Lorraine Sinkler's Books
Human and Spiritual
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How does a person tell the story of a man who defies description, but in whose presence one felt stirred to reach for Something beyond the limited horizon of this three-dimensional world? It is a well-nigh impossible task to portray a living soul such as that. Yet this story of a modern mystic whose work has affected deeply the lives of thousands of persons must be told.
His beginnings and early life gave little indication of the fire within him which was to ignite a light in so many whose lives he touched. How could a man who, in his first thirty-six years, had lived a completely worldly life become a mystic and a spiritual teacher, both healing and teaching from the mystical state of consciousness? What a journey! From traveling salesman to mystic! A man with only an eighth grade education, the author of some thirty books!
A publisher in Germany who asked permission to publish his writings in German said that many men wrote books about mysticism, but Joel Goldsmith was one of the few men who not only wrote about it, but who was himself a mystic with his entire work stemming from the mystical experience.
Over and over again Joel Goldsmith told me that when I wrote his biography there was to be a minimum of factual data because that was not the measure of the man: what counted was what he was and his work. Always the work was the most important consideration to him. Joel knew that someday someone would write his life story, and he hoped it would be written by a person who had been close enough to him to understand his work. It was for this reason that he sent me approximately eight pages setting forth what he considered the essential biographical data necessary, along with the following letter:
Interestingly enough, the material he sent was written in the third person, and in it of his antecedents he wrote as follows:
Joel Goldsmith was born in New York City on March 10, 1892. His parents were also born in New York City, his father on March 10, 1872, and his mother on October 10, 1872. His mother's parents were both English and came to the United States sometime during or before the Civil War. They were singers in opera, and her father was a cigar maker by trade. He was associated with Samuel Gompers in the organization of the first trade union in the United States in the tobacco industry, but being sensitive by nature, he could not stand the rough and tumble of unionism and soon left that activity.
His father's mother was a German girl who came to the United States when she was nine years of age. His father's father was from Holland. There is no record of when he came to the United States. He passed on when Joel's father was two years of age. Joel's mother lost her mother at nine years of age, so both parents of Joel were brought up in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York City, the mother until about the age of ten and the father until the age of thirteen, when he went out to carve his own way in life. Joel's parents married in New York City in 1891. Joel was their first child; he had a brother two years and four months younger than he and a sister two years younger than the brother.
There was nothing particularly unusual about his birth or early life, nothing to point the direction future years would take. Like all babies, he came into the world crying lustily, but unlike most of them, according to his mother, he continued crying for two years. Later he said it must have been because he took one quick look at the world about him and found it not to his liking.
According to family tradition, he was named Joel Sol Goldsmith because the firstborn son was called either Joel Sol or Sol Joel, depending upon the name of the father. His grandfather was Joel Sol, his father Sol Joel, so he became Joel Sol. It was a name of which he was so proud that even on his elementary school papers he never omitted the middle name Sol, nor as a young adult would he even permit the "S" to be omitted when his name was written. After his first spiritual experience, however, the "S" did not interest him any more and he stopped using it except for legal purposes. Later even his last name dropped away, and the only name he used was Joel. Everyone who knew him called him Joel, and gradually it came about that as he wrote "Joel," the signature seemed to be complete.
His life was probably like that of most youngsters of that age and time, even though, young as he was, he later confessed to feeling a certain sense of detachment and even sadness about the world into which he had been thrust by birth, a feeling not usually found in children.
After Joel's father left the orphanage, he began working for $3.50 a week, but about ten years later while in his twenties, his importing business was yielding him an income of from $12,000 to $15,000 a year, quite a substantial amount for the early 1900's. The family lived on Riverside Drive in a tastefully furnished ten-room apartment with three baths and paid the awesome rental of $125 a month. Their home life was pleasant, especially when the father was away on business. They gathered as a closely knit family group each night for dinner, followed by a game of bridge. This routine was broken by frequent visits to the theater and the opera.
A housekeeper and a houseman, who doubled as a chauffeur, maintained the apartment, thus freeing Joel's mother for charitable work, which occupied much of her time. Her other great interest lay in music, stemming perhaps from her parents' interest in music and from her years as a protegee of Walter Damrosch, the famous musician and music critic. In 1957 and 1958, when I spent several months in the home of the Goldsmiths in Hawaii, I often found myself humming some bit from one of my favorite operas, which brought forth this response from Joel: "That's like my mother. She, too, went about our home singing all day long."
