The Cross & the Pen: A Conversation with Jan Harris
- Friday, April 04, 2003
Welcome to "The Cross & the Pen," Crosswalk.com's newest author interview and book review column. It is my absolute pleasure to tell you about "Quiet in His Presence," (Baker Books) by Jan Harris. I have found a kindred spirit in Jan, a woman who draws from her experiences growing up on a sheep farm in being a member of the Good Shepherd's flock. Both Jan and I have come to a place in our spiritual journeys where we have grasped hold of a concept known as "contemplative prayer."
Catching up with Jan is no easy task-her life is full as a freelance editor, retreat speaker, gardener and friend. But when I did, I was delighted to "hear her voice," soft yet knowledgeable, full of tenderness for those who have yet to understand the joys of simply basking in the presence of God.
Eva: Jan, you share that you grew up the daughter of an Aussie sheep farmer. What are some of the things about the Good Shepherd you learned from watching your father?
Jan: Like Jesus, my dad was very gentle with his sheep. He had to be. Merinos panic easily, and if one panics, they'll all follow (anything one does, they will all do). And the chances are they'll die by smothering each other, or by running into a fence, or over a cliff. He had to watch over the sheep constantly to keep them out of danger. During lambing season, once the lambs were born, he had to patrol to protect the sheep from eagles and foxes. He had to watch their diet. He checked the paddocks for poisonous plants, and we had to cut them out, because the sheep would eat them and get sick. He had to protect the lambs from the rams (who would kill the newborns).
Eva: Your book, Quiet in His Presence, is focused on the act of contemplative prayer. What is contemplative prayer?
Jan: Contemplative prayer is silent prayer. And by silent I mean "without words or thinking." Some people call it meditation, and some contemplation. But I see meditation as discursive, and contemplation as non-discursive.
Most of the prayer we do is discursive -- we talk, or we think. When I say contemplative prayer I mean prayer in which we simply "be" -- setting aside all our words and our thoughts for a short time.
Eva: You write: "It is said that the average person has 60,000 thoughts a day." (I honestly think I could double that with the way my mind races!) How does one "stop the thoughts" long enough to focus on God?
Jan: We can't really "stop the thoughts," and we shouldn't even try. It's impossible, and it will only cause frustration to try. We don't pay attention to the thoughts. By this I mean that the less we focus on the thoughts, the less they will distract us.
You know that if you are living in a house with teenage kids, and they all have their music playing, or your neighbors are having a loud party late at night, the more you focus on how annoying the noise is, the more distracting it becomes. If you decide to not focus on it, before long you "forget" that it's there, because you are not letting it bother you.
That's what you do with those thoughts. You choose a "love word" -- a word that is a symbol for you of your intention to sit quietly with God. That word might simply be God, or Jesus, or love. You choose what feels right to you. Then, whenever you find that a thought has grabbed your attention, you simply say the word quietly to yourself, coming back to your intention to not be distracted.
Eva: At the retreats where I speak on prayer I talk about the difference in the worship of Mary of Bethany to that of her sister Martha. You express some of those same differences in your book. How do you compare their story to types of prayer?
Recently on Spiritual Life
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content