12. The Fillmores as Teachers
The Fillmores as Teachers
"Thou Shalt Teach Them"
IN UNITY MAGAZINE of February, 1897, there appeared an announcement by Charles Fillmore which read as follows:
"Monday evening, March 15, 1897, at 8 p.m., I will begin another class of instruction in practical Christianity at Rooms 510 and 511 Hall Building, Kansas City, Missouri. These lessons are in a large measure the outgrowth of my own experience in the regeneration through which I have been passing for several years, and are therefore very practical. I do not follow any teaching, but give the Truth as I have gotten it from spiritual experiences, which I find corroborated in a wonderful way in the Hebrew Scriptures. Theory has been replaced by absolute knowledge, and I am enabled to give many things that have never before been taught. ...
"These lessons are twelve in number and will be given one each night, taking two weeks to complete the course. All are welcome, but no new students will be admitted after the first lesson.
"No charge is made for the lessons or treatments that accompany, when needed. All expenses are met by freewill offerings."
Charles Fillmore had been teaching such classes in practical Christianity for several years. At first, there were only a handful of students in the classes. They would all sit around in a circle. Mr. Fillmore would ask one or the other of them questions; then the whole group would dis-
cuss the answers that were given. He loved to teach in this way, freely and informally, with a group of students as sincerely interested in Truth as himself, gathered around him.
As the Fillmores said over and over, they were not trying to set up a church, they were establishing a school. When the Unity Society of Practical Christianity was incorporated in 1903, it was incorporated as a scientific and educational institution, not as a church. Later Charles Fillmore even tried to conduct the Sunday services along the lines of the informal discussions that he had had in his early classes. At one time, after the Unity Correspondence Course was begun, he assigned members of his congregation questions from this course, which they answered. Then there was an open discussion of the answers. However, his congregation preferred to listen to him talk, so he abandoned this plan; but his talks always had more of the feel and flavor of a lecture by a scientist or philosopher — and one with a keen sense of humor — than they did of a sermon, although they were based on the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.
Charles and Myrtle Fillmore did not teach an abstract theory; they lived what they taught; they put it into practice. They worked for long hours in prayer and meditation to discover Truth and then they applied to their own bodies and their own affairs the Truth that was unfolded to them. Charles Fillmore once wrote:
"I spend from four to six hours daily in prayer, blessing the various parts of my body, the centers. At first it was difficult to get started, and I had many backsets, but now it is quite interesting and I often stay up all night intent upon improving my control of these subjective functions of the body."
The Fillmores believed that a man has in him divine
potentialities far beyond any that he usually expresses, the potentialities of the Christ. They believed that throughout the body there are spiritual centers and that by concentrating on these in prayer one can release spiritual forces centered in them. This they worked to do. Later Charles Fillmore wrote a book about this idea called The Twelve Powers of Man, in which he names and describes these centers.
In an article about himself, he described his experience in unfolding his own spiritual powers:
"The most important phase of my experience however was the opening of my spiritual nature. I gradually acquired the ability to go into the silence, and from that source I received unexpected revelations and physical sensations. At first, the revelations were nearly all through dreams. I developed a dream code through which I could get information and answers of marvelous accuracy to my questions. I do not remember that I asked who the author of my guidance was; I took for granted that it was Spirit.
"Then the mental and spiritual developed into sensations at the nerve extremities. I was informed by the Presence that I was beginning body regeneration as taught by Jesus Christ. Neither physiology nor psychology offers a nomenclature describing it. The first sensation was in my forehead, a crawly feeling when I was affirming life. Then I found that I could produce this same feeling in the bottom of my feet and other nerve extremities by concentrating my attention at the place and silently affirming life.
"I spent several hours every day in this process and I found that I was releasing electronic forces sealed up in the nerves. This I have done for nearly fifty years until now I have what may be termed an electric body that is gradually replacing the physical. It is even more than electric, and when certain spiritual emotions are imparted to it it fairly glows and blends with an omni-
present etheric atmosphere that is highly charged with life energy. My physical organism is being transformed cell by cell, and the ultimate will be an entirely new body having all the perfections of youth in addition to ethereal life.
