Stoney practice of silence intrigues readers

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 27, 2005

Our coffee companions have been anything but silent about silence.

Last week's column, as you may recall, was a celebration of lessons I've learned from elders of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley on the importance of silence.

Several from Morley told me they had photocopied the column and were passing it around or had taped it to their refrigerator doors. Others who have had associations with the Stoney community but are now living elsewhere wrote with gratitude for what they, too, had learned at Morley about the beauty of silence.

From the University of Waterloo, where she is completing a degree in social development, Pam Showler wrote:

"What you say about the depth of silence reminds me of when I lived on the Stoney reserve. Like you, I was able to experience those deep moments of silence and I learned a lot about myself, because silence turned my thoughts inward to self-reflect. To sit in peace and silence strengthened me in ways that words cannot and do not express."

From Cochrane, semi-retired police officer Bill Hargarten wrote:

"Your column on the importance of silence struck a familiar chord. Some years ago, the Saskatoon Police had me attend an Aboriginal Awareness Course at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa. Our instructors urged us to step out of our role as 'authoritative 911 responders' and take time for tea with the Aboriginal grandmothers and grandfathers.

"Silence was an opportunity to learn from elders and to show respect. The police college wasn't suggesting that time with elders was a means of solving police files; it was a way for us to gain understanding.

"I remember one time when a relative had stolen a grandmother's grocery money. We drank tea and she beaded moccasins while I learned about the healing power of forgiveness. It was somewhat of an alien concept to me as an investigator for our adversarial justice system!

"For today's cops, time is a luxury. The time I was able to allot gave me only a small insight into the elders' collective wisdom, though it enriched me much more than I'm able to say."

Edmonton sociologist David Long says he is "mysteriously compelled by silence." He shared some lines from Mother Teresa he felt accorded well with silence in the Stoney way:

"The beginning of prayer is silence. . . . God speaking in the silence of the heart. And then we start talking to God from the fullness of the heart. And He listens. The beginning of prayer is Scripture. . . . we listen to God speaking. And then we begin to speak to Him again from the fullness of our heart. And He listens. That is really prayer. Both sides listening and both sides speaking. In silence."

I hope to return to this topic in a future column. For now, however, I'd like to close with a tribute to one of our beloved coffee companions who had his own special relationship with silence.

Cochrane resident and a world windsport champion Chris Muller died April 22 while competing in a hang-gliding competition in Florida. He was 29.

So many times I've watched in awe as he soared into the blue above Cochrane Hill at his Muller Windsports location. So many times I've sat enthralled as he told me about his hang-gliding and paragliding exploits around the world.

For Chris, this moving poem by Second World War pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr., "High Flight":

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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