Coffee companions are living agents of wisdom

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 4, 2004

Readers of this column often ask where I get the neat ideas I write about. Such questions are always quite flattering, but the answer does not reside in me. It resides in you. Allow me to reiterate the special role you my coffee companions have played in our weekly visits together.

For you have achieved something all my years in universities can't come close to. You've instructed me more profoundly than all the scholarly books I've ever read. You've spoken to me more eloquently than all the learned lectures I've ever attended.

You've become for me living agents of wisdom in the beautiful and mysterious journey of life.

This may seem strange to some of you who stop me in my rounds about town to say thanks for sharing some wisdom with you.

Quite frankly, however, it is I who should be thanking you. For on the whole, this column merely echoes the stories, observations and reflections, which so many of you have shared with me. Indeed, as I have said before, this column is simply the coffee table where we meet.

At the risk of sounding boastful, allow me to divulge a little more of my own background so you can appreciate your special contribution in context.

During the years leading up to 1985 I was fulfilling the requirements for a doctor of philosophy degree in wisdom literature under the late Dr. Peter Craigie at the University of Calgary. My focus was on the Hebrew wisdom literature, which includes the ancient story of Job and the reflections on life's experiences as contained in the biblical books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

How well I remember that great question in Job 28: "Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?" In fact, that question was raised by one of my examiners during my Ph.D. oral comprehensives.

I remember, too, the answer I gave: in the context of Job, wisdom was not to be found in the deepest shafts where precious metals and gems are mined, nor was it to be found in the heights of the sky or the depths of the oceans.

Nor was it likely to be found in all the dusty volumes of the university library stacks, I suggested, without the slightest inkling of how my off-the-cuff remark would work out for my future.

The point of the passage, of course, is that wisdom uniquely resides with God, and "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom" (Job 28:28). All the collected words of the wise, as well as all the phenomena of nature, are merely direction signs pointing to wisdom's true location.

Well, by the grace of God I passed my exams and received my doctorate. But to keep me humble, my longtime friend Bruce McDonald on the day of my convocation spoke a most prophetic word to me: "Now you can get on with the journey of life and find out what wisdom is really all about."

His words anticipated my times spent with you, my companions through whom God has been present to me and has been making His wisdom known.

You see, there is a feature of wisdom which you particularly well illustrate, a characteristic that is common to wisdom traditions around the world: wisdom is not the private possession of philosophers and theologians; it is not an "ivory-tower" phenomenon, out of touch with reality. Rather, it is available wherever people come together in the course of human affairs.

A Hebrew proverb depicts wisdom as a woman standing at the busiest intersections of life, "on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads...beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals..."

And, I might add, sitting at tables with us in Cochrane coffee houses in serendipitous encounters over cappuccinos, mocha lattes and aromatic mugs of Colombian dark roast.

This is where Lady Wisdom invites our attention. It is around these tables that I have come to know you, and through you to hear her compelling voice. In the companionship of this column, heart meets heart, mediated by cup. You are agents of wisdom, and the rest of us who sip together with you look forward to becoming more wonderfully human because of your presence.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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