The Later Years
"Unto Eternal Life"
CHARLES AND MYRTLE FILLMORE did not believe in age. They believed that they had constant access to a fountain of youth, the Spirit within themselves.
"Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life" (John 4:14).
When Charles Fillmore was nearing fifty, he wrote in Unity:
"About three years ago, the belief in old age began to take hold of me. I was nearing the half-century mark. I began to get wrinkled and gray, my knees tottered, and a great weakness came over me. I did not discern the cause at once, but I found in my dreams I was associating with old people and it gradually dawned upon me that I was coming into this phase of race belief. ...
"I spent hours and hours silently affirming my unity with the infinite energy of the one true God. I associated with the young, danced with the boys, sang songs with them, and for a time took on the frivolity of the thoughtless kid. In this way I switched the old age current of thought.
"Then I went deep down within my body and talked to the inner life centers. I told them with firmness and decision that I would never submit to the old age devil, that I was determined never to give in. Gradually I felt a new life current coming up from the life center. It was a faint little stream at first, and months went by
before I got it to the surface. Now it is growing strong by leaps and bounds. My cheeks have filled out, the wrinkles and crow's feet are gone, and I actually feel like the boy that I am."
Early in his study of spiritual principle, Charles Fillmore came to the conclusion that ill health is unnecessary, that old age is unnecessary, that death is unnecessary. The Fillmores believed in reincarnation; they thought that they had lived many times before. Charles even thought that he knew who he had been in previous incarnations. But the Fillmores did not believe that reincarnation is the final answer. They believed that the recurring process of birth and death over and over again is not essential, that it is possible for a human being to come into so great an awareness of his spirituality and of his life in Spirit that he can transform the very flesh of his body into spiritual substance, living energy, so that the body becomes an immortal vehicle of the immortal Spirit of which it is an expression.
"Science," wrote Charles Fillmore, "is proving by experimentation that living cells have within them the elements of continuous life, and scientists are at loss to know why man's body should ever die, if it were properly fed and cleansed."
To the question "Do you expect to live forever?" Charles answered:
"This question is often asked by Unity readers. Some of them seem to think that I am either a fanatic or a joker if I take myself seriously in the hope that I shall with Jesus attain eternal life in the body. But the fact is that I am very serious about the matter. ...
"It seems to me that someone should have initiative enough to make at least an attempt to raise his body to the Jesus Christ consciousness. Because none of the followers of Jesus has attained the victory over this
terror of humanity does not prove that it cannot be done. ...
"I do not claim that Jesus has unconditionally promised me that I shall overcome death as He overcame it. The promise is conditional. 'He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.' I am trying to come up to His standard....
"No man will ever attain anything unless he attempts attainment."
Charles Fillmore never swerved from this belief. In 1919, he went through an illness so serious that some of those who were close to him did not think that he would survive, even though they were affirming Truth for him. For months, he was unable to deliver the Sunday talks. Yet whenever he was able, he was at his office, doing what he could; and always, steadfastly, whatever appearances might indicate, he was affirming health for himself. He came out of the illness with renewed vigor. Through the 1920's, the growth of Unity made ever-increasing demands on his time and energy, but he was able to meet them all.
In 1923, his youngest son Royal passed on. Charles and Myrtle Fillmore had had great expectations of the part that he was to play in the Unity work. Royal had been a big, good-natured, exuberant person with a host of friends, and active in a score of civic enterprises.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore felt deeply the passing of their son, but even more deeply they felt the truth of the principles they were teaching and the need to cling to those principles with redoubled courage and faith. They had dedicated themselves to helping mankind find a way of life free from sickness, poverty, and death — and they held to their high purpose.
They knew that the way they were trying to go was
not an easy one. Charles Fillmore often repeated the words of Napoleon, "There shall be no Alps!" He saw the Alps clearly enough; but he knew that great faith would overcome them.
The Fillmores had been pioneers all their lives. They were not dismayed by appearances. They kept on praying in faith. They kept on affirming the Truth they believed. They kept on affirming life. They knew that unless someone tried to make the overcoming, it would never be made. Someone had to make the start. Even if the first ones who tried did not succeed, nevertheless a first step would be made. They dared to try.
The next few years were years of joy and action for the Fillmores. Unity School was growing at an unprecedented rate: new magazines were being established; the old services were being augmented; new centers were opening; the headquarters on Unity Farm was being developed.
