Peace rooted in seeing goodness and beauty

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 2, 2003

"We have just one moral duty," wrote Dutch Holocaust diarist Etty Hillesum on Sept. 29, 1942: "to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world."

Within months of making that entry in her diary, Hillesum died in Auschwitz. She was 29. What did not die with her, however, was her positive outlook on life. Indeed, in our own troubled world some 60 years later, her wisdom has become a source of hope for many, including me, who only recently read her words for the first time.

The peace of which she spoke seems inseparable from love and beauty. The Sufi mystic Sheikh Muzaffer once said:

"Love is to see what is good and beautiful in everything. It is to learn from everything, to see the gifts of God and the generosity of God in everything. It is to be thankful for all God's bounties.

"This is the first step on the road to the love of God. This is just a seed of love. In time, the seed will grow and become a tree and bear fruit. Then, whoever tastes of that fruit will know what real love is."

...and know what real peace is.

I've thought a lot about Hillesum's image of peace and Muzaffer's image of the garden while enjoying the arrival of spring in Cochrane the past few days. Our part of the Bow Valley is itself a "peace garden," you might say – a place where goodness and beauty embrace each other, especially at this season.

I saw my first gopher of the year on the first day of spring. Now they're scampering all over the place, fun in the sun, only days after the deep-freeze of –35 degree weather left some of us thinking hope had vanished from the face of the earth.

Already, the sound of geese overhead has been joined by the cheerful music of robins in the treetops. Tulips are poking their first hints of hope through the soil in our front yard. Rain is replacing snow, and the alive smell of damp earth along the town's red shale path awakens longing.

Longing? Just as surely as the gophers have emerged from their holes, so my neighbors have come out from their winter's hibernation to set up their swings, get their gardening tools ready, and plan their flower beds for the summer they long to see. (I have been blessed over the years with very sneaky neighbors, I should add, the kind who delight throughout the winter in shovelling our sidewalks and doing other neat things, all the while hoping we don't catch them at it!)

Visitors are flocking back to our community, too. And thanks to Cochrane's downtown revitalization project, they're enjoying the new park benches along the main drag. Café tables are out, kids are on their bikes, and Saturday morning joggers are no longer limping from slipping on icy paths and parking lots.

Up the valley at Ghost Lake Village, Mitzi Watts assures me the mallards are back, the flies are buzzing, and pussy willows are set to burst forth.

Further west at Morley, folks are thinking of swapping hockey sticks for baseball bats, and tepees are being readied for the Calgary Stampede Indian Village and family campouts.

And any day, now, up and down the valley, we'll see our first crocuses and > bluebirds.

What springtime speaks of is hope, a hope that beckons us to sow the seeds of goodness and beauty in order to reap a harvest of love and peace. Benchlands resident Heinz Unger likens it to "a spirit bringing life back to the valley."

This spirit is very much about our attitude toward life, Etty Hillesum and Sheikh Muzaffer agree.

In that spring-like spirit, there is yet another witness to the value of positive attitude, both toward life in general, and in our affirmation of each other in particular. Nearly 2000 years ago, St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians:

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things...and the God of peace will be with you."

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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