William Edelen Blog – The Contrary Minister

William Edelen: Time… and the River Flowing

The Contrary Minister

Sitting by the River, surrounded by the beauty and magic of Oak Creek Canyon, in Sedona AZ, has been one of the most enduring Joys of my 92 years of life. Great TRUTHS about life, the movement of our days, with the decisions and attitudes that create either great happiness and peace, or else fill our days with despair, anger and stress, have come to me from that river and how it relates to time… flowing even as the river flows.

I have dated this essay the 17th of July, the day I entered the world 92 years ago in Stephenville, Texas, (called “The Cowboy Capital of the World”, due to so many of the National Rodeo Champions who live there). I have chosen that date on purpose. WHY? Because I consider this subject one of the most important of ALL my subjects of the last 40 years. We live today in a culture and society filled with human beings living with daily stress, anxiety, frustrations, confusion over values, shallow relationships and the chaos created in the mind and emotions of so many personal lives.

William Edelen: Thomas Jefferson and the 4th of July…


The Contrary Minister

When John Kennedy was President, he gave a banquet in the White House that was without precedent. The banquet was for every living American Nobel Prize winner, with about 150 present. At the beginning of the evening, President Kennedy stood and announced he would give a toast. He said:

“Never has so much talent, and so much genius, been assembled in one room, since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

The author of the Declaration of Independence that we celebrate today was a brilliant philosopher, scholar, theologian, architect, linguist, statesman, musician, horticulturist, agronomist, humanist, scientist, deist, and master of the civilized arts.

There is no question in my mind that the 4th of July is the most important holiday that we celebrate in this nation. All of the other holidays, Easter and Christmas included, pale by comparison.

William Edelen: Sacred Humanism

The Contrary Minister

That brilliant Renaissance man, Carl Jung, said of his Lutheran pastor father: “My father’s bible stood as a great wall between my father and the Living Present God”… What he is saying is this: organized, dogmatic, creedal and authoritarian Christianity has only one primary objective: to sustain, promote and maintain the institution. Individual spiritual growth and maturation become impossible within such an artificial construct.

The bigger the institution, the more stagnation in mediocrity, the more unavoidable is its blind stupidity, and very often immorality. To raise an individual out of this mindless mass and make clear to him/her that they are the one primary factor, and not the institution, becomes impossible.

William Edelen: My Zen Priest Brother

The Contrary Minister

During this month of June… in preparation for my June 29th last Symposium of the season… I have been contemplating and meditating on the subject of the HUMAN SPIRIT… and THE SPIRIT WITHIN… particularly as it relates to the arts and artists. During my meditation… it came to me vividly… how one of my friends and former colleagues, who called me “brother”… created his art from HIS SPIRIT WITHIN.

His name was Richard Kirsten-Daiensai, an ordained Zen Buddhist priest as well as one of the most distinguished artists in America.  He and I became good friends and kindred spirits. We met when he lived in Seattle, and I was in Tacoma teaching at the University of Puget Sound. The Kirsten Gallery opened in Seattle in 1972. My essays were being published in the Seattle and Tacoma newspapers and Kirsten was reading them. He loved them due to the fact that my essays on Zen and Taoism were radically different from the rigid and dogmatic doctrines and creeds of Christianity. My essays were factual, scholarly, informative and educational. Readers got an accurate and articulate picture of the beauty of Zen. Kirsten loved my work as I loved his. Thus began a beautiful friendship.

William Edelen: The “Gift”


The Contrary Minister

This is an essay reflecting on the Mysteries of the human spirit, and in particular how this spirit manifests in the ARTS… and ARTISTS.

I want to share with you a recent experience I had in being invited to the dedication of a sculpture of an American Indian entitled… “THE GIFT” to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.

The original purpose for the sculpture was to reside at the Riverside National Cemetery as representative of the American Indian veteran.

William Edelen: Dispensary to the Soul

The Contrary Minister

A Library inscription in Trajan’s forum in Rome reads “Dispensary to the Soul”. Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill”.

I am asking: Will the information technology revolution ever displace the almost genetic and aesthetic attachment we feel about books, along with their unquestioned value and contribution to liberal education?

William Edelen: Starting a New Day

The Contrary Minister

So much depends on the way we start each new day. I might say even that everything that follows during any given day will be directly related to the first few hours of that day. Whether the day unfolds on a high and noble plane, or turns out to be only a survival contest to be endured.

I have a friend who refuses to turn on the television or radio, or even read a newspaper until later in the afternoon. It is a valuable insight. It can make a remarkable difference in how the day progresses.

