Spiritual serendipity leads to an autumn of growth

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 4, 2006

Life here in Cochrane and the surrounding area is a never-ending spiritual journey for me. How else can I explain the serendipity of this autumn’s encounters I’ve had with a mountaineer, a fashion designer, an author, and the patron saint of ecology?

In last week’s column I wrote about Cochrane mountain man Glen Boles and his just-published book, My Mountain Album: Art & Photography of the Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains. I was discussing the book with Glen’s climbing companion Michael Simpson, pictured in several of the images in the book.

Being on the summit of a great mountain is an intensely spiritual experience, Mike told me. He alluded to what are often regarded as moments of transcendence, of engagement with total “otherness.” I asked him to put his experience into more precise words.

“If I could put it into words,” he chided me, “it wouldn’t be totally other, would it?”

Such encounters with otherness seem to intertwine themselves with authenticity and beauty – and sometimes in the most surprising places.

This past weekend my wife, Mary Anna, and I attended an event hosted by Tumbleweedz Fashion Gallery in Cochrane. It featured award-winning Canadian designer Linda Lundström, whose impassioned motivational presentation spoke of values far beyond the tawdry runway values so typical of the industry.

As a youth Linda had an urging that would not leave her alone; it was an overwhelming spiritually-driven desire to create clothing for authentic women, for clients who wanted to dress according to their true inner person and not some pretense.

“The secret of beauty is the desire to be authentic,” she said.

Mary Anna and I appreciate where this has taken Linda. A couple of years ago I purchased one of Linda’s shawls as a gift for my wife. From my very biased perspective, that shawl uniquely brings out Mary Anna’s inner beauty, something many have commented on whenever she wears it.

Linda’s crediting her relentless inner desire to create the kinds of fashions she does would not at all seem surprising to Calgary author Margot McKinnon.

I met Margot over coffee two weeks ago while she was delivering copies of her recently-published book, The Exquisiteness of Being Human: The Body, Mind, Spirit, Soul Dominance Theory, to Cochrane bookstores.

Margot, a high school English teacher with extensive experience in First Nations traditional spirituality, says that, of the four aspects that make up each person – body, mind, spirit and soul – the spirit is most often misunderstood and neglected. And yet this is the aspect of our being that yields insight. It calls a person to break free from traditional expectations and to venture into new, often-unexplored directions. The spirit is about desire.

“Spirit Dominant people very often look at the world and wonder what it is coming to. Why are people becoming workaholics and neglecting their families? For what? Money?” she writes. Such people are bewildered by the habit of some to build monstrous mansions for themselves, while the homeless lie in “the shadows of our downtown alleyways.”

Her passionate conversation around this point, in particular, brings me around to my fourth spiritual encounter of this autumn.

Oct. 4 in much of Christendom is set aside to celebrate the memory of Francesco Bernardone – St. Francis of Assisi. Raised in wealth and privilege in Italy some 800 years ago, he experienced a spiritual call to leave that life of comfort and to serve the poor, a call that required him also to become poor.

As part of my personal encounter with St. Francis, I viewed once more Franco Zeffirelli’s 1973 motion picture, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a film that not only depicts St. Francis’ gentleness among the poor and leprous, but also his oneness with the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

I’d like to close this week’s column with “The Prayer of St. Francis”:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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