Let us labor for an inward stillness—
An inward stillness and an inward healing.
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,
But God alone speaks to us and we wait
In singleness of heart that we may know
His will, and in the silence of our spirits,
That we may do His will and do that only.
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In early 2014, heading into my 50th year in ministry, while serving as senior minister of Unity Spiritual Center Spokane, in Spokane, Wash., I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma. For most people, this is a sure death sentence waiting to be carried out in fairly swift order.
With my life quickly flashing before my eyes, I took a quiet walk to my favorite haunt, a little park near where I live called Hazel’s Creek.
There’s a spot there where I often sit and meditate, and on this particular day, I asked for direction as to how to proceed from this point forward. With my ministerial career rapidly coming to a halt, I needed a plan of action. What do I tell the congregation? Do I keep the cancer a secret? Do I invite their support and prayer?
In the stillness, the answer came, but not in the form I expected. Instead of my thoughts going toward a “poor me” pity-party, they went instead to my favorite football team, the Seattle Seahawks! The “Hawks” were in the hunt for the Super Bowl that year and they attributed much of their success to what they call their “12th Man.” That refers to the fans who cheer, encourage, and often drown out the opposition regularly on Sunday afternoons in Seattle.
I was guided to form my own “12th Man Healing Team.” The team would consist of my doctors, nurses and technicians who were working feverishly to keep me alive, my wife Donna, my family, Facebook friends, ministerial colleagues, hospital chaplains (Donna is a chaplain at Sacred Heart Medical Center), the congregation and prayer chaplains at Unity Spokane, and of course, Silent Unity. I shared with all of them my journey and asked their support. The response was overwhelming.
I started my healing experience with surgery—a radical neck dissection, followed by almost seven weeks of radiation and chemo.
However, after six months, my oncologist called me and Donna into his office and said that the cancer was spreading and there was nothing else they could do. They gave me weeks to live and told me to get my affairs in order.
I went to the board at Unity Spiritual Center Spokane and shared with them that I would be resigning as their minister, but would stay on as long as I could, hopefully until a new minister could be found. I had served as senior minister in this church before, back in the ′70s and ′80s. Now, here I was again, having to bid farewell to a church I loved so dearly.
Trials of a Different Sort
Again, I returned to Hazel’s Creek and the stillness of my quiet spot. Again I gave my life and all of me over to the inner Voice. While I was meditating, my phone rang. It was an old friend from Kailua, Hawaii, who had been on the board of Windward Unity when I ministered there. He told me of a client of his who had the exact same diagnosis as me, who was involved in a trial for a new experimental drug for melanoma. The drug was called Keytruda.
The trials were being held in Atlanta and his client was making trips from Honolulu to Atlanta every three weeks for treatment. And my friend added … his cancer is gone! He strongly suggested I get my butt down to Atlanta and join the trial.
I called Merck, the folks who were conducting the trial, and they invited me to join the trial.
A few weeks later, a copy of the Spokesman-Review, our local newspaper appeared on my desk. The first article that popped out at me was “Breakthrough Drug Approved by the FDA.” That drug was Keytruda. My heart started coming up into my throat. I quickly cut out the article, and after showing it to Donna, I marched into my oncologist’s office. He finally came in the door and in his hand was the same article! He said, “This is amazing! We’re starting you on this next week!”
I have now been on Keytruda for more than 18 months. And my cancer is in remission! Thank you, God.
Time to Let Go—Again
At the beginning of 2015, my guidance was that it was time for me to tender my resignation at Unity Spiritual Center. Regardless of the outcome of my treatments, it was time to release the ministry to fresher legs.
I stayed on to be a part of the search for new leadership. I did not try to influence the selection process, but I did insist on one criteria—stillness. The new leader or leaders had to be the result of listening to the “still, small Voice within” and not popularity, politics or convenience. We would discern our new leader from the depths of our being to be sure that leader was uniquely qualified to take the ministry to the next level.
I began a seven-week series based on Christina Baldwin’s amazing book, The Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times like These. This took our congregation through a series of steps in which they developed a willingness to spend time in the silence, to listen, and to discern the “still small voice.”
Our initial Search Team used the stillness formula in all of their deliberations and after having gone through a dozen or so applications, settled on four potential candidates. It was a slow but conscious process. All of the candidates were flown in to Spokane for interviews and tryouts. In the end, there was no mistake who would be our clear choice.
On Easter Sunday, 2015, Revs Gary and Jane Simmons gave their first service as our new leaders. They have proven to be more than worthy successors and are already taking this ministry on an exciting ride into the future.
The stillness is the place where answers come, fireworks happen, and dreams come true. Every Unity leader, willing to let go of ego, fear and the influences of the world knows this to be true.