CHAPTER IX — My First Books
So when John and I tried to put into words what we considered to be the twelve basic principles of our faith, the effort led to the writing of my first small book, The Simple Truth, explaining them.
Years later at a luncheon in Kansas City, honoring military Chaplain Sutherland of the Disciplinary Barracks in Leavenworth, Kansas, he told me how he had taught a series of twelve lessons in constructive thinking to some four hundred inmates of the Barracks. The text was a little book called The Simple Truth.
I thought he was “putting me on.”
“Did you ever happen to notice who wrote the book?” I asked. “Look it up sometime.”
I had forgotten this incident until recently when Vera Dawson Tait, a Unity teacher and writer, who knows my books better than I do, told me that Colonel Sutherland’s copy, much underlined and underscored, had been given to her by a friend of the Sutherland family.
Sometimes John accompanied me on visits to the Park. More often we would go on foot to Mission Park, which was closer to the church. It was on such an occasion that we came upon an abandoned house.
“Let’s see what’s inside,” John suggested.
Dubiously I followed him through the door that was hanging crookedly by one hinge; decrepit dwellings do not attract me. The room we entered was empty except for an upturned apple crate on which were a lot of old magazines. Among them were three copies of a magazine, The Channel, which had been protected from the elements by other magazines that covered them, so they looked almost new.
“Have you ever seen this publication before?” I asked.
“No, but I have wanted to. It’s a theosophical publication that failed after a few issues. These may be the only issues ever printed. Let’s take them along.”
In one of them I found reference to the mystical meaning of names, numbers, and colors. It triggered something within me.
“I know about that!” I thought. But I didn’t, at least not consciously. It was as though some latent memory had been awakened in me.
Back at the church I got out my folding Smith-Corona typewriter and proceeded to write out the symbolical meaning of the digits, one to ten. The data poured through my mind faster than I could transcribe it. One part of me was typing, another part of me was commenting on my assumption that I already knew, and could write with a feeling of authority about something I had never before heard of. It was my first conscious experience of a phenomenon that I can only describe as “soul memory.”
I was to learn that there were several books about names and numbers, or numerology, on the market. They tended to confirm what “came to me” as soul memory: books by Homer and Henrietta Curtiss, Sepharial, L.D. Balliett, Julia Seton Sears, and F.L. Rawson. I found that Charles Fillmore had published items on this subject in early issues of Unity magazine. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica contained an extensive reference to the Pythagorian theory of numbers, as well as much material about the psychology and symbolism of color. My own interest in these subjects attracted a response from students. I taught a class. I wrote a series of lessons. They became a book—my second—published the same year as The Simple Truth. It (You and the Universe) went through several editions, and was used by several teachers.
The basic symbolism of colors, at first thought, seemed to me so obvious as to be commonplace. Most of us, if we stop to think of it, associate the color red with danger, but also with courage; with the physical body, it is blood; with the emotions, blushing, “seeing red”; with vitality and energy. Our first thought about yellow may be of the yellow streak, “he’s yellow!” but it also reminds us of sunlight and golden days. Green is the predominant color of nature, hence suggesting abundance; but also of youth and inexperience, being “green with envy”; miserliness in a stage character is portrayed in a green light. Blue suggests the heavens, the spiritual nature, loyalty as in “true blue”; but also depression as “feeling blue.” Someone has a “dark brown taste,” but brown also suggests the soil from which life comes forth. White suggests purity, spirituality, but also lack of vitality.
My initial thoughts about color began to expand, relating the primary colors, red, yellow and blue, to body, mind and spirit; and within the human organism to blood, flesh, and nerves. I began to find number and color symbols on every hand. In the Bible I found meanings I’d never known before: that “If they do this in the green tree, what will they do in the dry?” can mean “If they do this to the innocent, what will they do to the guilty?” and there’s the puzzling passage in The Revelation, “Here is wisdom; let him count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man,” which introduced me to the ancient Greek method of enumeration, which could become a lifetime study. I found new insight in the symbolism of Shakespeare’s plays, most especially King Lear, the ruler who divided his kingdom amongst his three daughters; and the fool who told him the truth when no one else dared.
