CHAPTER XL — Violet!
When I try to tell you about one of the most effective and loved workers in the L.A. Unity ministry, the only word that seems to apply is anomaly. I’ve checked with Webster: “deviation from the common rule: something out of keeping, esp. with the accepted notion of fitness or order.” It doesn’t say somebody, but otherwise it is apt.
She was a large woman, close to six feet tall. (When she found a co-worker who was small in stature she described her companion and herself as “Little Bit” and “Quite a Bit.”) She had a roguish countenance, was addicted to flamboyant dress and glittery costume jewelry. Her speech was colloquial with a marked Brooklyn accent.
Her name, incredibly, was Violet.
“Violet!” Franklyn snorted, soon after she enrolled in one of his classes as a zealous student aspiring to ministry, “Magnolia I could imagine, but Violet! There’s nothing shrinking or demure about her.”
Well, there was; but you had to know her pretty well before you could descry that side of her nature. Nothing in her appearance helped us to discover what truly remarkable abilities and endearing qualities she possessed.
She made her own way in the ministry. She took all the study courses we could offer, augmented them by a visit to Headquarters for supplementary instruction. The written work she did was unimpressive, barely among passing grades. It was her contact with people, especially the sick, the impoverished, the elderly, that revealed a gift that neither Franklyn, Norma, nor I possessed in anything like the same degree. Moreover, she appeared to have boundless energy. She seemed tireless.
Her services to the congregation were invaluable. We were more than glad to offer her a salary and car allowance to take charge of our Hospital Ministry. Hospital workers from other Unity ministries sought her guidance and instruction. She cheerfully invited them to make the rounds with her—as far as their energies permitted—and they learned from her. What she had not anticipated, and became a cause for much special prayer and patience, was antagonism on the part of hospital chaplains, who resented her “taking over” their responsibilities. What finally won their acceptance was the realization that her stimulating effect on patients made their work easier.
She distributed vast quantities of Unity literature to patients—which might have been a prejudicial factor in the chaplains’ initial resistance to her efforts—and some of the recovered patients became her helpers in an extension of her ministry.
The Therapy of Service
She saw that loneliness and inactivity needed healing too, and took over Church House for weekly meetings in which from twenty to fifty or sixty persons, mostly women, would meet for prayer followed by a protracted session in which some persons made garments for needy children, others dressed dolls or cut out and sewed stuffed toy animals. The men did chores, made coffee to wash down the sandwiches the workers brought with them, and mended and painted second-hand toys contributed by church members.
The group looked forward eagerly to the Christmas season when all their work would be displayed for the church members to see, and then distributed to institutions and individuals. This presented a small problem. There weren’t enough items for boys. She looked up a wholesale toy dealer in the yellow pages.
The proprietor was glad to provide these at the wholesale rate when Violet explained her purpose. “Also,” he said, “maybe some of your helpers could repair some of the damaged toys that we can’t sell.” She accepted them gratefully, and thus provided a special activity for the retired men who came increasingly as they were given something to do.
As Christmas time arrived, Vi invited the wholesaler to see what he had helped them to do. He was so impressed that he pledged that next year she could come and take whatever toys she could use—without charge!
From year to year this continued. “You’re making a believer out of me,” he exclaimed. “The more I give, the more I prosper. I’m going to have to build another warehouse!”
All this is fine, you may say; but isn’t it getting pretty far away from Unity’s basic teachings? Emphasizing material rather than spiritual help for human needs? Many people thought so. I did too, until I saw Vi in action. Whenever a group of people get together informally, working on projects in which they are more skilled than their teacher, they may not even think of how what they’ve read in the books or heard from the pulpit can be put into practice. Vi was quick to sense human rivalries that sometimes arose, and would call out, “Prayer time! Let’s drop our work for a moment and have a circle prayer together,” and in conclusion, “Now let’s carry the prayer over into our work.”
They were adding practice to precept.
A climax to this phase of the hospital ministry was reached when Vi decided to give a Christian dinner in Church House for all the helpers in the group. Ninety members attended. She invited the dealer and his wife to come as guests of honor. The speech he made after the dinner, thanking Vi and her helpers for the way his life and work had been enriched, was touching to many who attended—including me.
