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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XXIII — Miss Shanklin

Imelda Octavia Shanklin was in charge of the editorial department at Unity, and she was a very present help to me in those early days of adjustment at headquarters, as indeed she had been from the time I first learned about Unity. She had accepted for publication all the material I had submitted from about 1918, so that many verses and even more articles by me had appeared in the Unity publications before I appeared there in person.

She was a meticulous editor and writer. Even her handwriting attested to this; it was precise with every letter in every word given its full value. When the material I had assembled and/or written for Youth was as ready for the printers as I knew how to make it, I would take it to her and we’d go over it together, invariably to its betterment. I learned a lot from her.

Occasionally she would accede to administration requests for her to give a talk at the morning chapel meeting. It was no spur-of-the-moment whatever-comes-into-mind occasion. She would have arranged for a large blackboard to be placed in a good light, and have written on it in her meticulous script a complete outline of what she intended to say. This she would carefully follow, point by point, checked off by her extended arm as she spoke.

When a junior editor, Judson Woods, raised the question of thought power, quoting from the King James version of the Bible, “who by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?’’ she determined to find out by experience. Her testimony is that she did grow—not by a cubit, which would have been grotesque, but by an inch!

In view of her pragmatic nature, I was surprised to find that she did not scoff at supernatural phenomena. When she was asked to pray for someone who was ill, she would “see” a lighted candle. If it burned steadily this betokened recovery; if it burned feebly, a protracted illness; if it flickered out, transition. In one instance, that of a longtime friend and associate, the candle remained lighted but was broken—intimating only partial recovery. Whether, as Imelda believed, her “seeing” was a God-given gift, or instead a response to unconscious but predictable factors intimating the outcome, or just a lucky guess, the fact remains that she was right. (Incidentally, none of us ever called her anything but Miss Shanklin.)

How fortunate I was to share the knowledge, the wisdom, of such an unusual person, I thought to myself. I had no idea that she would very soon be retiring, still less that I would be called on to succeed her as head of the department, but that is what occurred.

Hard to Follow

Accession to my new status as editor-in-chief made me feel very humble. From the time I first saw a Unity publication I had great respect for its high standards, attained by discrimination in choice of material, painstaking checkups; before a publication reached the subscribers, the material in it had been proofread seven times. In fact errors were so few that when one appeared, it aroused a defensive attitude. Editorial tended to blame the printing department, printers to deplore editorial. It put one department against the other. My first effort was to change the emphasis from placing the blame to preventing a recurrence. I found a staunch ally in Alex Alberg, superintendent of the printing department. He had started as a teen-age printer’s devil, and worked his way up to head of the department, replacing the former head, a Mr. Garrison, soon after my advent. We established a happy relationship, resulting in the editorial department giving a Christmas dinner with the printers as guests. We arranged the desks to form long tables, got the Inn to provide the food, and not only had a jovial time together but put to an end any sense of rivalry. Cooperation for the common good became our byword.

Was I elated by my promotion as head of the department? I’ve been told by people who should know, that I was a very brash young man. Actually I was a whistling-in-the-dark young man. John Ring’s challenge of long ago, “You can if you want to enough” rang in my ears. I girded myself with incessant affirmatives, and silently claimed “If I have enough on deposit in God’s bank of good He will honor my check of need.”

The Friendly Voice

Charles and Myrtle had great faith that Unity was under divine guidance, as affirmed in such statements as “We are guided by infinite wisdom and prospered by divine love” and “Jesus Christ is the head of this work. We are open, receptive, obedient and responsive to His guidance. ” They declared the belief that even the people who came to work with them were there by divine direction. This belief seemed to attract people from every area of talent and ability.

One of the most colorful ones was Carl Frangkiser. He had been assistant bandmaster of the Sells-Floto Circus, had left it seeking another opening, when he discovered Unity and made a visit to headquarters. His ebullient personality appealed to Mr. Fillmore, and it wasn’t long before Carl was rehearsing a group of young musicians for band concerts in the amphitheater at the Farm. The resultant Sunday evening Outdoor Band Concerts were a popular diversion for Kansas Citians during the warm summer evenings, until growing interest in television replaced them. Midway in the programs a ten-minute inspirational talk would be given, usually by one of Unity’s most articulate speakers, Francis J. Gable.

Carl had the enthusiastic nature, long stride, and stentorian voice that often seem to accompany or compensate for a short stature. He was a strong leader with opinions to match. For a time the office management couldn’t find enough outlets for his effervescent nature, especially during the winter months, until an expanding radio ministry was decided upon. Carl was put in charge and was well suited for the project. When Unity lost its radio station license in favor of commercial interests, Carl sought radio time on local stations to broadcast its Sunday morning devotional service and two weekday quarter hour programs for Silent Unity. One station offered a bonus of a free quarter hour nightly at eleven. Carl came to me with the offer: “Could you make use of that late night time? After all, you don’t have anything to do at that hour but sleep,” was his jocular invitation.

