From Our Archives
WILLIAM EDELEN (1922 – 2015)
The Contrary Minister
My mind is filled with thoughts of Thanksgiving. Thursday is the day we set aside to remember blessings that have enriched our days and graced our lives.
I sit back in my chair and let my eyes once again caress the walls of my study, feeling their energy feed my spirit. The book-lined walls, how I love them.
My heart pours out a very special thanksgiving to all of the great and magnificent spirits whose thoughts and words fill these shelves and offer a feast, waiting only for my mind and soul to partake.
Goethe is there, with Albert Schweitzer and Meister Eckhart, the German theologian. There is Jung, Russell and Whitehead, Loren Eiseley and Suzuki, the Zen master, with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. There is Learned Hand and Oliver Wendell Holmes, with e.e. cummings, Robert Frost and hundreds more, waiting to once again fill my spirit with food that is timeless.
I think of how thankful I will be on Thursday, as well as every other day of the year, for the feast that is offered by the lives and thoughts of great, splendid and radiant human spirits. How much we owe them.
Albert Schweitzer used these words in expressing this thanksgiving; “Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”
And again: “Then a savior appeared to me in the person of my new professor. In the course of the first few days I saw clearly through the mist of my dreaminess…” Schweitzer goes on to explain the lasting influence of his outstanding professor.
The radiant aura of Joseph Campbell is illuminating my study this morning. It was a simple announcement in the newspaper: “Joseph Campbell died yesterday in Hawaii at the age of 83.” The paper went on to document his international prestige as a historian of religions and mythology.
I stared at the announcement, flooded with memories: studying with him… his brilliant mind… walks with just the two of us, in the pristine air of a Montana ranch.
Then I remembered one very special morning, walking under golden Aspen and hearing him say, “Bill, just keep pointing them… toward the Mystery.”
Images of his beautiful wife, Jean, came back to me. She was one of the great dancers with Martha Graham in her younger days and yet, still in her late 70s, was more graceful and lovely than most women much younger.
Later that morning with an almost absent mind, I started through a cardboard box of letters that had arrived over the years, with “love from Joe and Jean.”
A few years ago, the New York Times Magazine ran a special interview with Campbell in an Easter edition, referring to him as “the preeminent scholar in the world in mythology and the history of religions.”
Bill Moyer has said that his interviews with Joseph Campbell were the highlights of his long career on radio and television.
I look back on my studies with Joseph Campbell as one of the great turning points in my life. Never have I learned so much from any other person as I did from that giant scholar, that sensitive and warm human being.
In the words of Schweitzer: “My life was blown again into flame by this encounter with another human being.”
I will be saying thank you to the eternal Mystery for the opportunity to know this man, along with all the other glorious spirits that fill the shelves of my study, on this Thanksgiving day.
On Thursday, pause for a moment from the turkey and dressing to think back over your life. Think back to those people who came into your life — those human beings who once again blew your flickering life into a new flame. Remember them with a full heart and profound gratitude.