At home, they had their family. The Fillmores were people with a warm sense of family ties. Both Lowell and Rickert entered the Unity work, and their parents were able to turn over to them many of the details of running,the organization. Today Lowell Fillmore is President of Unity School and Rickert Fillmore is Secretary. Both of them married girls whom they had met at Unity School. Rickert married Harriet Collins in 1919 and had two children, Charles Rickert, born in 1921, and Rosemary, born in 1925. Lowell married Alice Lee in 1926. Frances, Royal's daughter, made her home with them. Today there are six greatgrandchildren in the family. Charles Rickert married Ann Jones in 1943. Their children are Harriet Fillmore, born in 1944, and Constance Fillmore, born in 1948. Rosemary married Stanley Grace in 1947. Their children are Stanley Rickert Grace, born in 1948, and Rosalind Fillmore Grace,
born in 1950. Frances married Robert Lakin in 1945. They have two children, Robert Fillmore Lakin, born in 1946, and Charles Edward Lakin, born in 1948.
Lowell and Rickert have their homes on Unity Farm, and as their parents spent part of each week at The Arches, they were all often together. Charles and Myrtle Fillmore had many happy times with their family. Like most other grandparents they were sometimes called upon to play the roll of baby-sitter.
"You'd smile," wrote Myrtle Fillmore to her sister, "to see me rushing around, trying to keep up with the many things I find myself 'in for.' First, I want to look after some little thing at home; then meetings; then the letters in the office; then another meeting or two; then a trip downtown; then a nap (if I can crowd one in); then an evening out; then a trip to the Farm, and sometimes the care of one of the little folks; then the trip back, to take up work where I left off! And I just keep getting stronger, and younger, and happier, and more interested in things than ever."
There was scarcely time for a vacation. There was much work to be done, not only their work with Unity School but the spiritual work they were doing with themselves. Mr. Fillmore received many requests to make talks in other cities. As his wife wrote in answer to one such request:
"He just isn't much interested in traveling about, and being looked at, and talked to, or even entertained. If he had been the type who likes to travel about, it would have proved that he thought more of such things than he did the delving into the unseen realms of spiritual ideas — and this school, so far as we are concerned, would never have been successfully established."
March 29, 1931, was Charles and Myrtle Fillmore's
golden wedding anniversary. It was a Sunday, and when they entered the chapel at 913 Tracy Avenue the congregation was waiting to honor them. They were ushered up to the platform, and there as a tribute to their golden wedding, Ernest C. Wilson read the Unity marriage ceremony. Myrtle wrote to a friend, "We were quite satisfied to trust the half-century knot that had held us so well, but the new minister surprised us by making it time proof."
That afternoon in Rick's house on Unity Farm, the family had a party for them. Rick took motion pictures of them as they sat on the lawn outside his house. With their children and grandchildren gathered around them and the Unity buildings rising like a backdrop to their joy, this must have been a moment of fulfillment.
A few weeks later, they opened the Unity Training School. In the new school Charles and Myrtle Fillmore taught a class in "Fundamentals of Practical Christianity." That had been the title of the first Unity class that they had taught. Around them once more, a group of students gathered, as students had gathered for forty years, to hear them teach Truth and affirm their faith in life. But this was to be their last class together.
On October 6, 1931, Myrtle Fillmore passed to the invisible side of life.
Those who knew her closely felt that in some way beyond their own power to understand, Mrs. Fillmore had willed to make this change. For months, she had had her secretary put everything in order as if she knew that she was going.
Several times, in earlier years, she had told friends that she personally felt that she had accomplished all that she was able to in this lifetime and wanted to pass on, but that it had been revealed to her that it was not yet time.
This time, she had felt strongly that she was going to make the transition.
A short time before her passing, she had been visiting with one of the Unity workers. It was the kind of visit that she liked to make with all of the workers, stopping by his desk to pass a few words and to give him a benediction and a smile. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that she wanted to make a change.
"That's fine," the worker answered. "What kind of change?"
"I believe that it would be easier to do the work that is ahead of me from the invisible plane," she said.
"Oh, you mustn't do that," he replied. "We need your help and inspiration, your spiritual guidance here."
"You know that you will have that anyway," she said smiling.
On the Wednesday before her passing, she helped Charles Fillmore lead the Wednesday evening healing service and the next day she was around the office all day in a gay mood, talking with the workers, writing letters, receiving callers.
That evening, as was customary with her, she left the office in Kansas City and went to The Arches where she usually spent Friday and Saturday. She spent the evening helping to pick apples from the trees around her home. Some friends who came to visit her found her up on a ladder in the orchard. The next morning, she was ill and, on the following Tuesday, she passed away.
