William Edelen: The Language of the Soul


The Contrary Minister

Music is the language of the soul and the cathedral of the human spirit. More human beings have been moved, healed, inspired, up-lifted, redeemed and transformed by music than by all of the philosophies and contradictory theologies ever written. If a “God” is beyond human comprehension, then “theology” is a pseudo-science without a subject matter and the theologian is one who does not know what he is talking about. But, through music, joy, love, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter and meditations find a voice that fills our hearts.

Dr. Lewis Thomas, former Dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, writes these words in Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony: “Music is the most profound mystery of human existence. No one has the ghost of an idea about what music is, or why we make it and cannot be human without it. How does the human mind make music on its own, before it is written down and played? Nobody can explain it. It is the greatest mystery of the human mind.”

The range of music that has touched my spirit over the years brings pure joy from my bank of memories, of standing in evening parade at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, D. C. where the Commandant lives, and listening to the concert band with tears running down my cheeks. Music and the spirit. I walk into my study at home to relax and I turn on the tape of Barry Manilow’s Singin/ With the Big Bands and my study is filled with “I Can’t Get Started” and I feel happy, memories of that magic time of warm days and soft nights. When I want to soar into the sacred realms of the divine I listen to that breathtaking goddess, Jessye Norman singing Gounod’s “Sanctus.” Or the vision of Bach soaring through the organ pipes of St. John the Divine.

Or if I want the absolute beauty of notes combined to celebrate not only human eros and amor, but being surrounded by the miracles of the natural world, I fill my study with the gorgeous sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim, with his “meditations” written of eros and amor… “Yes, I love you so… and that for me is all I need to know… I wait for you meditating… on how sweet life will be when you are back to me.”

That soul and spirit-filling music moves my “meditations” past amor to the glory of nature and the worlds written so eloquently by Joseph Campbell:

“We are the children of this beautiful planet that we have seen photographed from the moon. We were not delivered into it by some god, but have come forth from it. And the Earth, together with the sun, this light around which it flies like a moth, came forth from a nebula, and that nebula, in turn, from space. So that we are the mind, ultimately of space, each in his own way, at one with all, and with no horizons.”

My “meditations” include the miracle of amor and eros, as one with the miracle of the sacred earth, from whence we came.

Music… where did this mystery come from? Where but from months in the womb, listening to the heart beat of the mother. We enter this world with the cosmic rhythm of our mother’s heart that sings music into our souls, and we cannot be human without it.

Music is the only universal tongue… the language of the human soul… the Cathedral of the Human Spirit.”