Coffee shops offer sacred spaces for listening hearts

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 12, 2012

“We all add to the beauty and the goodness and the healing of the world just through the simple act of caring.” —Liz Giles

In personal worlds of turmoil, heavy hearts and differences of opinion, it’s nice to know there are some places that feel safe – sacred places where people of longing, listening, loving hearts are at home, and beauty and peace prevail. Coffee shops are just such places for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since my friends Michael and Judie Bopp, international facilitators in development and goodwill, brought to my attention recently a profound statement by Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

The 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic was referring to a safe, sacred place where “the soul lies down in that grass” that lies beyond the limitations of ideas and language.

He was speaking of the escape from the material prison of space and time to the freedom of otherness.

But I believe he is extending – by implication, at least – an invitation for us to engage life beautifully also in the material world of the here-and-now.

And it’s in that world of the here-and-now of coffee shops that you have taught me so much about the power of the listening heart to affirm hope among the despairing.

Liz Giles, a high school counsellor formerly of Cochrane and now of Victoria, has been an especially formative example to me in this regard.

Some years ago, for instance, Liz was visiting with my wife and me and one other at one of the large, round tables upstairs at Cochrane Coffee Traders, when a mutual friend, a local pastor, joined us.

This was not unusual, for he did from time to time drop by for coffee chats. But this time Liz sensed something different about our pastor friend. Every detail of Liz’s body language communicated that he was the most important person to listen to at that moment, and the other three of us remained silent.

The pastor was soon pouring out the burdens on his heavy heart. This went on for maybe a half-hour; then he excused himself, saying he needed to return to his office and prepare that Sunday’s sermon.

The following Monday several of my other coffee companions, who heard that sermon, told me about our pastor friend’s amazing message.

The pastor told of how he was so depressed during the preceding weeks that he’d stepped away from his desk for a few minutes to grab one last cup of coffee before returning to his office to end his life.

But something happened, he told his congregation. He encountered some friends at Coffee Traders who really, really listened to him, and as they listened, his will to live revived. He finished his coffee, and after a group hug, he returned to his desk and prepared that sermon on the life-giving importance of listening to one another as an act of caring.

At the time when the pastor was sipping coffee with us, neither Liz nor the rest of us had any idea that imminent suicide was on his mind. We – and in particular, Liz – only knew that his heart was troubled. Liz loved him out of his despair by doing nothing more complicated than simply listening with every ounce of her being.

In preparing for this column, I asked Liz for permission to use her name and this story in my column. “Yes!” she said, and emphasized once more just how important our attentive presence to each other truly is.

“We all add to the beauty and the goodness and the healing of the world just through the simple act of caring,” she said.

Which brings me around to a hint of where my next column – my annual Christmas contribution – is heading.

For Christians, these days that lead up to Dec. 25 are known as Advent. This is a special time of sacred meditation, hope-filled expectation and prayer.

Prayer. Yes. But even during this season of hope-filled expectation, how often have we visited sacred places of worship with longing hearts, only to wonder if God is even listening?

That was certainly the ancient poet’s bewilderment in the biblical book of Psalms. On one occasion he cries out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13)

Next week I’ll try to share how I see Christmas as the celebration of God’s answer to the psalmist’s question – an answer found in a sacred field where two longing, listening, loving hearts beat as one. Stay tuned.


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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