Invisible made visible: an invitation to walk in beauty

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 12, 2013

Invisible warm moist air becomes visible as beautiful frost on a freezing-cold pane of glass, a metaphor for how we can be visible expressions of Latent Beauty against the cruel pains of life.  Photo by Mary Anna Harbeck

I just received a letter from a retired provincial court judge who’s quite the legend here in our valley.

John Reilly, whose circuit included Cochrane, emailed me all the way from Taiwan, where he’s spending a snow-free winter “as resident babysitter” for his grandsons while working on his next book, Bad Judgement: a Judge’s Struggle for Judicial Independence. (His best-selling first book, Bad Medicine, came out in 2010.)

John said he “really liked” Morley elder Tina Fox’s comments on the importance of respect in the Stoney Nakoda First Nation tradition (see my column for Nov. 7). For him, Tina’s remarks resonated with another First Nation elder’s wisdom – a prayer John says every day about walking in beauty.

Before getting to John’s thoughts on this, however, let me share one of the many responses to last week’s column on the arabesques of frost my wife photographed in our kitchen window.

Former Bragg Creek resident Sandy McLeod, a leader in the aerospace industry, wrote:

“The micro world of God is always talking to us, if only we look and listen. If only! That’s what I love about aerospace science, technology exploration and engineering – similar magic. Look at the structural and architectural engineering in those micro forms. Unbelievable strength and agility in formation, and yet so delicate. The resulting light and sheen is magic. A few minutes there and then perhaps gone.”

Sandy’s comment got me thinking about a lesson those delicate frost formations were teaching about our contribution to life.

Just think about it: When invisible moist air in a home encounters a freezing-cold window pane, it may reveal itself, briefly at least, as the visible beauty of frost.

In a similar way, it seemed to me, our transitory lives can be visible expressions of otherwise invisible Latent Beauty in our encounter with a different kind of “pane” – the cold, cruel pain of injustice and bigotry.

South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95, was just such an expression of beauty against the pain of apartheid. For him, how was that beauty made visible?

“If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal,” he said. “Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”

For me as a Christian, Jesus is the quintessential visible expression of the Invisible God, Light shining in darkness who calls His followers to be manifestations of Light and Beauty, too.

Now back to John Reilly’s prayer he says every day about walking in beauty.

Though John is quite public about his disdain for organized religion in general, he has, as he puts it, “an absolute belief in Creator.”

He sums up his simple belief in the statement: “If there is a watch, there must be a watchmaker.”

For him, an especially moving expression of that simple belief is found in the words of Lakota Chief Yellow Lark’s  prayer (1887), “Let Me Walk in Beauty.” I’ll close with John’s version of that prayer:

O Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world,
Hear me.
I am a child before you. I am small and weak.
I seek your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty.
Make my eyes always behold
the red and purple sunset,
Make my hands respect the things that
You have made,
Make my ears sharp to hear
the lessons you have taught your people,
The lessons you have hidden
under every rock and leaf.
I seek strength not to be superior to my brothers,
But to fight my greatest enemy, myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
With clean hands and straight eyes,
So that when my life fades, as a sunset fades,
My spirit will come to you without shame.


© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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