A very close relationship existed between Joel and his mother, a bond that he felt had begun in some lifetime other than this. In spite of their closeness, however, a credibility gap almost developed between them when one day, shortly before Christmas, his mother told him that there was no Santa Claus and so there was no use for him to hang up his stocking. She took him around to the various department stores to prove it. Every store had a Santa Claus. As they went from store to store she said, "You see, there is no Santa Claus. He is just a man made up to look like Santa Claus."
Of this Joel later said, "My mother didn't convince me at all, so I hung up my stocking just in case." He went on to make the point that no one can convince us that our convictions due to early conditioning are wrong, just as no one can convince us that the God of our ancestors does not exist. We have to outgrow these ingrained concepts ourselves and we have to do it consciously, which is not easy to do.
Since his father traveled extensively in the course of his business, Joel, as the elder son, and his mother spent much time together. Every Friday and Saturday night he would take her out to dinner and to the theater, all dressed up in a little tuxedo suit she had ordered made for him when he was just past thirteen.
Then the day came when he had to travel, and he began to write her a letter every day, seven days a week, a portent of his proclivity for letter writing in later years. Throughout their entire experience together he said that there was hardly a day when he did not write her a letter. They were not always mailed each day, but there were times when she received as many as five letters at once.
When she left his visible sight, it was a moment of complete torture for him. He knew then what it was to lose his God because at that time there was no God closer to him than his mother.
On many occasions during the years I knew him, Joel spoke of his early life, often remarking about how little there was in it outwardly to give any indication of what his life was to become. He wondered how he could have lived two such completely different lives in the same lifetime. In 1958 in Chicago he said:
How could this happen: What could make such a thing happen? Then I go back inside and I say, "Is that really true? Am I not now the person that I always was, but couldn't show outwardly because I didn't know how to reach it? Isn't this what I always longed for? Isn't this what I always visioned but couldn't break through?"
I know the answer. I can go all the way back and hear my mother saying, "I know what's wrong with you, Joel. You are looking for God."
I said, "Mom, how can you say that? I don't even know if there is a God."
"Oh, but I know that you are looking for God."
Certainly I was, and this life today is just the fruition. I came into this world looking for God. You can't tell it if you look at my first thirty-eight years. It was all locked up inside of me. I wouldn't have dared tell that to anybody except my own mother. Later, when I was nineteen, I did tell my mother, "I have discovered you are right. There is a God, but I can't find Him. No matter to whom I talk, they don't seem to know Him."
And she said, "Well, please don't stop, and when you find Him, come and tell me." And I hope I am telling her. It was a very tender moment in that Chicago class when Joel told this incident long after his mother had gone on.
While Joel's mother and father were God-fearing people of Hebrew ancestry, they were not practicing Jews, and Joel was never taught any of the precepts of the Judaic faith except that all the children were given instruction in the Ten Commandents. Holy days, such as the Day of Atonement and Passover, were observed in what would be considered a very unsatisfactory manner by orthodox Jews; that is, the Goldsmith family observed these days by recognizing that the Jews were observing them. They did not go to temple or synagogue, and if they had matzoth in the home at Passover, it was only because they enjoyed eating them.
For this family the two principal holidays in the year were Christmas and Easter, not for any religious reason, but because they all liked to give and receive gifts, and these holidays gave them a good excuse for gift-giving. So for the first few years of Joel's life there was no formal religious training whatever with the exception of "the advice from my mother that obeying the Ten Commandments would keep me out of trouble, make me a decent citizen, and if I had an interest then in religious subjects, I could follow out my search in any way that opened to me, without being handicapped by anyone religious teaching."
When Joel was a little past twelve, his mother told him that someday he might want to know more about the different churches and religions in the world and especially about God. If he wanted to begin, he could have the opportunity to gain some of that knowledge in the Jewish temple because, traditionally, at thirteen a boy in the Jewish faith takes on the responsibilites of manhood, and then is supposed to begin deciding his future. At about twelve and a half years, therefore, he was sent to a Reform Jewish temple and given some instruction so that he could be confirmed at thirteen. To him confirmation was an unpleasant experience; he rebelled against the kind of prayers uttered on that day, and he never went back to temple afterwards except many years later when a customer, while he was on the road, insisted on taking him there one holiday.