William Edelen: The True Patriot

The Contrary Minister

On this weekend of memory…let us remember that…

“There are certain words… our own and others we’re used to… words we’ve used… heard… had to recite… forgotten… Rubbed shiny in the pocket… left home for keepsakes… inherited… stuck away in a back drawer… in the locked trunk… at the back of the quiet mind…”

Liberty… equality… freedom… to none will we sell… refuse… or deny right or justice. We hold these truths to be self-evident. I am merely saying… what if these words pass?… what if they pass… and are gone… and are no more?… It took a long time to buy these words… it took a long time to buy them… and much blood… and much pain…” ~Stephen Vincent Benet

On this weekend of memory, please do forget cold beer and picnics for a few minutes and remember these words. Memorize them. Read them to your children… neighbors and friends. And then… read them… again… over… and over again.

William Edelen: The Gate To Freedom

The Contrary Minister

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the sage of Concord, the intellectual center of philosophical originality, philosopher and poet, embodied the finest spirit and highest ideals of his age… a bold and creative thinker who had no peers in presenting truth. His lectures and essays are models of clarity, style and thought which made him a formidable presence in American life.

The mystical harmonies of man and nature, the values of non-conformity, intellectual and spiritual independence, the glory of the human spirit, a powerful champion of the American Indian, a constant foe of the traditional American educational system, made him a brilliant voice for creative independence. The geniuses in our society received recognition and giant support from him.

William Edelen: Weavers of Wisdom



In Praise of Grandmothers, for this special day of memory.

Two observations this past week about grandmothers caught my immediate attention. Preparing my essay on the immortal GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ… I read his remark that the most influential person in his life was his maternal grandmother.

And in visiting with my new kindred spirit, GENE TAGABAN, the Raven Dancer, at the Ojai Story Festival, he told me that the most influential person in his life had been his grandmother.

William Edelen: Courage and Controversy

The Contrary Minister

I have received letters by the hundreds over the past 30 years saying, “I want to congratulate you on your courage, writing as you do. How I admire your courage” and so forth.

Now my question: “Why should it be considered “courageous” to write the materials in my columns that can be found in any history book in any library in this country?”

Why is it “courageous” for me to write material that is accepted, and taught in the departments of religion in every major university in this country, or the world for that matter?

For instance, I write: “Our founding Fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin, Washington, Paine, were all Deists, classical humanists, who did not believe that Jesus was divine, and they did not believe that the bible was anything other than “literature,” and they did believe that the Christian church was a giant tyranny.” People write me and say “what courage to write like that.”

Well, what I have written can be found in the writings of the founding fathers themselves. It is hardly “courageous” to write facts and truth that are obvious and available in historical records.

Or, I write, “The virgin birth stories about Jesus are mythology, and virgin birth has been a universal theme in all religious traditions.”

William Edelen: Gabriel Garcia Marquez


The Contrary Minister

For years I have had a mystical, “kindred spirit”, friendship with a man whom I never met. Over the years I have read everything about him, and many things by him, and my admiration grew year by year.

He died a week ago, a Thursday morning at age 87 in Mexico City. (I am writing this on a Thursday morning.) He was the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. Critics have called him the Master of the opening paragraph of an essay or book. He said that in the opening paragraph you either lose your reader or capture him.

In his greatest work “One Hundred Years of Solitude” his opening paragraph hit him when he was several hours out of town on a trip with his wife, Mercedes. He stopped the car, whirled around and headed back to his study in Mexico City to re-write the opening paragraph about ice.

I have tried to remember that in every essay I have written.

Marquez was a beloved Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America.

William Edelen: Examining the Roots of Easter…

The Contrary Minister

The word “Easter” does not appear in the entire Bible. The word was not Christian, and was not even used in church literature until late in the church’s history. “Easter” is the name of the goddess of the spring.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the spring festival was celebrated honoring “Easter,” the goddess. The church borrowed the festival, and kept the goddess’ name.

Even older than Easter as goddess of spring was a much wider worship and adoration of her as goddess of the dawn. In our language, the root of “easter” is “East” — the place of dawn; and in nearly all of the languages of Northern Europe the words for Easter come from a root meaning the dawn.

Three thousand years before Jesus was born, poetic and pious Hindus kindled their morning fires, made their morning sacrifices, and sang their morning song of praise to the goddess of the dawn in ancient India. Many scholars consider the “hymn to the dawn” as among the finest of the Vedas. How they praised her, reborn in beauty in every dawn, coming with radiant face to drive away the darkness and its dangers and arouse all creatures to the joys of another day.

This was the original Easter worship, the daily praise and adoration for the dawn. It survives to this day.

William Edelen: All Is Natural In The Dance Of Existence…

The Contrary Minister

“Except for the still point there would be no dance… and there is only the dance…” wrote T. S. Eliot. To live fully in joy and daily celebration, we must abandon ourselves to the dance, the dance of existence. Life is a dance and the dance goes on, with or without us.