Two Sundays later, Charles Fillmore was in his regular place, conducting the service at 913 Tracy Avenue. For forty years every Sunday, Myrtle Fillmore had led the meditation at this meeting. Now Mr. Fillmore took over this part of the service and said:
"Dear friends and co-workers in Christ: It is not our custom here at Unity even to mention the visits of the 'last enemy,' whom we have resolved finally to overcome, as taught by Jesus.
"But there are certain conditions under which we should exchange sympathy and give thanks for that universal unity which these days of stress and strain have brought. I feel your sympathy and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your many expressions of comfort in thought and word. This occasion is so pregnant with the absence and the presence of the one who has for years stood in my place at this point in our Sunday morning lesson that I am constrained to speak a few words of consolation and comfort, not only for you but for myself.
"Personality sorrows and grieves when the bodily presence is withdrawn, but the sense of absence can be overcome when we realize that there is a spiritual bond that cannot be broken. We do not look at life as a 'night between two eternities,' as do those who, Paul says, 'have no hope,' (I Thess. 4:13) because they live and have been educated in a foolish fashion, looking at life as a transitory, material thing; but we who are following Jesus Christ in the resurrection know life as a spiritual thing, and that we live spiritually, if we understand the law of life, and that we shall continue to live in Spirit, 'whether in the body or out of the body' (II Cor. 12:2). And we know that this spiritual bond is the only bond that will really endure."
Now where there had been two to think together, to plan together, to work together in the cause of Unity and in the service of the Truth that they had discovered and believed in, Charles Fillmore was alone. Yet he was not alone. He was a man with friends in every part of the world. And the Father abiding in him was a real and living presence in his life.
For thirty years, except for two brief visits to Chicago and one to New York, Charles Fillmore had stayed at work in Kansas City. During all that time, he had never taken a real vacation. Everywhere there were thousands of people who wanted to make his acquaintance, who wanted to see and hear this man whose teachings had meant so much in their lives.
Charles Fillmore began to turn over more and more of the details of running Unity School to the people around him, especially to his sons, Lowell and Rick. Yet he did not retire as active head of Unity. He was like the captain of a ship who turns the helm over to the mate. He was there in the cabin if he was needed, and occasionally he came out on the bridge to keep a weather eye on what was going on. Few steps were taken without his approval.
In December, 1933, Charles Fillmore, after more than forty years of continuous service, retired from the pulpit of the Unity Society of Practical Christianity in Kansas City.
On December 31, 1933, he married Cora G. Dedrick, who had for many years served him and Myrtle Fillmore as private secretary and at one time had been the director of Silent Unity. They were married at Lowell Fillmore's home on Unity Farm.
The next day, the two left for California; and Charles Fillmore, who had always been trying the untried, was off on yet another new venture. He went on a lecture tour, the first of many that were to fill the remainder of his life and take him to every part of the nation.
The tour got off to an exciting start. The first lecture was in Los Angeles. Into the Shrine Auditorium, seven thousand two hundred persons jammed to hear him speak, while more than one thousand others were turned away for lack of room.
Charles Fillmore looked the crowd over (many times larger than any he had ever addressed) from behind the red plush curtain. When at last he went out to face the audience, "I feel like a little boy away from home," he began. When the speech ended the crowd rose from its seats and in a wave of applause swept onto the stage to tell this "little boy away from home" how much they loved him and how much his teachings had meant in their lives. He had to be hurried out of the press of his well-wishers.
From Los Angeles, Mr. Fillmore went to San Jose, where the Unity center was in need of funds. He gave a series of talks and turned over the offerings to the center. Then it was on to San Francisco where thousands more thronged to listen to him and to give him an ovation. It was late in the spring of 1934 before he was back in Kansas City, in time to teach at the Training School.
The next winter, Mr. Fillmore was off on another lecture tour, this time through the northeast section of the country. This tour, like most of those that were to follow, was made by automobile. Although at home he was a late riser, when he was traveling he was up early, ready for the day's drive to the next town. He usually stayed in tourist cabins and stopped to eat his lunch by the side of the road from an ice box carried in the car. Often, if he did not have a speech to make, in the evening he would go to a motion picture show, which he loved to attend. Charles Fillmore was a good traveler. Once when his companions thought to fix some pillows in the back seat so that he could lie down, he had them taken out, saying he wanted to sit up and see what was going on.