In 1907 he met a young German boy who was in New York for the purpose of learning English, and who later returned home for business reasons. Out of this meeting grew a friendship which lasted for forty-nine years, a bond so strong that in later years Joel recognized it as a spiritual relationship.
In all those years there was never a misunderstanding between them, years in which there were occasions when if Joel needed money it was always available from Hans, while Hans would always find Joel ready to share with him. During those forty-nine years of friendship in which two wars divided them and in which Hans was on the German side and Joel on the American side, never for one minute was the bond between them broken. When Hans passed on, he paid Joel the honor of leaving his family, a widow with three children, to his care. They continued to be his family and Joel a part of their family. He saw that they did not lack, and every year that he went to Germany he visited them.
Joel completed the eighth grade, but his formal schooling terminated after a few months in high school, due to an argument he had with the principal. Even those first eight years were frequently interrupted when he played hooky to steal away to matinee performances of Shakespeare at a nearby theater. Then as always the theater had a tremendous fascination for him. Years later, in fact, when he was conducting an Infinite Way class in Los Angeles, he found himself quoting Shakespeare accurately on the subject of defamation of character, adding proudly, "Not bad after fifty-four years!"
The very day Joel quit school, his father began to teach him all that he knew about the importing business. A few years after that, when he was sixteen and a half, Joel was taken to Europe on a buying expedition as an assistant to his father, who was a buyer of European laces and allied lines of merchandise. To this work Joel brought an innate intuitive faculty that knew exactly the right laces to buy at the right time. So his travels began, at first in connection with the business world that was to occupy him for the early part of his life.
Joel's father had begun to travel to Europe on business about 1900. Whenever the father made a trip, a little black case had to be taken down to the drug store to be filled with bicarbonate of soda, other aids to digestion, and aspirin. There were twelve remedies that had to be ready for each trip, and the little black case usually came home practically empty. In fact there was so much illness in the family when he was a child that at one time Joel wanted to become a doctor and began reading medical books.
In 1915 on one of these buying trips his father became ill, was taken off a ship at Southampton, and rushed to Nottingham, where he was in a hospital seventy-seven days. Then the cable came, "Goldsmith dying. Send for body." This news, of course, created pandemonium in the household, and in the confusion that followed Joel took charge, arranged the details, and saw his mother off to England.
That night Joel had an engagement to take a friend to dinner, so he decided that he should call at her home and explain the situation. When he arrived there, he met her father, to whom he confided that he had put his mother on a steamer that afternoon to go to Europe to bring back his father's body. The conversation as Joel described it ran somewhat like this:
The girl's father then asked, "When did your father die?"
"He is not dead yet but he is dying or he may be dead by now," and Joel showed him the cable.
"Oh, no," he said, "you are a very young man, and your father must be comparatively young, too. He doesn't have to die."
To Joel that seemed a strange comment. "He doesn't have to die? The doctors say so. He has been in the hospital for seventy-seven days."
"Well, have you ever heard of prayer and prayer healing?"
"No, the only prayer I know is 'Now I lay me down to sleep.' Do you mean Christian Science?"
"Mind over matter! I've read about that in the paper. You don't really think that that would help anybody, do you?"
"I am a Christian Science practitioner, and I do believe it."
This came as almost as much of a shock to Joel as the cable had been. But his courteous reply was, "If you can help him, of course, do so. It would be a marvelous thing if he could come home."
The practitioner did not try to explain the principle involved to Joel or probably he would not even have asked him to help his father. He thought the practitioner was just going to pray to God, and if he were holy enough maybe God would answer him. Joel knew nothing about healing by prayer but felt that it could do no harm. Certainly it did no harm because when Joel's mother landed in England his father was up, dressed, and ready to go home, and for twenty-five years after that knew very little of illness, even surviving his wife by a number of years.
The miraculous recovery of his father led Joel to begin a desultory study of Christian Science, in which he sought answers to the questions that naturally arose in the mind of a person who had traveled the world as he had, questions that kept plaguing him with an urgency that drove him on.