Along with the discipline and instruction of those formative years, there was a kind of idyllic atmosphere of faith and trust and spiritual well-being that prepared me for my first Sunday morning sermon a few years before in the little rose-bowered church on Alabama Street. I terminated my part time work as an apprentice artist and a course of instruction in sculpture, to devote all my thought and prayer to speaking better.
That sermon was one of very few I have ever written out beforehand, the only one I’ve ever memorized. The others came much later when for seven times I conducted services on the Columbia Church of the Air, and was required to have a typed script and rehearse it to the second—with, I am happy to say, many thousands of letters from listeners in response.
I wrote it and timed it to twenty minutes, and then proceeded to memorize it word for word. I have memorized many things—mostly poetry—without trying to do so, often as the result of many repetitions, as in a funeral or wedding service, but sometimes apparently because they made such an impression on me that I couldn’t forget them. It wasn’t so with the first sermon. I even made an outline of about seven points, each indicated by a key word. I wrote these crosswise on the back of a calling card and memorized them, as prompters.
John had insisted on this. He knew of my effort to speak without notes or conscious preparation in that Minneapolis effort. “Just because I could sit down, close my eyes, place my hands on my knees, and somehow be able to get up and speak doesn’t mean that that is the right way for you!” he said.
Another Soul Memory?
A curious thing happened to me in that service. I found that I could look up inwardly, and mentally see the pencilled lines on the little white card, and I could look down mentally and see myself to be clad, not in the dark blue serge suit bought especially for the occasion, but in a robe fashioned much like an academic gown, and rich blue in color. It seemed to be my mantle of authority. None of the ministers whose churches I had attended wore robes. None of the robed clergy I had seen in pictures wore blue. John had worn a dark gray suit in Minneapolis, and wore a white one in the San Diego ministry.
During the service my mind was too occupied with getting through my talk successfully to give more than fleeting notice to the ephemeral robe, but something that happened later made it seem important.
One day while John was still serving as guest minister in the little Minneapolis church, he received a letter from a longtime friend, Margaret Olive Jordan, writer, world traveler, contributor to The National Geographic Magazine, author of a book of poems, Wine For The Soul, and, I was to discover, something of a mystic. In her letter she wrote, “I keep getting the name Ernest Wilson in my meditations. I wonder if he is a member of the Order.” John explained to me that she was referring to The Hermetic Brotherhood, of which he and she were both members. She, he added, was the leader of the El Paso, Texas Chapter of the Order, and referred to as its “Elder Brother.”
The Brotherhood, he told me, was a secret mystical order, devoted to the legendary philosophy of Hermes Trismegistus, dating back to 300 B.C. in Egypt, identified with the Egyptian god, Thoth. Modern day headquarters were in Alameda, California, and there were branches in several cities, including El Paso.
John was delighted by her having gotten my name in meditation, and hastened to tell her how he had come to know me, and that I had aspirations toward the ministry. Word from him that now, almost two years later, I was to give a Sunday morning service in San Diego, had prompted her to come unannounced from her home in Texas to hear me. She arrived after the service was under way, was ushered to a seat in the entry where she could see and hear me. Neither John nor I knew she was there until after the service. I met her then for the first time.
A friend took us for an automobile ride into the back country of San Diego county. I sat next to her in the back seat of the open car. As we rode along, she turned to me, patting me on the arm, as she remarked: “Ernest, when you used to be a priest in the Temple on Atlantis, you wore a robe the color of my dress.”
I stared in surprise and sudden realization. Her gown was the same blue color as my “mantle of authority.”
Had I unconsciously noted the color during the service, “transferred” it by some quirk of thought into a robe? But why a robe at all?
“Where were you sitting during the service?”
“The sanctuary was crowded. I arrived late. I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I sat in the entry,” she replied. “I should like to have been able to greet John and you before the service, but at least I was in time to hear your talk, which was what I most wanted.”
© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.