Sunset sings ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands’

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 14, 2011


“…a giant hand of clouds ... spread out palm-down toward the southwest in radiant splendour….”

I didn’t have a camera with me that September evening so many years ago, but the image and its meaning for me have never faded from my memory.

My wife, Mary Anna, and I were living at the time in Ghost Lake Village, a somewhat secluded community along the north shore of Ghost Lake between Morley and Cochrane.

In an arc above the village is an escarpment, about 30 or 40 metres high. Along its brow are viewpoints from which folks can experience awe-inspiring panoramas of the Bow Valley. The grandeur of the sky adds to the awesomeness, and every detail of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch stirs the soul in gentle reminder that this is, indeed, a sacred place.

One evening after supper, Mary Anna and I decided to go for a stroll along the brow. With the dwindling hours of sunlight signaling autumn's return, we stacked the dishes till later and headed up the winding path beside a stand of poplars, their leaves already tinged with gold.

Once on top of the rim we came out on a point overlooking the lake. Below and to our right, the shoreline curved gracefully west past breakwater and islands to lose itself in what locals call the Lagoon, only to reappear briefly further west at Morley.

Off to the northwest the first range of the Rockies rose above the foothills and, in ragged silhouette against the still-brilliant sky of dusk, stretched across the horizon, past Banff, Canmore, and Kananaskis Country, way around to our left where the peaks nestled down in the foothills south of the Bow Valley, while the distant lake shore continued on east for four more kilometres till it ended at the Ghost Dam.

In the middle of the lake a pair of water skiers mimicked the late summer flowers clustered around our ankles, too stubborn to call it a season. Closer in, a large flock of coots, together with a few loons and ducks, were settling down for the evening near some shore grasses.

Scattered at the foot of the hills across the lake from us were the homes of folks we’ve known for most of our lives – many of them ranchers, and all of them members of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. Located above an inlet, one of those homes belonged to retired Chief Bill McLean, son of the legendary Chief Walking Buffalo.

We recalled what Bill and other elders of the Stoney community had taught us over the years about the sacredness of land – about the sacredness of everything. We related those teachings to what we were experiencing from this viewpoint overlooking Ghost Lake that evening.

Wouldn't it be good, we pondered, if someday a cairn were erected on this very point of land to memorialize that sacredness? A plate could be attached to the cairn engraved with the words from Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”

For, if “sacred” meant “belonging to God,” we reasoned, then everything and everyone in the entire Bow Valley and throughout Alberta – indeed, everything and everyone everywhere – was on sacred ground. And we all were sacred, too. So we should have a reminder at that viewpoint to treat the land and each other with the respect due the sacred.

Then we remembered a blessing that, over the years, had become part of almost every public gathering in the Stoney community. We thought it, too, should appear on the cairn, for if all of this was sacred, then it seemed right to bless it in the Name of the One who made it sacred.

In the Stoney Nakoda language the blessing goes, in part, “Owîchagiye ze, Tawawîchaye ze . . .  îgichiyabi chiyen nâgahâ îs nâgu echeyahneya echeyath.”

It translates into English: “May the Helper, the One to Whom All Things Belong . . . be with us today and forever. Amen.”

About this time Mary Anna and I became conscious of a salmon-pink glow all around us. We looked up, and sure enough, we and everything we saw were being embraced by a breathtaking sunset, growing moment by moment in intensity.

And there was an immediately recognizable shape to the sunset. There, coming from the northeast, was a giant hand of clouds, with palm, four fingers, and thumb, spread out palm-down toward the southwest in radiant splendour over the entire scene.

It was as if the One to Whom All Things Belong were confirming a blessing on this sacred place with words from that old-time spiritual:

“He’s got the whole world in His hands; He’s got the whole wide world in His hands.”

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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