All his life, Charles Fillmore had unusual stores of energy. He once wrote in Unity:
"Complaints are coming in that Unity is not being
issued on time. I am the one responsible for this. The Publishing Department waits on my matter and is delayed when I am not prompt. I have undertaken more writing than I can well accomplish with my other duties. Yet I work twenty-one hours out of twenty-four and have kept it up at this pace for several years. It is daylight every morning before I catch the few hours' sleep that 'knits up the raveled sleeve' (Macbeth. Section 1, Part C). This three hours' waste will eventually be overcome, and I shall work right through without a wink."
Later when the Fillmores became interested in radio, Charles Fillmore would often stay up most of the night in order to broadcast a talk in the early morning hours.
The Fillmores were among the first to see the possibilities in radio; Unity was probably the first organization to give religious broadcasts. In 1924, Unity School purchased radio station WOQ, the oldest licensed broadcasting station in the Middle West. Unity speakers had been giving talks over the station for two years before that time.
The first Unity talks were broadcast by Francis J. Gable from the window of a downtown store, where a crowd could gather outside to watch the newfangled contraption in operation. When Unity bought WOQ, the studio was moved to the building at 917 Tracy.
Charles Fillmore loved to speak on the radio and would make two or three talks a week. The studio had to be completely closed during broadcasts, even in hot summer weather; use of electric fans was prohibited because it would interfere with the broadcasting. Nevertheless it was not unusual for Mr. Fillmore, with the perspiration streaming from him, to deliver an hour's speech over the radio.
Every week or two, he would stay up until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning and make an hour's talk at that time. He would prepare a long time ahead for these speeches. In those
years, there were few stations and none that gave all-night programs, so in the early morning WOQ had the air waves virtually to itself. It was on a good frequency and its programs were picked up all over the country. Charles Fillmore had announcements of many of these early morning broadcasts in the magazines, and Unity students everywhere were able to tune in and receive the program. People wrote from the farthest corners of the country to Mr. Fillmore that they had set their alarm clock and gotten up to listen to him.
Those were the years when owners of radio sets tried to see what distant stations they could receive, and many people had their first introduction to the Unity teaching on these early morning broadcasts. Letters came from night watchmen and fire stations and garages all over the United States.
Charles Fillmore never ceased to be a man of action, a man of decision. On one of their lecture trips to Florida, Charles and Cora Fillmore stopped at a tourist court. Their cottage had a large porch in front of it that caught Mr. Fillmore's fancy. Cora Fillmore owned a piece of land with a small cabin on it near Unity Farm, and they had talked about building a home on it.
"You know, Cora," Charles Fillmore told her, "it would be nice if we had a place with a porch like this." Right then he measured the porch. Late into that night, he was planning exactly the kind of home he wanted. Before he fell asleep, he had sent a night letter to a builder in Lee's Summit describing the house that he had planned and ordering its construction. He wanted it ready, he wrote, when he returned home from the trip.
It was in this house that Charles Fillmore spent most of his last twelve years. It is located in some wooded hills about one quarter of a mile southwest of Unity Farm. Because Mr. Fillmore always loved to have people around him,
this house, like his others, was often filled with guests and visitors. Sometimes friends would come and stay for weeks at a time.
He had some apartments built over his garage to provide a place for some of the young people employed at Unity to live. Often late into the night, his young tenants sat around the Fillmore hearth talking and laughing with their host — and also praying.
A few years later on one of his lecture trips to California, Charles Fillmore bought a house in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles. Thereafter, he divided the year between his two homes, writing and lecturing in California in the winter and teaching at the Training School at Unity Farm in the summer.
To those around him, Charles Fillmore never seemed to grow old. Those who were close to him said that throughout the last years of his life his crippled leg was constantly improving, filling out, growing stronger. One of the features that strangers noticed first about him was his radiantly pink skin. "The skin on his face shone," as that of Moses shone as he returned to the valley from Mount Sinai after having received from God the Ten Commandments (Exod 34:35).
He discovered on his lecture tours that many in the audience expected a large, aggressive man and were astounded at the slight, gentle, twinkling person who came out upon the platform. He liked to tell the story of how on one of his first tours, as he walked onto the platform one evening, he saw two little old ladies sitting down in front peering eagerly up at him. As he seated himself and closed his eyes to enter into the silence — as was his custom when he had a speech to make — he overheard one of the ladies remark to the other: "So that's him, is it? — all washed and pink and powdered like a baby."
Charles Fillmore had a fountain of youth within him, and the waters were forever joyously bubbling up. Life to him was a journey in jubilance. In his eighties, he started taking singing lessons. As his crippled leg improved, he told his friends he was considering taking dancing lessons.