On his first trip to Europe in 1909, when the German and the English fleets were facing each other in the North Sea and he heard the newsboys on the streets of London calling out their "Extra! Extra!" telling of the imminence of war, he began to wonder where God was in all that. Then a few weeks later his father took him to Paris and wisely showed him the darkest and most wicked side of night life in Paris which the father thought could serve only to disgust Joel so that he would have no illusions about it and not believe it was something attractive or glamorous. Again his thought went to the question: Where is God? How do men and women get into this condition, with all the churches in the world and all the praying?
My entire family background is Hebrew, and never in my life had I known anything of a Christian teaching. In fact, I had never known anything of any teaching except the Ten Commandments. But when I was nineteen, whether it was the Voice or an impression, Something within me said, "Find the man Jesus, and you will have the secret of life." That was a strange thing to say to me because I knew nothing of Jesus Christ beyond the name and that Christmas was a holiday celebrating his birth. But from that minute on my life has been dedicated to that man Jesus and his secret.
Six months after that, this Voice or impression said, "Become a Mason and learn about God." I knew nothing about Masonry, and there was no one in my family who knew anything about it. So I learned that I would be eligible to join a Masonic Order when I was twenty-one. My business associate helped me become a Mason, and the Voice fulfilled Itself in Its promise because the first night in the Masonic Lodge, I learned something about God that I had never known before and also something about prayer. I was given the First Degree the week after I was twenty-one, and at twenty-two I had my Thirty-second Degree.
At that First Degree of initiation, I was presented with a Bible, and while I had been traveling since I was sixteen and a half years of age and had seen many Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, believe it or not, this was the first time I ever knew what a Bible was. So you see I was pretty ignorant of religion, and of course I had never studied anything in the way of philosophy or anything of that kind because my school days ended with six months of high school. . . . So I had no knowledge of philosophy or religion, and yet all the time I was searching, searching for something we call God. It was from then on that this search for God or this search for an answer to the mystery of life became active within me.
All his life Joel maintained a serious interest in Masonry and kept a close association with the Masonic Order. In 1923 he received an honorary membership in a Masonic Lodge in Germany, and of his work in Masonry, Darcy Lodge of New York City wrote the following on the program introducing him when he gave a talk there on May 12, 1958:
Brother Joel S. Goldsmith was raised in Darcy Lodge on February 13, 1914. . . . During World War I, Brother Goldsmith was a founder and president of the Marines' Masonic Club of Quantico, Virginia. His services as such received the recognition of several 33rd Degree and KCCH Masons in Washington.
In later years he became vitally interested in Esoteric Masonry and the work of Wilmhurst, giving talks on this little understood subject to many different lodges. In 1957 he was made an honorary member of the Lodge of Living Stones #4957, of Leeds, England. His Scottish Rite affiliation was in Honolulu where he was a member of the Aloha Temple Shrine, and where on several different occasions he gave the Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday work for the Scottish Rite Body.
When the United States entered World War I, Joel, in his enthusiasm to "lick the Kaiser," volunteered in the Marines. He was Stationed at Parris Island and there underwent the rigorous training to which Marines are subjected.
During this time he served as Second Reader in a Christian Science Society organized for a little group of Marines. There were many long hours of pondering on how it was possible to follow the teaching of the Master, Christ Jesus, and go out and kill. It was then that the Bible, which was at his bedside, dropped on the floor and opened to the passage, "Neither pray I for these alone."
In that moment the passage was illumined for him, and he saw the mistaken zeal in the practice of the churches that opened their doors to pray for victory while none of them was praying for the enemy. Suddenly he knew that the only righteous or effectual prayer anyone could pray is the prayer for the enemy, a form of prayer which from that moment on he began to practice diligently.
Shortly thereafter his platoon was divided in half on the basis of a numbering-off system. One-half of the men were sent to Europe where nearly all of them perished in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry. The other half remained to be given further artillery practice. Joel, along with a young corporal named Perry Wheeler who knew him well in those days and who many years later became the husband of my sister Swanhild, remained in the United States and never had to fire a shot at anyone.