I had been fascinated by a night-hour program called “Moon River” emanating from a Cincinnati station. It consisted of poetry, songs and organ music, in a dreamy relaxing mood. I had thought how I’d like to do something similar, and had even thought of a possible title derived from a comment by one of my listeners, “The Friendly Voice.”

“Yes! I can use it. If you’ll let me have Arthur Beall to play the organ, I’ll do a music and poetry program. It can be a public service offering, featuring inspirational poetry, promoting civic and cultural activities like the charities campaign, the Boy Scouts Jamborie, the beginning of the Philharmonic series, and the occasional introduction of vocal and instrumental guest artists.”

So from then on, and for several years until the march of time signalled another change and beckoned me afar, I had a nightly rendezvous with an unseen but appreciative audience, whom I would remind of things old and new that most of us know but too often forget. In those years I never saw the last act of a play or heard the final number of a symphony—but I learned a lot about poetry and accumulated a compendium of some three thousand poems.

On occasion I would write to a poet for permission to use his work, or as in the case of Arthur Guitterman, learn how to pronounce his name. He made a couplet of his answer:

“There is no finer, fitter man
Than Mister Arthur Guitterman.”

Similarly, Mary Carolyn Davies responded by sending me several of her unpublished poems such as:

“O, give me eyes that I may see.
Lest I, as others will,
Should pass by someone’s Calvary
And think it just a hill.”

R.H. Grenville, Elaine V. Emans, and Elizabeth Barr Haas are among other poets I still hear from as a result of that program, and lines from the many poems I read on the air rise up to be quoted in talks I give.

Biblical Guidance?

As I approached the end of my third year at headquarters I began to have that strange feeling that had come over me as I prayed in the empty sanctuary of the Galveston church and heard a voice say, “You won’t be here very long!” There was no voice; only the feeling that The Knower deep inside me was trying to tell me something. It was persistent, distracting. Did it mean another climactic change? I felt I must know to attain peace of mind. Finally I recalled Retta Chilcott’s having told me, seeking guidance she would hold the Bible in her hands, pray, open the Book at random and place her finger on a text for a message.

I tried it, though I questioned the practice. My finger rested on Luke 24:49, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.” I murmured, “Thank you. I will.”

Coming events had cast their shadow as I was soon to know.

Something Takes Over

A friend who has some claim to spiritual insight tells me that the most significant events of my life will come in unexpected ways. She may have been wise enough to know that that is true for most of us. The variety of ways makes the process interesting. In my case almost any way could seem unexpected since I was not academically prepared for so many of the things I’ve been called upon to do. Much of what I have learned—and taught too, for that matter—has not been learned by conventional outward instruction, but has seemed to well up from within like something I had always known but had forgotten. It may come in meditation during the daytime, and sometimes “in the still watches of the night.” It may happen while I’m teaching a class or giving a sermon, and in such cases I will be listening to what I am saying; a part of me, the listening part, will be taking note and giving thanks to what I call The Knower, and saying to myself, “I don’t think you’ve ever said that before; try to remember it; you may want to use it again,” or a word not previously used, “You’d better look that word up when you get home; I don’t think you’ve ever used it before.”

Do other speakers have this experience? Some whom I have diffidently asked admit that they do. Are lay members of the congregation aware of this phenomenon or even believe that it is possible? Apparently the more perceptive ones do. Recently I inadvertently overheard two members of the church staff discussing a talk I had just given. “We can tell when something takes over in him,” they observed.

So if “something,” a word, a phrase, a new idea, an urge to accept or reject some concept or course of action wells up from within, I try to follow, or at least seriously consider it.

“The higher criticism” is what welled up to challenge my concept of Jesus in that long gone day of 1932. I knew somewhat vaguely that it was a term given to the scientific and historical approach to the study of literature, especially of The Bible. I had come to a place in consciousness where I must face a viewpoint that threatened my devotion to Jesus as an actual, living, breathing person, with the assertion that He was only a personification of the sun’s passage through the seasons of the year and the signs of the zodiac. I did not know that this view, though strongly asserted, is not accepted by the most reputable scholars.

Is Jesus Real?

“If that’s the case, and Jesus never really lived, then I as a Christian minister, am a fraud. I’ll give up my ministry!”

I walked around in a daze. Inwardly I was mourning, “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I know not where they’ve laid Him.”

The Knower, as I think of that inner voice, counselled otherwise. “Don’t give up. If (?) He’s real, you can find Him.”

I had taken a “slow boat” to Europe a short while before this, welcoming the change from a very busy schedule to almost none. Wandering into the ship’s library, I came upon a whole section of “Who-done-its,” mystery novels. I was fascinated by them and practically read my way across the Atlantic in the company of Arsene Lupin, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

“Ha! I’ll be like the detective in the mystery stories. If Jesus is real I can find Him!” So I began to re-read The Gospels for signs that He was a real person and not just another Uncle Sam or John Bull. Steeping myself in an incident in Jesus’ ministry I would try to picture whether it took place in winter or in summer, in a bustling city or a quiet village or out in the country side, a verdant or an arid region. Who was there? Was Jesus sitting or standing? What was His demeanor; serene, stern, solemn, playful, joyous? Did He ever smile, laugh, frown? What were His gestures? What was the sound of His voice like, the look in His eyes?