Many of the Christmas items were destined for the large children’s ward of one of the hospitals Vi visited. To reach the children’s ward she had to pass through a ward occupied by elderly women who were considered to be terminal patients. One of these caught sight of a doll in Vi’s arms. “Oh, let me hold it!” she cried, and snuggled it in her arms as if it were an infant. “Keep it, dear. It was meant for you,” Vi said.
The weekly work and prayer sessions in Church House, the preparation and distribution of clothing and gifts, the sorting and distribution of greeting cards, even the circle prayers, were all in addition to the steady day in, day out home and hospital calls, phone counselling, and letter writing that were the main work of Violet and others she trained to help. It is estimated that they contacted 35,000 patients a year.
The Hospital Ministry group became involved in another social service activity. The Buzza Cardoza greeting card company became established in Los Angeles and offered to turn over their discontinued items to us for distribution to hospitals, sanitariums, orphanages and correctional institutions. (It seemed a curious coincidence that as a young apprentice artist I had worked on their cards when they, and I, were located in Minneapolis.) Here was a new channel of service for the group. The cards and envelopes had to be sorted out for size and subject. It gave needed volunteer employment to scores of senior men and women, and brought cheer to thousands who received the greetings. Inspired by this project, a local automobile distributor donated a delivery truck to the church, which facilitated many other activities as well.
A Scriptural Revelator
I was sitting at my study desk one summer day in 1948, trying to decide what subject to feature in our next study courses when I felt someone’s eyes upon me. Looking up I saw, framed in the open doorway, a stalwart man of perhaps sixty, with swarthy complexion and Semitic features. I recognized him at once from his picture on the cover of his book Gospel Light. Some twenty years earlier Lowell Fillmore had called my attention to a feature article about his book, My Neighbor Jesus, that had appeared in one of the Hearst papers. “I’m George Lamsa,” he announced. “Are you Ernest Wilson?” “Yes. What a pleasure to meet you. Please come in and tell me what brings you here.”
He was, I recalled, a native Assyrian, born and reared in the land from which Abraham had migrated to Palestine. His people, isolated for many centuries, had preserved the Aramaic language and most of the customs that were current in the time of Jesus.
He had just completed a visit as house guest to some local supporters of his work, and they had suggested that he contact me before returning to New York. “They tell me you have the greatest metaphysical work on the West Coast,” he remarked.
“That opinion might be challenged. But I must have a visit with you, have my associates meet you. Can you have lunch with us?”
He could, and the four of us had an animated conversation which culminated in his giving a series of six Friday evening registered classes concerning Bible mysteries and Bible meaning.
As plans proceeded he ventured a suggestion. “Perhaps you’d like to have a few copies of my books available for your students?”
“By all means. How many books have you written?”
“Three are available.”
“Fine! Let’s start off with an order for three hundred copies of each.”
He seemed astonished at the order. He confessed that he had been thinking of perhaps a dozen. But his unexpected and timely appearance just as I was seeking guidance as to what our next featured course should be, seemed such a striking answer to prayer that I was confident it would be a great success. It was.
The attendance at those sessions never fell below 1200, and we had to place repeat orders for his books.
At Lowest Ebb, Deliverance
Doctor Lamsa was a controversial figure, a kind of “voice crying in the wilderness.” Some of his translations, derived from the Aramaic version of the Bible, were so revealing that they won ready acceptance from students; others provoked question and argument; but all of them made us think. They deepened rather than lessened our interest in Scripture. His visit—and subsequent ones—did a lot for us.
They did something very special for him, too, so he told me. They helped him renew his resolve to persist in his mission. His fortunes and his spirit had been at lowest ebb on that morning when he came to my study door, when he had felt overwhelmed by the resistance of Western scholars to the Eastern (Aramaic) text. The warm and enthusiastic response of our congregation seemed like “a sign” to him. Moreover it led to engagements in other New Thought groups throughout the country and encouraged the publication of his translation of the entire Bible. I have three autographed gift copies; one, bound in red leather, is the Oral Roberts edition.