Today, physicists are telling us that their understanding of “reality,” the nature and activity of the universe, is bringing us closer and closer to the perspective of the ancient Eastern religions, especially Hinduism and classical Taoism.

We are a part of the cosmic dance, and all is one. Physicists assure us now that rocks and flowers dance with the dance of life. Trees dance to the wind. Salmon and trout and porpoise dance and leap with a ballet of grace and rhythm. It is asked of us even as the carpenter asked in Alice, “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?” Planets dance to beautifully intricate laws, even as do atoms. There is no line between the sacred and profane, the supernatural and natural, the divine and the human… all is natural, sacred and divine.

William Edelen: Myth Plus Ritual Equals Religion


The Contrary Minister

Practically all of our rituals in 20th century American cathedrals had their origins in primitive superstitions, and yet, today, we still practice them. Ritualistic behavioral patterns that are so basic they are still being practiced in churches, with the congregations totally unaware of what they are doing. Our rituals are saturated with primal superstitions and are only a vestige of an origin going back hundreds of thousands of years. Some examples:


Dr. Paul Dumont, professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington writes: “The purpose is to take on the qualities of the person you eat and by eating the God you acquired the powers of the God.”

William Edelen: The Truth of Nature

The Contrary Minister

“Men and books lie… only nature never lies.” Thomas Paine

“Nature is always TRUE. Only in nature can TRUTH be found.” Goethe

Over a hundred years ago Kierkegaard observed that maturity consists in the discovery that “there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot ever be understood.” The “critical moment” is to realize that so called “human wisdom” pales before the wisdom of nature.

In fact, Loren Eiseley, the distinguished Anthropologist and Chair of the Philosophy of Science Dept, the University of Pennsylvania writes that, “There is no such thing as wisdom.” The only “wisdom” can be found in nature where the spiritual and the material are ONE.

There is a belief held by many that I have always found to be especially pitiable. It is the idea that only man (Homo sapiens) is special, sacred and made in the image of God. Many want to differentiate between the supernatural and the natural, the sacred and the profane. But if the creation is the work of an omnipotent mystery

William Edelen: What Makes You Cry? — Part 2

The Contrary Minister

A year ago last March I asked you this question, “What makes you cry?” It is a question that looks into your heart and soul… where the answer rests. I aimed my answer at cruelty to animals and I spent the column with multiple examples from our society. But oh my, there is so much more to be said… about the emotions that produce tears.

My eyes can flood with tears from Poetry… Music… Affection… Love… Kindness… Compassion… Empathy… Bravery… Courage. BEAUTY… the Grand Teton mountains at dawn, from Jenny Lake where I have stood many times…

When I want to soar into the sacred realms of the divine I listen to the breathtaking Goddess, Jessye Norman, singing Gounod’s “Sanctus” and my eyes are wet with tears, every time.

When I listen to the genius of Carlos Jobim’s words of Poetry and music in “Meditations” the emotions of tears surge through my heart and mind.


Wherever love is present, whether from a child or an adult, the deep emotional responses can quickly and easily produce tears from the soul and heart. That brilliant and giant Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote these words, “It is impossible to find truth… without being in love, for LOVE and TRUTH is the ONLY road that leads the soul out of the inner jungle.”

William Edelen: Many Who Say, “Lord, Lord,” Ignore Jesus’ Message of Love…

The Contrary Minister

What they have done in the past to the beautiful teacher of Galilee is almost beyond comprehension. And, worse, we still continue to this day violating and prostituting both him and his message; or we bury him in theological tombs and roll great stones before the door.

Constantine worshiped the official Christ saying, “Lord, Lord,” while murdering his own wife, his son and other assorted relatives. Martin Luther worshiped Christ saying, “Lord, Lord,” while telling the German aristocracy to cut the throats of the German peasants. He added, “Let there be no half measures. Transfix them. Leave no stone unturned! To kill a rebel is to destroy a mad dog. A prince can enter heaven by the shedding of blood more certainly than by means of prayer.”

John Calvin worshiped Christ saying “Lord, Lord” while burning Servetus at the stake. Ordained ministers worshiped Christ saying, “Lord, Lord,” while murdering thousands of so-called witches.

John Wesley worshiped Christ saying, “Lord, Lord,” while writing to his wife: “Be content to be insignificant. Of what loss would it be to God or man had you never been born?”

As Albert Schweitzer gave his life, in love, to the sick and the suffering in the heart of Africa, he wrote, “What has been passing for Christianity during these centuries is full of mistakes and horrors. It has not been a Christianity springing from the spirit of love. What Christianity needs is to become a living religion of love.


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