Sitting in the Wheeler living room one day early in July of 1958 and looking at some snapshots my sister Valborg was going to incorporate in a family album for Swanhild and Perry, our eyes lighted upon a picture of our brother-in-law and three other Marines. Valborg and I looked questioningly at each other as our eyes fell upon the third man in the picture and as Perry retold that same story of the division of the men in his platoon into two groups.
When we asked Perry who this man was, he casually told us that his name was Goldsmith, but did not recall his given name. Furthermore, on the Masonic program Perry had saved from his Parris Island days a bugler by the name of Julius Goldsmith was listed, but no Joel Goldsmith. It did not add up although the likeness of the man in the picture to Joel was so great and the stories so identical that we had a duplicate made, which I hesitatingly sent to Joel in London with the query as to who these men were and if he might possibly be one of them. His reply was like the man and showed his delightful sense of humor better than any descriptive words could possibly do:
After the war was over Joel found that it marked the end of an era for the world as well as for his father's importing business. By this time handmade dresses had become almost obsolete and mass production of clothing had taken over. Handmade imported lace was no longer in demand, and Joel was called upon to try to hold together the family business. In this effort he failed, and the business collapsed.
In addition to business difficulties he became critically ill with tuberculosis and was given three months to live. Since there was no medical hope, he decided that he would seek help from a Christian Science practitioner, which he did, and in three months he made a complete recovery. When Joel was telling of this experience a few years ago, a skeptic insisted that a wrong diagnosis had been made and that Joel had never had such a thing, because if he had, it could not have been cured. Joel agreed to submit to an X-ray examination, which showed that he had only one lung, but where the other lung should have been, there was, as he described it to me, a wall of muscle.
After the family business collapsed, Joel once more became a traveling man, selling different kinds of articles, most of them in some way connected with women's apparel. Even then, before he had been touched by any kind of spiritual experience, his attitude toward selling was quite different from that of the average salesman, which is perhaps why he was so successful.
The firm that he represented sent him to Pittsburgh to take over that territory for a year. His first call was upon a buyer in the largest department store in the area, and the first thing she said after he introduced himself was, "No, I don't need anything."
"Well, of course, you don't know me, so would you mind if I explained a little about myself?" He went on to tell her that he would be there for a year in accordance with his contract. That meant that he would be calling on her twice a month for about nine months out of the year, eighteen times in all. "Each time I'm going to come in and call on you. If you say to me, 'No, I don't need anything,' I'll either walk out or talk to you about something else. But never will I say, 'Will you reconsider?' or 'I have something else.'"
She looked at him and said, "You will never make good as a salesman. You know a salesman's work only begins when the buyer says, 'No.'"
"You've met an entirely different type of salesman. I know what I have in my trunk. I have a marvelous line of merchandise. It is as important for the buyer to have it as it is for me to sell it, and it is up to the buyer to know that. So I will offer it with all the love in my heart, and if the buyer doesn't want it, that will be all right with me, too."
In his entire territory that year, that buyer became Joel's best customer because she came to realize he was telling her the truth. He had unbounded confidence in what he had to sell; he knew that it was good; and he knew it was good for her. It might not be good for her department every time he called, but it was a good article, and on that basis he worked.
Even in those early days Joel was intuitively aware of certain spiritual principles, and so he recognized that when a salesman goes into a business house to sell, normally the buyer immediately puts up a defense, and then the salesman is supposed to break down that defense. If a salesman, however, were to go into a business house in the realization that he had a good product and that if the buyer needed it today, it was available to him, and if he didn't need it that was all right too, the buyer would feel that the salesman was not coming there to make a sale, but coming to be of service.
Of this period of his life, while he was selling on the road, endlessly traveling, Joel sent me a notation which he had written in Hawaii on July 11, 1963:
My life has been told in two Bible passages: "My kingdom is not of this world" and "I have meat to eat that ye know not of." At no time have I known pleasure, or profit, or success in "this world." There was no interest in school except in the reading of books.
In my years of business and travel, there were no delights. Business was merely a livelihood, and travel was a means to that end.
And in family life, which was surely above the average in comfort and fellowship, there was no pleasure, no joy, no satisfaction. I still have no awareness of what kept me going on the fruitless rounds of days and nights because there was no hope of attaining anything better.
There were many years of trying to lose myself in theaters, restaurants, and night clubs in New York, Paris, Berlin, and many other cities, but these pleasures were but means of forgetting.