Doctor Lamsa confided to me his desire to teach at Unity School. He was not invited to do so until the late sixties, with excellent response from ministerial students and the public. His collection of rare manuscripts and memorabilia which was displayed during his tenure are still, at this writing, awaiting final disposition following his transition.
It Seems Like a Miracle
“This is Dell Powers”—the words came through the phone, obviously moved by deep emotion—“my daughter, Mala Powers, is very ill. Seven doctors, including Howard Hughes’ personal physician, say there is little hope for her recovery. Can you meet me at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank to pray with her?”
“I will be there within an hour.”
This was my introduction to the rising young star who was the memorable Roxanne in the picture, Cyrano de Bergerac. During a USO tour for our troups in Korea she had contracted the flu, and following her return, while working on a new picture, had been hospitalized “for an undiagnosed illness that caused a dramatic drop in her while blood cells,” according to one press report; others were anemia or some form of chemical poisoning. “We’re testing her makeup, the clothing and other things that Miss Powers used at the studio,” one doctor explained. The corps of physicians finally pronounced the problem as mononucleosis, a disease that affects the blood-making power in the body. Repeated blood transfusions were ineffective.
As I sat by her bedside, Mala told me something of this.
She was not only a beautiful young woman, but very articulate and well-versed in spiritual concepts. She told me that she and her mother had attended Unity services for five years prior to her illness. They had not made themselves known to me, but like most performers she liked to slip in and out of services quietly, making a distinction between her personal life and professional appearances.
I appreciated—even shared—that point of view, but it resulted in my seldom knowing how many public figures worshipped with us. I discovered them mostly through social contacts outside the church, or when they felt the need for counselling or such events as a wedding or funeral.
Many such contacts required me to explain step by step the fundamentals of Unity concepts. With Mala it was more like the meeting of two longtime friends, rejoicing in the realization of an ever-present and available Resource whose help we confidently invoked.
My second visit was even more unusual. As I took my place by her bedside I confided, “Mala, I’m going to tell you something that I cannot often say with conviction to someone as sick as you. Despite all the adverse decrees—and I am sure you know what they are—I do not believe that you are going to die from this illness. Instead you are going to recover completely, and soon.”
Her face lighted up. “I believe that too. I feel that there is something I still must do, and God will not let me die short of that.” “Great!” I exclaimed, “Jesus promised that if two shall agree on anything they ask of Him, it shall be done. Let’s shake hands on it!”
I think it had already been done in Spirit. It took a little longer in manifestation. In a Guidepost article she was to write about her healing she said, “I told my friend and minister, Ernest Wilson, of the impatience burning within me. He gave me a wonderful affirmation: ‘Without haste, without delay, in perfect ways and under grace.’ I repeated it over and over until its effect took hold and I became peaceful again.”
She began to gain strength. The transfusions held. The doctors let her leave the hospital. Before long she was back at work. The next thing she was buying a home in Laurel Canyon. She fell in love with the handsome young salesman who showed it to her.
She asked me to perform the wedding ceremony, which took place in the beautiful Myrtle Fillmore Chapel of Christ Church. It did not last beyond a few years, but it did result in her having a son, Toree, of whom she is justly proud, and it gives me the opportunity to say to whoever reads these lines, something I’ve often thought should be said. Why, since she had had so positive a guidance in her miraculous healing, should she not have had equal guidance in her marriage?
I’m not sure but what she did.
Not many of our life experiences are forever.
Many marriages, like other experiences in our life, are for a special purpose. They may involve something we need to learn. They may be the transient but important fulfillment of some obligation incurred in a past embodiment, or more likely a mutual lesson or step or growth in the present. They may serve a special purpose, and when the purpose is served, the association ends. There are others which rightfully last “as long as they both shall live,” and which reflect the ideal of what young lovers envision as the ideal. I surmise that there are even some such associations that are so strong, so deep, so much of the spirit and so little of the flesh, that not even the change called death contrives against them; and for such there is no barrier or separation. This I think, may be the genesis of the “soul mate” theory that is entertained by some metaphysicians.
My friendship with Mala has continued through the years. One of her creative writing projects was the composition and narration of a Christmas story, Follow the Star, which she recorded for Unity. Her marriage to a publisher, Hughes Miller, gives every evidence of being a happy and enduring one.
© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.