"This, Spirit tells me, is the transformation of mind and body promised by Jesus. Paul called attention to it — 'Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind' (Rom. 12:2) — but he did not attain it. Now at the end of this age, the spiritual and mental conditions of the race are ripe for the entering into this new life of all followers of Jesus in the regeneration. It is through this transformation and rearrangement of the atoms of the organism that the Christ body is formed in man's consciousness. When the light of Spirit is allowed to enter the conscious and the subconscious minds, a great revelation takes place, and it is found to be literal fact that 'your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God' (I Cor. 6:19)."
The Fillmores were slow in putting down in book form the conclusions they reached. The only book that Myrtle Fillmore ever wrote (although a collection of her letters was published after her passing) is the book for children, Wee Wisdom's Way; and Charles Fillmore studied and thought for twenty years before he felt that his ideas were ready to be published in book form.
When they first felt that a book on Truth principles was needed, instead of writing it themselves, they had H. Emilie Cady write Lessons in Truth. Meanwhile, they were praying and organizing their thoughts.
The subscribers for their magazines wrote in continually asking them to write a book, but they were not to be hurried. In 1902, Charles wrote in reply to some of these letters, "I wish to attain such command of my organism that I can demonstrate what I write." To him, any spiritual law worth
writing about had to be demonstrable. He called his work and he labeled his classes practical Christianity. Part of the reason why he did not, for such a long time, put the lessons into print, but insisted that those who wished to study with him come to him in person, was that much of the course consisted of actually working with the ideas, putting them into practice through prayer and meditation. He wrote:
"My class lessons are not in print, and there is no immediate prospect of printing them, as they consist in part of the practical application of the Word and drills that vary according to the need of the class."
He would have felt that his classes had not been a success if in the course of them some of the students had not proved the laws that he was teaching them by attaining more health or prosperity.
Finally in 1905, he began the publication in Unity of some metaphysical lessons that he intended to publish in book form when they were complete. The twelve lessons were not completed until 1909. In that year, his first book, Christian Healing, was published. The material in it was the summation of what he had been teaching in the classes in practical Christianity that he had been giving since the inception of Unity. For twenty years, Charles Fillmore had tested in his own body and his own life the ideas he presented in this book and because of the results that he had personally secured, he was sure that the ideas would be of practical value to others.
The book has run through twenty-three printings, and although the wording of it was later changed somewhat, the ideas remained the same. They had been tried, they had been tested, they had been found workable and true. They were clear, high expressions of Truth and Charles Fillmore held to these ideas all his life.
Yet he never stopped looking for new ideas. In his nineties, he was still saying, "I reserve the right to change my mind." He did not believe in the closed mind. Life to him meant new beginnings. He was a pioneer of spirit, an adventurer in faith. He wrote:
"Beware of the circumscribed idea of God! Always provide for an increase in your concept. Don't write down any laws governing your conduct or your religious ideas. Be free to grow and expand. What you think today may not be the measure for your thought tomorrow."
Unity existed for more than thirty years before he wrote, and then only in response to a prolonged and persistent demand from readers for a precise statement of his beliefs, the Unity Statement of Faith, and to this he added:
"We have considered the restrictions that will follow a formulated platform, and are hereby giving warning that we shall not be bound by this tentative statement of what Unity believes. We may change our mind tomorrow on some of the points, and if we do, we shall feel free to make a new statement of faith in harmony with the new viewpoint. However, we are assured that there will be no change in fundamentals; the form of words may be clarified and the inner and outer meaning of the Truth may be more clearly set forth."
Often in his classes, a student would be answering a question and Mr. Fillmore would ask, "Where did you get that idea?"
The student would reply, "I read that in such and such a Unity book, Mr. Fillmore."
"Are you sure?"
"Certainly, Mr. Fillmore, that is right out of page so and so."
"You know," he would say, "that is not exactly right,"
and then he would go on to explain the point in a way that clarified it.
Often in his classes, he would interrupt his students when they were quoting him with the question: "But what do you think about it?"
The main aim of his teaching was to get his students to think Truth through for themselves. By Socratic questioning, he would draw out his students' minds. He felt that Truth means little as long as it is merely words in a book. He was constantly making a distinction between spiritual understanding and intellectual understanding. Although he recognized the importance of words, he was not content with them. He worked in prayer until he had made Truth part of his very flesh and life.
When a student in one of his classes answered a question, he would ask, "Any comments?"