He loved to make up affirmations and would write them on large sheets of paper in heavy black characters. Charles Fillmore had an unusual handwriting. The powerful lines of his signature almost always brought comment from persons who saw it for the first time. At ninety-four, his handwriting was as vigorous as a young man's. He used special writing crayons, and with these he wrote out by hand all his works, books, lectures, affirmations. He left a trail of affirmations wherever he went, like sparks struck from the anvil of faith. A few months before he passed on, he wrote this one:
"I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm and I spring forth with a mighty faith to do the things that ought to be done by me."
A short time before his passing, he was approached with the suggestion that he get together some biographical material about himself. "Wait another hundred years," was his reply.
Charles Fillmore never gave up his hope of eternal life in the body, in his body. When he was ninety-two he wrote in Unity magazine:
"In my article in the August, 1946 Unity, I stated that I had such a vital realization of Jesus' promise 'If a man keep my word, he shall never see death' (John 8:51) that I should never pass out of this body. Subscribers are now asking if I mean that I shall live forever in the flesh body. I answered that point in the article as definitely as it can be answered in words. I expect to associate with
those in the flesh and be known as the same person that I have been for ninety-two years, but my body will be changed in appearance from that of an old man to a young man with a perfectly healthy body.
"I do not claim that I have yet attained that perfection but I am on the way. My leg is still out of joint but it is improving as I continue to work under the direction and guidance of Spirit.
"Some of my friends think that it is unwise for me to make this public statement of my conviction that I shall overcome death, that if I fail it will be detrimental to the Unity cause. I am not going to admit any such possibility; I am like Napoleon's drummer boy. I do not know how to beat a retreat and am not going to learn."
Charles Fillmore worked on as long as his undefeatable spirit could move his body. In February of 1948, he was still making speeches at Unity centers in Los Angeles. There he became ill. It was the same ailment that he had had thirty years before when some of those around him had felt that he would not survive.
In April, he came back to his home near Unity Farm. From then on, he began slowly to slip away. Occasionally he was able to sit up, but for the most part he lay in bed. He showed no fear of death. "I am facing it, but I am not afraid of it," he said.
He never lost his sense of humor. When someone made a witticism or said something pleasant to him, he never failed to smile.
Often Cora Fillmore would read him things that he himself had written. Sometimes he did not recognize them, as they were the manuscripts of talks that he had delivered and forgotten years before, but he always liked them. "That's logical," he would say of some passage as she read. "I can see that."
Once he asked of a friend who came into his room, "Do you know what the most important words in the world are?"
The friend shook her head. "No, Mr. Fillmore, I don't," she replied.
"'Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27)' — those are the most important words in the world." He lay silent for a moment, then he repeated, "'Christ in you, the hope of glory.'" Several days before his passing, he slipped into a coma from which he emerged only for brief intervals. He knew that death was not far away. He said, "I am going to have a new body, anyway, and this time it's going to be a perfect body."
Still he did not accept the necessity of death. All his life he had affirmed life, believed in life, lived to the full. "The last enemy that shall be abolished is death," Paul had said. To Charles Fillmore, this was the goal. He had believed in the divine possibility of its attainment all his life and, though it did not look as though he himself was to attain it, he was not going to relinquish it. He held steadfast to his faith. Even at the end he expressed it.
He would have kept his body, however unsuited it may have been as a vehicle for such a vital spirit. Charles Fillmore could not have willed otherwise. "I do not know how to beat a retreat," he had written. He did not know how to affirm anything else than life.
Shortly before his passing, he began to have a vision. It recurred several times, always the same one, a vision that he had held to all his life, that he had done his utmost to make a reality upon the earth. "Do you see it? Do you see it?" he would ask, staring intently upward. "The new Jerusalem, coming down from God, the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:2) — don't you see it?"
His son Lowell spent the last night at his bedside. Charles was asleep throughout the night. At 10 o'clock on Monday morning July 5, 1948, he woke, smiled as if at someone that he saw and recognized, and was gone.
Across the way at Unity Farm, the activity had come to a halt because of the Fourth of July holiday. The shells of the buildings that were in process of construction stood empty. The printing presses were idle. The workers were gone from their desks in the building at 917 Tracy Avenue. Only a little group in Silent Unity was keeping the constant vigil of prayer.
The next morning, Unity Farm rang with the sound of men and machinery at work, rushing the buildings toward completion. The presses were thundering out the magazines that bore witness to the faith of the Fillmores. The Unity workers were back at their desks in Kansas City, sending out books and magazines, answering the cry for prayer. From fifty radio stations scattered in many parts of the globe, the Unity Viewpoint was being broadcast. The work of Unity was going right on. It was as Charles Fillmore would have wanted it to be.