The Cross & the Pen: A Conversation with Jan Harris
- Friday, April 04, 2003
Jan: I see Mary of Bethany as the one whose prayer is all grace. She knows that the Lord is looking at her with eyes of love -- and she's content to bask in that look. She returns it by gazing at the Lord, totally sure that she's forgiven, redeemed, loved and can simply "be."
We all have glimpses of this type of prayer.
Martha's prayer, on the other hand, is a prayer of asking the Lord to help her, and then clamoring for the Lord to notice her work.
We all pray this way at times. We all have times of insecurity. And sometimes we have to pray this way until we are "done praying" -- until we have said all we need to say, voiced all our doubts and our needs -- and then the Lord steps in and gives us the gift of faith to accept his grace.
Eva: You give four simple steps for making silent or contemplative prayer work. What are they?
One -- We quiet our bodies, both within and without. We find a quiet place, sit comfortably with our backs straight, and close our eyes.
Two -- We turn within. We turn our attention to the Lord, giving ourselves to him as a gift. For the next few minutes we are all his. In faith we trust that he is here, present with us, accepting us, loving us.
Three -- We use our chosen "love word" whenever we find we have been distracted from our intention. When we find that we have been paying attention to or focusing on one of the myriad thoughts racing through our heads, we simply murmur our love word gently to ourselves, remembering that it is a symbol of our intention to quietly be with the
Four -- At the end of the time, we gently repeat a favorite prayer to ourselves as we transition back into our busy, noisy world.
Eva: "Contemplative prayer," you say "gives way to a contemplative life." How is the latter different from the life of the average busy-bee Christian?
Jan: Contemplative prayer calms us. Because we are letting go of our control of our prayer during that time, this "letting go" begins to permeate every aspect of our lives. We are able to "be" more -- we find that it's easier to be quiet, when in the past a "smart answer" would have popped out of our mouth. We are more likely to expect the Lord to "lengthen the time" for us when we have a really busy day. We are much less likely to take out our frustrations on someone else -- and more likely to be the one who works through a problem.
Also, I find that it makes a difference in the setting of healthy boundaries, and in recognizing how much I can truthfully and faithfully be involved in. I am able to say "No" to some things so that I can give myself wholeheartedly to that which I feel I am called upon to do.
Eva: Going back to the 60,000 thoughts a day and factoring in the issues of busy-ness: You intimate that our need to "always be in a hurry" is uniquely connected to our need to "always be in control." Can you elaborate on this?
Jan: We live in culture that is all about "measurable results." Even our Protestant work ethic says that you can see the measure of a person's commitment to Christ by what they have -- how much money they make, how successful they are. Achieving measurable results usually is connected to managing our time, or money, or labor. So -- we are in control.
Contemplative prayer brings us face to face with the fact that we can't even control our own thoughts! We decide that we are going to sit in the Lord's presence for a mere ten or twenty minutes -- and at the end of the time we find that 90 percent of the time we blew it! We had been distracted from our intention while we thought about all sorts of things that just happened to be on our minds.
Eva: What happens when we yield that control to quiet time with God?
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