Perhaps one or two would speak up and say, "Good!" Usually that was all.
Then he would say, "Any questions?" Silence.
"Any criticisms?" Silence.
Usually there would be a laugh at this. Then the class would begin to discuss the question freely, which was what he wanted. He knew that only out of free discussion would his students arrive at an understanding of Truth that was in their own language. This was his aim, for he knew that nothing means much to a person until he has made it part of his own experience.
It was because Charles Fillmore himself was so certain of Truth that he was able to let his students arrive at Truth for themselves. He had the courage of his convictions; he had faith in their validity. There were certain divine ideas that Charles Fillmore knew, and he knew that he knew them.
He had tested them by the logic of his mind and by application to his life. Nothing could have shaken his belief in them.
"I can remember with what satisfaction I used to imbibe the assumed wisdom of freshmen teachers," he once wrote. "I knew nothing about God because I had never made an effort to get acquainted with Him and in my egotism, I said, 'All these people that think they are in communion with God are deluded; I have never seen God. I believe in things you can see and I will take the testimony of Bob Ingersoll, who says you cannot know God, rather than that of Henry Ward Beecher, who says you can.'
"But a time came when I decided to solve this question independent of any man's opinion. I set about to search for Him with my mind. And right here, I want to add my testimony good and strong with those who have said I know God. I talk and think to God, and He flashes His ideas into my mind. I am not deluded. I know His thoughts from the thoughts of men as they pass through the mental atmosphere. He also talks to me in certain dreams. I can distinguish these dreams from the other dreams. Repeated thinking about the presence of God makes Him increasingly plainer to my inner vision. I have thought about Him as the life of my body until every cell is athrill with an energy that I can feel as you feel the shock of an electric battery, and He tells me how to communicate this life to others who have not recognized it as I have. Don't let the fool say in your heart, 'There is no God' (Psalms 14:1). I let that kind of fool talk in my heart and it set up a current of thought that kept me for years speechless in the presence of God."
Charles Fillmore knew God and he knew where he stood in relation to Him, and this was a knowledge not open to argument. He was a man of strong conviction, yet
he had no trace of the fanatic. Sometimes people came to his classes to denounce his ideas. When this happened, he quietly turned the discussion to other matters. Although he loved to lead his students in metaphysical discussion, he knew that arguing about religion is fruitless. He refrained from criticizing other religious teachings; he did not feel that it was necessary to defend his own. When people needed Unity, they would turn to it, he felt.
The Fillmore spirit of tolerance permeates Unity today. When people write to Unity denouncing its beliefs, the Unity letterwriters agree with the correspondent in all possible points, and in regard to points of disagreement merely say that Unity leaves every man free to find Truth for himself and that there is some Truth in all teachings.
The Fillmores believed in each man's seeking Truth within himself. They always began and ended every class they taught with a silence, where each student's mind would be free to contact God in his own way. Usually it was Myrtle Fillmore who conducted the silence. She loved this part of the meetings. When she led a meditation, she had a way of speaking as if the words tasted good to her. She usually began her prayers by explaining what prayer is. "Prayer is communion with God," she would say. "God is in you, and you can come in contact with Him there; you can feel His presence in you. Turn within now and let His presence come forth as wisdom so that your words and your thoughts may be filled with His wisdom."
The classes that the Fillmores taught were joyous classes. One of the distinguishing points of their teaching is the emphasis it puts on joy. When Unity began, many churches were teaching that life is a vale of tears, a mere temporary halting place where trials and tribulation prepare the soul for the hereafter. However, the Fillmores taught that it is
not necessary to be sorrowful in order to be spiritual.
They taught that God's will is joy. They emphasized the importance of living a full life here and now. "Live in the present. 'Now is the acceptable time,' (II Cor. 6:2)" they declared.
The Fillmores emphasized not Christ crucified but Christ resurrected. They chose for the symbol of Unity not the cross, which to so many persons represents the suffering of Jesus, but the winged globe of Spirit.
Charles Fillmore did not want his teaching to be connected with symbols associated with suffering. He did not believe that true religion is sorrowful. Although he taught that conduct should be governed by the highest ethical standards, he did not teach that there is any virtue in penitence and suffering.
