Vision of Jesus helps Morley artist go forward

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 2, 2002

"It wasn't a smiling face or a depressed face, not harsh, but a mild face, confident and soft."
—Stoney artist Roland Rollinmud

Roland Rollinmud, Morley artist and a regular at our coffee table, has that wonderful gift of seeing the unexpected in the midst of the everyday. He was totally caught by surprise one frigid February dawn in 1996, however, when he looked through the windshield of the school bus he was driving and saw Jesus.

Respected by many of our readers for his fine oils and pen-and-inks of eagles, hawks, geese, and Stoney Nakoda traditional themes, Roland often enthralls me with the stories behind his artwork.

But that midwinter day, when he rushed over to my house after completing his bus route and told me what he had seen at sunrise, I was speechless with his description of light dispelling the darkness.

It was about 6:30 a.m. on the fourth day of minus-30-degree cloudy weather when Roland left the warmth of his rural home to start up his yellow 36-passenger GMC school bus, parked outside. Happily, this time it started up without much fuss.

At 7:15 a.m., he pulled down his driveway and set out on the 72 km run that would take him from east to west across most of the Stoney Reserve south of the Bow River. Although it was cold, there wasn't much snow on the ground, and his hands on the steering wheel that morning felt every bump along the rough gravel road to the first two houses, where he picked up six passengers.

He then crossed over the CPR mainline to pick up two more that lived north of the tracks, down a hill toward Ghost Lake, across from Ghost Lake Village.

It was almost sunrise when Roland started driving back up the hill toward the tracks. He was heading south, and the sky ahead of him was bright enough now to show a welcomed chinook arch.

Then, just as the first crimson rays of sunlight broke through onto the arch, he saw it along the distant edge of the clouds, right above Bear Hill.

"Jesus was there in the clouds," Roland said. "Jesus' robe was bright red in the sunrise. I saw his face, hair and eyes.

"It wasn't a smiling face or a depressed face, not harsh, but a mild face, confident and soft.

"Jesus was looking west across a completely clear sky" – across the entire Stoney Reserve to where it meets the mountains.

"I got on the radio to the other bus drivers right away and told them to look for something in the sky," Roland said.

After picking up more students, he continued his run to the intersection of the Trans-Canada and Kananaskis Highways, where, thanks to the chinook, it was already above freezing. Here he transferred some of his passengers to the bus heading to the Exshaw school, and picked up others for the remainder of his run to the Morley Community School.

At 8:45 a.m., finished with the morning run, he joined the other drivers for coffee, eager to hear their stories of seeing Jesus in the clouds.

But none of the others had seen the fleeting image. Perhaps they were facing the wrong way, or were prevented from seeing it by hills and trees, or whatever. It seemed that only Roland had seen the crimson Jesus pushing the dark clouds away and looking west across a bright clear sky.

Just the other day, Roland and I were again discussing his vision of Jesus over coffee. I asked him how he felt about it now.

"It encouraged me," he said. "It made me feel like I could go forward in this life. But I never realized the change that was about to happen throughout my community.

"When I saw Jesus in the clouds, we Stoneys had just come through 20 years when no one was allowed to succeed – a time of control."

His vision was about healing, he said, contrasting it to a vision another elder had in the late 1970s. That elder had seen a dark cloud appear from the mountains and spread like a smothering blanket eastward across the Stoney Reserve.

Now, Roland said, the Stoney Nakoda First Nation is emerging into a climate of freedom and hope.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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