You are the reason

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 1, 2022

Many of our readers have been enquiring of me lately about what got me started in writing these columns. Well, it’s always a pleasure to share once more the story behind them.

Writing this series of columns has become one of the greatest joys I could have ever hoped for. You, my coffee companions, have given me the privilege of sitting around coffee tables with you, basking in your wisdom, and sharing your inspiration with our other coffee companions.

You are the reason for these columns. Allow me to fill in a few pieces.

If I were to attach a label to the style of columns I try to write, it would be wisdom tradition, a genre which is characterized by observation, reflection and storytelling.

As most of you are aware, I’ve been sensitized to the importance of story through 57 years of association with Elders of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley, Big Horn and Eden Valley.

Over cups of tea and coffee, those entrusted with oral-tradition accounts of life, history, values, and what it means to be a human being, made me aware of the quiet beauty of listening. They recounted lessons from Nature’s University, chuckled over Trickster’s foibles, and sometimes kept me on the right path through their gentle anecdotes.

Their Aboriginal wisdom made me thirsty for understanding more about wisdom traditions in general, and especially about the wisdom ways within my own Judeo-Christian heritage.

In the early 1980s, that led me to the late Dr. Peter Craigie, at the time Dean of Humanities at the University of Calgary and a specialist in the Hebrew Wisdom Literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and certain of the Psalms).

Peter took me on as a doctoral student in wisdom traditions. By the example of his life and his precision of knowledge and clarity of communication, he personified the essence of the truly wise person who walked the talk and talked the walk.

Of course, from time to time he directed me to obscure books in the library stacks. Some of those books, though they had been on the shelves for years, had never been signed out before. I think they might even have had dust on them from the day they were first placed on the shelves! That observation became part of my oral defense at the completion of my program.

I was sitting with my thesis committee when one of the examiners threw me an irresistibly tempting question. It was based on the Book of Job – specifically, the verse that asks, “Where shall wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12)

Tongue in cheek, I replied, “Well, certainly not on dusty university library shelves!”

Degree in hand (amazingly!), and the example of Peter and First Nations Elders illuminating the way, I moved up to the Edmonton area for a while, where among other things I taught part time at Newman Theological College, a Roman Catholic institution of higher learning. That’s where I encountered Dr. Ron Rolheiser, the next great influence in my wisdom journey toward this column.

In addition to being Dean of Theology there at the time, Ron was – and continues to be – a popular author and newspaper columnist ( His writings invite readers to engage mind and heart in reflecting on a wide range of values-related topics important for making positive contributions during our all-too-brief sojourns in this world.

Ron was my original “coffee companion” (my term for those who interact with these columns). In fact, it was he who suggested over lunch back in 1989 that I start writing a weekly column. He said it would be a great excuse for learning from and celebrating the people around me, in the spirit of truth, goodness and beauty.

At first, when the columns were published in Edmonton’s Western Catholic Reporter, they were called “Coffee Cup Meanderings.” When I later moved back to the Bow Valley and began publishing them in the Cochrane Times, then-editor David Forbes offered their current name, “Coffee with Warren.” Thanks to the late Jack Tennant, founder of the Cochrane Eagle, the column’s home since 2001, this tradition of sharing around the cup continues to allow me to learn from some of the wisest people in the world: YOU!

Never could I have imagined how writing this weekly column could open for me what must be one of the finest learning environments in the world – and certainly better than dusty library stacks.

Yes, as my Ph.D. examiner asked at my thesis defense, “Where shall wisdom be found?” I can honestly answer now, that much of it is found in you. You, my coffee companions, have joined Peter, Ron, First Nations Elders and others in becoming the best books on wisdom I’ve ever read. Finding these columns helpful? Thank you, you are the reason.


© 2022 Warren Harbeck

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