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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER VI — My Prosperity Bank

My joy in the Christmas season was augmented by a visit from my Mother, who came all the way from Montana to celebrate with me, tremendously proud of my attainment. We opened Christmas gifts together. One was some “Old Spice” bath salts. They came in a square box with a hinged lid, the replica of an early American salt box. It gave me an idea.

My income was so small that balancing the figures in a checkbook made me feel poor. Removing the salt crystals, I made the container my prosperity bank. When money came in I’d drop it in the box; needing some, I’d reach in and take some out, all without looking to see how much or little was there. It became the basis for what some people call “a prosperity consciousness.”

I couldn’t know how soon that concept would be put to a test. My mother didn’t need much persuading to prolong her visit beyond the holidays. We both needed a rest after the exciting activities of the season. We both loved vaudeville, drama, concerts, and movies. I suggested we attend a matinee movie on New Year’s eve.

In the midst of the picture I had an all-gone feeling that moved me to say, “Mother, I have a feeling that I am going to be sick. We must get back to the church.” We groped our way out to the street and hailed a taxi.

Guidance Imperative

I laid down on the daybed in my study, half delirious.

I felt I must have medical help. I might have exposed seventy children to “something,” in the Christmas play.

“Do you know of a physician in whom you have confidence?” Mother asked. I shook my head; a mistake. It made me feel dizzier. “Anyone you could ask?” I shook my head again, carefully. “What shall we do?”


I worded an audible prayer that went something like this: “Dear Father God, I am here only by Your grace, here to serve You and the people of this congregation. I don’t know what has happened to me. I don’t know much about being sick. I know that You know all about me. I am turning to You for help. I trust You to guide and direct me to the human channels of Your appointing. Please make it very clear and plain because my senses seem blurred and I do not know what to do. I praise and give thanks for all Your many blessings to me along the way that has brought me to this present place, this present time. I give thanks that even now You are making way for me to find the help I need. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Now what?” my mother asked.

It seemed like someone else talking when I said, “Get the phone book. Turn to the yellow pages, to Physicians. We’ll have another prayer—a silent one—and God will tell us whom to call.”

We did so, and she started reading the names, with pauses in-between, and after each one I shook my head, until she got clear down to the S’s. When she got to the name Starky I felt an inner response. “That’s the one. Send for him!”

He came, a tall, slender young physician, weary from overwork, for the flu had reached epidemic proportions. He took my temperature, my pulse, and made a few other examinations. “My boy, I hate to tell you this, but I think you have scarlet fever,” he announced. “I’ll have to send for the city health inspector. If I’m right, he will give you two alternatives—either you’ll have to go to the pest house or be quarantined where you live.” “ Here in the church?” “Then we’ll quarantine the church with you and your mother in it.” So it worked out. There was no formal watch-night service, but many parishioners stood outside the Gothic doors in prayer as they learned what had befallen me.

The prognosis had been seven weeks of confinement, but within twenty-nine days Doctor Starky and the health inspector announced that the quarantine sign could come down and Mother and I could go to a hotel while the church was being fumigated. Many were the questions as to why I should have had this challenge. Human judgment was that in all that sweeping I had done I had stirred up bacteria latent in the silt-laden floor boards. Doctor Cady, whose book, Lessons in Truth had originally included a chapter on “Chemicalization,” might have attributed it to the change in consciousness through which I had been evolving.

I took it as evidence that God would be my very present help in times of need, as indeed through many challenges He has been, often in ways as unorthodox as the way we found Doctor Starky.

Gratitude Confirms Healing

One of the first things I did after returning to work was to go into the silent santuary for a service alone with God as I had done the first time I entered the church edifice. I went to the little reed organ and played a simple hymn; to the pulpit to read the 103rd Psalm, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name”; and to say a prayer of gratitude (that soon afterward I adapted and wrote as a meditation): “I’m grateful for the Power that makes me do the thing I should, and ultimately, of my own free will; grateful for every lesson, which has shown me (when I could not, would not, see the right way and its blessings) the futility of every other way.

“Rebellion taught me wisdom’s way, of working with the law, replacing condemnation and distrust by understanding.

“For want, the specter of the poor, I give my thanks, since it has shown me infinite supply. Strange that we should go to God only when all else fails—and yet ’tis God-like too, for He would have us find His counterpart within, and rest on it, relying on ourselves and our untried capacity.

“Through grief, that self-named virtue of bereavement, I have learned its other name, and it has stood revealed, disrobed, as selfishness. No more do I mourn the loss of those beloved who loved me, because I’ve found my grief was for myself, not them. To grieve when progress calls them on was selfishness indeed.

“Pain taught me temperance, and respect for every power that God has given. In pain is wrapped the mystery of misuse, which righteousness (right use) redeems. And he alone who knows the pain, can share the joys of life.

“I’m grateful for the loneliness which forced me to the truth that no one is alone, that all are one; and he who finds no comradeship within can never find it in another.

“And so for everything that life affords, for stormy days and shining skies, I’m grateful—and best proved so, not by what I say or write (for statements need their confirmation in our lives) but by the thoughts which in my innermost mind I feel; by the serenity and poise I daily strive to win; by love I want to feel for everything that God has given life; by tolerance and mercy in the powers I wield; humility in what I have achieved; by courage to look onward through the years, not blind to problems they will bring, but strong to face them. Thus may I prove grateful.

“This thing I know: As each day comes and goes, freighted with its weight of circumstance, I’ll grow strong to meet the lessons it affords; the Source of Being which has brought me thus far on the path will not desert me now; and I best fit myself for His high service by doing gratefully and well the task which He assigns. I know that to be truly great consists ... in part at least ... in being grateful.