In the midst of this project the annual charities campaign brought a guest speaker to address Unity workers about donations. The speaker, whom I was called upon to introduce was The Right Reverend Robert Nelson Spencer, a bishop of the Episcopal church. His subject was “We Have an Advocate” (I John 2:1). I had never before heard anyone speak about Jesus with such realism and such affection. After the meeting I asked him if he had ever written in such a vein about Jesus. He said he hadn’t, but recommended a book, The Jesus of History, by T.R. Glover.

A Transforming Decision

I decided to devote all my meditations for a whole year to the discovery of Jesus Christ. The result was a series of articles, The Contemplation of Christ that appeared first in Youth magazine, repeated in Weekly Unity, and finally in the form of a small book. In turn this led to a class, “The Master Class Lessons,” six lessons based on the teachings of the Master.

It was a registered class. Its success surprised me. Some four hundred students enrolled. They were given admission cards with their name inscribed, and seven little squares to signify six attendances and one guest admission. The class was repeated the next spring at Scottish Rite Temple to an enrollment of 1428, and subsequent presentations never fell below that mark.

I had gone to the Plaza simply to conduct Sunday evening services. The class that began there with that four hundred enrollment became known as The Master Class (about the Master’s teachings), one of the most popular features of my ministry in the ensuing years.

By this time I had become editor-in-chief. It meant that all copy went over my desk before going to be typeset. This involved Frank Whitney, Daily Word editor, and also the most exciting Master Class I was ever to give.

Territorial Imperative

Whitty, as most of us called Frank B. Whitney, was a very private person, married to one of Unity’s great ladies, later known as May Rowland. He wrote virtually all the material in Daily Word. He sought to keep his personal life separate from his duties as editor. He rejected all requests to give talks or lead meetings. He did not like his peers to see anything he wrote before it appeared in print, and resented the rule that his copy, like all other material that was to appear in print had to be checked by the editor-in-chief. When a sheaf of his inspirational writings was assembled to appear in book form, the same rule applied. Though I conscientiously submitted color proofs, layout and format to him even after he had okayed them, somehow something would always provoke his displeasure.

Occasion For Prayer

This resulted in a constraint in both of us, and increased the likelihood of error and misunderstanding.

What could I do about it? What would I recommend someone else to do in a similar situation?

I did what I would tell them to do: “go first direct to God, next to man as God might direct.” In other words, I prayed. I prayed earnestly, and as it turned out, effectively.

My prayer went something like this: “Dear Father God, bless Whitty and me as I know you do. Help us to feel the blessing and to work together in peace and joy, to do mutually good jobs. Whitty has a paramount service to render for Unity. He is sure to be here as long as I, maybe longer, and as we serve together, we should be friends and co-workers together.”

Other responsibilities besides editorial work continued for me. A lecture trip to California was planned. This time it would not be by visits to individual centers, but a great open meeting at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, seating 6500, to be followed by a Master Class series in Embassy Auditorium, seating 2400. I was very much absorbed in all the detail involved in so extensive a project.

In the midst of these I looked up to see Whitty at the door. He looked bright and happy.

Surprising Offer

“Oh, Ernest, I’ve thought of the ‘cutest little trick’ (a quaint expression to denote creative ideas that came to him)!”

“What’s that, Whitty?” I asked, relieved that he was in such good spirits.

“I know you’re all absorbed in this lecture series you are to give, the potential greater than any Unity has yet undertaken. How would you like me to serve as chairman at the Shrine? You shouldn’t have to introduce yourself. And I could go out a week or so ahead and help prepare for the open meeting and the classes.”

“Whitty, you’ve always avoided such things. Would you really be willing to do it? I can’t tell you how much I’d appreciate it, and how much the expected crowd would appreciate seeing you, whose writings they receive so enthusiastically.”

“I’d love doing it!”

“Then it’s all settled. I’m sure the Fillmores will be as pleased as I am.

The meeting exceeded our expectations. Every seat was filled. There was the kind of expectant hush you feel during the opening of a great show. There was a standing ovation and applause at the close. As we left the vast stage Whitty seemed very quiet, very subdued.

Without Constraint

“Oh, Whitty, did I offend you? Did I do something wrong?”

“Oh, no, Ernest. But when I sat facing that vast audience, listening so attentively to your message, it was perhaps the most moving experience I have ever had. I could hardly keep the tears out of my eyes!” The registered class of lessons at the Embassy were equally thrilling to us, with a large sustained attendance of approximately 1500 registrants.

From then on there was no constraint between Whitty and me. Handling of magazine and book copy went smoothly. Our friendship reached well beyond the office and we had many happy times together, often in the company of his wife, who was the director of Silent Unity. Our friendship never lessened, but deepened through the years.

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