The inspiration for Coffee with Warren

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 2, 2023

Our readers have been enquiring lately into how these columns got their start. To respond, allow me to revisit my column for April 16, 2008 (with revisions).

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.

So, how has this column come about? I’ll try 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 many of you already know, I’ve been sensitized to the importance of story through over 57 years of association with Elders of the Stoney Nakoda Nations at Morley, Big Horn and Eden Valley.

Around camp fires and kitchen tables, those entrusted with oral 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 Indigenous wisdom made me thirsty for understanding more about wisdom traditions in general, and especially about the wisdom ways within the Judeo-Christian Scriptures I had grown up with.

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 In Exile series of columns invites readers to engage mind and heart in reflecting on a wide range of values-related topics important for making positive contributions during our sojourn in this world.

Ron was one of my original “coffee companions” (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 slice-of-life column. He said it would be a great excuse for learning from the people around me.

At first, when the columns were published in Edmonton, they were called “Coffee Cup Meanderings.” When I moved back to the Bow Valley, writer/editor David Forbes offered their current name, “Coffee with Warren.” Thanks to Jack Tennant, founding publisher of the Cochrane Eagle, the columns’ 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.

My Ph.D. examiners once asked, “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.

By the grace of God, you have become mentors to me in the beautiful journey of life. You have my ears and my heart.


© 2023 Warren Harbeck

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