“And so to live the grateful life I try, and so I seek the good in everything. But most of all, when each day’s work is done, and rosaries of gratitude are said, there still remain the faith and hope of days to come, and work to do, and strength to see it done. For these, oh, most of all . . . I’m grateful.”

As before I stood in a listening attitude to see if God had anything to say to me. I heard no words, but an inner conviction, contrary to my conscious desire: “You won’t be here very long!” I resolved that I would try to trust as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on me and I was to be there always.

There was much for me to do. I must try to reestablish the activities that had been interrupted, with no meetings during the approximate month I had been incapacitated. Now that I had recovered, my Mother, who had tended me so devotedly during that time, felt that she must return to obligations that she had left to be with me. Hindsight made it seem that her coming had surely been by divine appointment, to help me through a perilous passage in my career. Our parting was an emotional experience for both of us.

Hoping to give a specially personal interest to the approaching Easter services, I had sent away for the special lily bulbs and entrusted them to key women in the congregation, to be planted and nurtured through the winter and hoped to be blooming by the time Easter arrived. I sent forth a call for the ladies to bring in their homegrown plants on the Saturday before Easter. There would be such a show of flowers as the congregation had never seen. When the women began to arrive with the potted plants, I viewed the results with dismay. The plants were scraggly, the blossoms meager. I tried not to show disappointment. “Even though they haven’t turned out as well as we’d hoped, we’ll use them just as we had planned. We can draw on our supply of pink and purple crepe paper to give a feeling of abundance. They’re beautiful,” I assured the amateur florists; and they did have the invisible beauty of united effort and love and devotion. “We can fill in the empty places with oleander branches, and in Galveston there’s no lack of them!” Doubtfully the ladies placed the plants as planned. They strung garlands of pink and purple crepe paper on the chancel wall, and brought their homegrown begonias and geraniums. Finally they all stepped back wearily to view the results. Commendation of each other’s efforts only partly concealed their disappointment.

A Modern Magdalen

Just then, as if on cue, there came a call from the open door of the church. I hurried to the head of the stairs, and looked down upon two delivery men, carrying potted plants. Beyond, I caught sight of the florist’s truck, laden down with lilies, rambler roses, azaleas.

“Got some flowers for you!” one of them called up to me.

Flowers indeed! Stately Easter lilies, pink and red rambler roses—a whole truckload!

“Who sent them?” I asked.

They turned out to be from a woman of the streets who had found help toward regeneration from attending our services, and had taken this way of saying thank you. Though they came from a Magdalen they were as beautiful as if they had been given by the Madonna herself. I wondered how the congregation would have accepted them if I had announced who sent them.

They set the scene for a heart-warming Easter service and secretly played their part in the talk I gave.

During the weeks and months that followed the inspiring Easter season I began to have, increasingly, the feeling that I was trying to lead the congregation in a way they did not want to go. I was interested in theories of mental telepathy, psychic phenomena, life in the hereafter, prophetic vision—certainly the Scriptures were replete with specific accounts of such things—and if they were true I wanted to know it—but I could not accept them as the be-all and end-all of religion. The longtime members of the congregation who had welcomed me on John’s recommendation had their own views. They did not want to be disturbed. Had I any right to try to change them?

Among the people attracted to the devotional services was a grayhaired little lady who introduced herself by the unlikely name of Nannie Belle Highnote. She was, she told me, a Unity teacher.

“What is Unity?” I asked.

“I’ll bring you a magazine that will explain it. What you say in services and classes sounds like Unity. I’m going to write to Myrtle Fillmore, the ‘Mother of Unity,’ and tell her about you.”

Soon I received a brief but cordial note from Mrs. Fillmore, offering her blessing upon my ministry, and saying she believed that some day I’d be in the Unity work.

I read the copy of Unity Monthly with interest, and was delighted to find how much I had in common with the concepts it presented. John and I had started publishing a small magazine called The Harmonial Thinker. I sent a copy to Unity, inviting them to put us on their exchange list. They did so, and I began receiving copies of the Monthly as well as Weekly Unity and Wee Wisdom. I ventured to submit to their editors a short poem I had written. They accepted it, and when a “love offering” (check) came in appreciation, I was so elated that I would have framed it if it hadn’t been such a welcome addition to my little salt-box bank’s contents. From then on I became a frequent contributor to the Unity periodicals.

The Turning Point

The first few talks I gave in the Galveston church were, as I see it now, for my own benefit; to impress me with my own importance. I talked about cosmic symbolism, the fourth dimension, comparative religion, supernatural phenomena, the works. It did impress people, some at least, who were moved to comment, “How can a youth, hardly out of his teens (I looked young for my age) talk so knowledgeably about such arcane subjects!” It may have impressed them; it helped me to gain assurance.

The turning point in my own growth came when people began coming to me with such down-to-earth problems as serious illness, bereavement, financial needs, human conflicts, a sense of guilt. I tried to make all my talks offer help in meeting such problems. This I thought was practical religion. But I was made to feel that many of the older members particularly would rather “be made blinky” by things they couldn’t understand.

I had neither the tact nor the experience by which an older, wiser leader might have bridged the gap between the phenomenal and practical aspects of faith. The people who had brought me there had a right to a minister in consonance with their approach to truth. They had not changed, I had.

Fortuitously, John appeared on the scene, on his way to fill an extended speaking engagement in Houston. Always slow to criticize, seldom judgmental, he confessed his disappointment to find that the Galveston congregation was still predominately preoccupied with the psychic aspects of religion in which he had left them twenty years before. “Many people get caught in the psychic maze and seem never to get beyond it. I’ve been slow getting out of it. You have never really been in it. A change is imminent. God will show the way.”

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