore, and when Spirit tells me that, you can have it!”

That rejoinder was so much like what Mr. Fillmore might have said if positions had been reversed that I think he must have chuckled to himself and felt a kinship with his protagonist.

The Man who was Paul

In the May, 1924 issue of Unity magazine Mr. Fillmore wrote: “He who once manifested as Paul the apostle is now expressing himself through another personality right here in America” and “not only Paul but a number of the followers of Jesus are today in bodily form in this country.” He does not in so many words state that he, Charles, actually was Paul, but states that Paul is doing the same kind of work that he did in Palestine, preaching and healing—in a humble way—and is (as of 1924) no more accepted by traditional religion than he was in that long-gone day. Others too have identified Charles as Paul. George Hunt Williamson, in his book, Secret Places of the Lion, lists “Saul (Paul the apostle); a founder of Unity.”

Neither Mr. Fillmore nor Williamson indicated whether or not there had been intervening rebirths; presumably not, or the present-day Paul surely would not still have the “thorn in the flesh” that afflicted Mr. Fillmore. Supportive of these conjectures was my own thought when I was first endeavoring to comprehend Christian Healing and Talks on Truth that his writing style resembled that of Paul’s Letters, predominantly mental. The exception in Paul’s writing was, of course, the 13th chapter of First Corinthians. A similar warmth in Mr. Fillmore’s nature, which I have not found in his writings was revealed to me in an incident that touched me deeply.

Unity Society customarily celebrated Thanksgiving in the Wednesday evening service preceding the appointed day. “Why don’t we have a Thanksgiving Morning service?” I found that the general notion was that because many people attended the Wednesday evening service, they wouldn’t come out the next morning, when presumably housewives would be busy preparing the traditional feast. “Let’s try it!” I suggested. I asked Mr. Fillmore if he would take part with me, and he readily agreed. I gave the first talk, then there was a solo, and Mr. Fillmore was to give the featured closing talk. When I finished my talk I came and sat down by Mr. Fillmore in the chancel.

Usually Mr. Fillmore avoided body contact with others, even to avoiding shaking hands. He did what for him was unusual. He leaned toward me, patted me on the arm and said, “You speak from your heart. I don’t. I speak from my mind; but I’m working at it!”

I think I do speak more from my heart than from my mind, and probably a good balance between mind and heart would be most desirable. What touched me deeply was that this great spiritual leader, so much my senior in years, prominence, and experience, would make such a humble admission to me.

Not only did Mr. Fillmore believe that many souls from ancient times were reincarnated in the present, but that there was a karmic reason why many workers were “called” to the Unity work as “by divine appointment”; that where this was not the case they wouldn’t stay long (the turnover amongst workers was very small). Sometimes he would speculate about the soul background of those who came into leadership. Another incident is in point.

A Couple of Priests?

Whitty and I had occasion to cross from one side of the Unity building to the opposite. This took us through the department of Silent Unity. As we passed May Rowland’s office we saw that Mr. Fillmore was chatting with her, and that both of them seemed much amused about something. May told me about it later.

“We were discussing personnel, and remarking how many persons of Catholic faith were employed—and incidentally, what good workers they were. Just then Mr. Fillmore looked up, saw Whitty and you approaching, and said ‘There come a couple of oldtime Catholic priests now!’ ”

What Whitty may have been in a past life I have no idea, except that I always associated him with Egypt. That Charles was right about me is affirmed by my own feelings, intimations perhaps.

Until I so thoroughly embraced Unity’s viewpoint (I even prepared a booklet, “The Unity Viewpoint” that for some years was offered as a gift to new subscribers) I had had no one set religious training.

A Band of Gold

I was awed by the ritual of the Catholic services I had on a few occasions attended, impressed by the architectural grandeur of many, and repelled by the impression I formed that the Church ruled more by fear than by love. Yet when one cycle of my ministry involved wearing a clerical collar and an academic gown, I somehow felt at ease in them. They distracted attention from what kind of suit and tie I might have worn, and were the outward signs of my calling. As in a much earlier phase of my ministry I had mentally pictured myself in a blue “Atlantean” robe, so over my pulpit robe I mentally pictured a broad band of gold extending in a half circle from shoulder to shoulder, front and back, very much like a Hawaiian lei.

A Unity Bishop?

I had no precedent for this until I saw the motion picture, Becket. In it there is a scene where black-robed monks, carrying tall lighted candles like staves, are wearing such circlets. I gasped when I saw them. The circlets were identical to what I had mentally envisioned but had never actually seen before!

Had he chosen to do so (he didn’t) Mr. Fillmore might have cited the various special services I introduced into Unity’s devotional services in support of the idea that I came into this present life with a Catholic background; Christmas Candlelighting service, the Easter Flower service, forms of service for inducting new members, rituals for weddings, funerals, christenings and so on. The nearest he came to it was to comment, “You’ll be the first bishop of Unity!” and coming from Mr. Fillmore, I guess that was enough!


He was much less concerned about such matters than with man’s spiritual attainment, which he believed could only be reached by the upliftment of thoughts, feelings and actions above the plane of sensual indulgence—in other words, physical regeneration.

In his published writings he dealt with this subject more explicitly than in talks I had heard him give. When the program chairman of the Association of Unity Churches asked me to address their annual conference on the subject, I thought he had misspoken the word, and meant reincarnation, since that was a subject on which I had written two books. But no, he meant what he said. I decided to quote passages directly from Mr. Fillmore’s book. I should have read them more carefully to myself beforehand.

They dealt quite frankly with the genital area of the body and the sexual impulse. I felt uncomfortable in reading them aloud to an assembly of my peers. Finally I stopped:

“I can't go on.” I exclaimed. “I think this is beginning at the wrong end.”

The group laughed. I sat down. I hadn’t thought how my remark would sound. It was spontaneous. (I learned later that the talk was taped and copies were in demand!)

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