The determination of the Fillmores to keep their teaching joyful is shown by Unity's manner of observing Lent. Unity's Lenten program, based on Teach Us to Pray, one of the most popular Unity books, has taught thousands of persons to observe Lent not as a period of physical denial but of consecration and joyous release from old thoughts and limitations.
The denial that the Fillmores taught is the denial of sorrow, the denial of limitations, the denial of sin, sickness, poverty, and death. They made of their teaching a joyous affirmation of life.
There was never anything gloomy or dull about Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. A new center leader was asked to conduct a funeral service. Never having conducted one, he came to Myrtle Fillmore for advice. She told him, "Just because it is a funeral, you don't have to talk about death, do you?"
"What shall I talk about?" he asked.
"Talk about life," she exclaimed.
In all their classes, the Fillmores talked about life, abundant life, joyous life. Both Myrtle and Charles Fillmore loved to sing. If he could find a bit of song that applied to some question, he would sing it out. Myrtle Fillmore wrote a number of hymns. Usually she wrote Truth words to be sung to a familiar melody. One such hymn that was often sung in early Unity meetings to the melody of "Rock of Ages," is the following:
"Burst with praise, O gate of song;
Flow, O voice from sorrow free;
Let thy currents, pure and strong,
Roll in healing melody,
Till in one harmonious voice,
Pain redeemed, shall earth rejoice.
"Break thy bonds, O child of might;
Claim the freedom of thy birth;
Joy and wisdom shall unite,
Health and power claim the earth;
Love and peace, one circling sea,
Compass man in unity."
Also Myrtle Fillmore wrote the following words to the melody of "The Rosary":
"The hours I've spent with Thee, dear Lord,
Are pearls of priceless worth to me.
My soul, my being merge in sweet accord,
In love for Thee; in love for Thee.
Each hour a pearl, each pearl a prayer,
Binding Thy presence close to me;
I only know that Thou art there, and I
Am lost in Thee.
Oh, glorious joys, that thrill and bless!
Oh, visions sweet of love divine!
My soul its rapturous bliss can ill express
That thou art mine, O Lord! That Thou art mine!"
Charles Fillmore tried his hand at writing brief verses such as this:
"Behold, what God hath wrought!
An ideal man, a mighty man —
A man supreme, who thought by thought
Must demonstrate what God hath wrought."
One song in the Unity Song Selections was written by him:
Healed, healed by His power divine!
One, one with His love sublime!
My life now is sweet and my joy is complete,
For I'm healed, healed, healed!
Both he and Mrs. Fillmore loved to write affirmations that rhymed, such as:
"I am praying and blessing my basket and store;
The Christ mind increases my good evermore."
In an early issue of Unity, Charles Fillmore jokingly asked his writers to get Satan behind them when they felt tempted to put their thoughts in rhyme. One subscriber wrote in and said that Satan was behind Mr. Fillmore when he chose the poems that he printed in Unity. Charles Fillmore replied that he wished he had a poetry editor who knew something about the "stuff." Actually he was fond of poetry and printed quantities of verse in his magazine. From his earliest days, he had read the works of the great poets; they had been a major source of his self-education.
Myrtle Fillmore, too, liked poetry; she liked to write it as well as read it. In her correspondence with her brother David Page, she sometimes inclosed bits of verse that she had composed, and he in turn sent her many pieces that he had written.
The Fillmores believed in everything that was joyous
and beautiful. "When joy is put back into religion, there will be more religion in the world," Charles Fillmore wrote.
One time when he was in a restaurant, Charles Fillmore told his wife that he thought the waitress was a Unity student.
"Why do you think so?" she asked.
"She looks like a Unity student," he replied, "she has such a happy look."
When the waitress came to the table again, Mrs. Fillmore asked her if she was a Unity student.
"Why yes," she said in astonishment, "I am."
When she found out that she was waiting on the Fillmores, she introduced to them several other waitresses in the restaurant who were also Unity students. In a few minutes, the cook came smiling from the kitchen with a big cake with "UNITY" written on it in sugar. He was a Unity student too.
It was one of Charles Fillmore's greatest satisfactions to feel that he had made people happy. He believed that happiness is the divine right of human beings, and that anything less than happiness is due only to our failure to perceive the full Truth for ourselves. This he taught in all his classes and this he expressed in all his life. "Let the old world wag as it will," he loved to say, "I will be gay and happy still."