Strange, indeed, and unhappy is the life devoid of human satisfaction and means of human peace, more especially when no thought of possible spiritual joys and victories enters in. Even when I sought for spiritual knowledge there was no hope or sense that fulfillment would come. In fact, how could I know the meaning of fulfillment?
This chapter is no gloomier to hear than my life was to live, although this could not have been visible to those around me. Always there was a sufficiency of the things money will buy, always lots of baubles and bangles.
What must have appeared outwardly as a very mediocre life was passed with no deep drama and certainly no light comedy until That Day when, in meditation with an acquaintance, the veil was lifted, and I entered another world, actually another state of consciousness.
It seemed like a dream world, because I went through the motions of daily living without any apparent change. Yet the whole outer experience was as if walking through a dream. Many who came to me seeking healing, for no known reason, received it although I know not how or why.
Although Joel was a master salesman and very successful for a number of years, a time came when his business became less and less, diminishing to the point of no return, even with all the spiritual help that he sought. Still at this time he had no thought of anything other than a business career. It was during that period that he contracted a very bad cold. What happened he tells in his own words:
I was taken sick in the city of Detroit, went to a building that was filled with Christian Science practitioners, found the name of a practitioner on the board, went up to this man's office, and asked him to help me. He told me that it was Saturday and that he didn't take patients on Saturday. That day he always spent in meditation and prayer.
To this I said, "Of course you wouldn't turn me out looking the way I do," and I really was looking bad.
"No, come on in."
And I went in, and he permitted me to stay there two hours with him. He talked to me of the Bible; he talked to me of truth. Long before the two hours were up, I was healed of that cold, and when I went out on the street I found I couldn't smoke any more. When eating my dinner I found I couldn't drink any more. The following week I found I couldn't play cards any more, and I also found that I couldn't go to the horse races any more. And the businessman had died.
Within thirty-six hours after my first spiritual experience, a woman buyer who was a customer of mine said that if I would pray for her she would be healed. The only prayer I knew at that moment was "Now I lay me down to sleep," and I didn't see that that was going to do much healing.
But she insisted that if I would pray for her she would be healed and there was nothing for me to do but pray. So I closed my eyes, and I am happy to say that I have always been honest with God. I said, "Father, You know that I don't know how to pray, and I certainly know nothing about healing. So if there is anything I should do, tell me."
And very, very clearly, as much so as if I were hearing a voice, I realized that man is not a healer. That satisfied me. That was the extent of my praying, but the woman had her healing, a healing of alcoholism.
The next day a traveling salesman came in and said, "Joel, I don't know what your religion is, but I do know that if you pray for me, I could get well."
What are you going to do about that? Argue? No. "Let's close our eyes and pray." And so I closed my eyes and said, "Father, here's another customer!" But while my eyes were closed and nothing was happening, the salesman touched me and said, "Wonderful, the pain is gone."
That was a daily experience. The only problem was that I had too few customers and too many patients. A transformation had taken place. Where had it taken place? It had taken place in my consciousness, not anywhere else, not outside. It was the same individual whose whole thought had been on business and pleasure. All of a sudden his whole thought was on God and healing, the same individual, only with a transformation such as took place in the experience of Moses, a realization of true identity, an experience that must have taken place in the minds of many others before and since.
From this moment on there were two men. There was Joel, an individual always hovering around somewhere in the background, but showing tendencies which continuously led to many human mistakes, many human errors of judgment, many human discords, but fortunately only apparent to himself at intervals. On the other hand, there was the individual who on that day of revelation or regeneration was ordained within as a spiritual healer.
From that day to this I have paid respect to the practitioner for having been responsible for the entire change in my life and for all that has happened to me in a spiritual way since then. . . . It is true that my thirteen years of work prepared me for such an experience, but his was the touch that brought about the transformation. It was he who changed my life, he who was accustomed to spend one whole day every week without taking a patient, without attempting to earn a dollar, without attempting to use spiritual power, one whole day a week in every week just to renew and fulfill himself with the Spirit. And look what that practice of spending a day like that did for me!
THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY OF JOEL S. GOLDSMITH. Copyright © 1992 by The Valor Foundation. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this excerpted chapter from the book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.