Bible, Missions and Ministry
Randy Harris' colleagues in the College of Biblical Studies jokingly call him "the only Church of Christ monk."
He loves both parts of it. Harris is single, which would fulfill one of the requirements for being a monk. He is gentle, soft-spoken and loves the contemplative life, which also would qualify him.
But make no mistake about it. Harris may love the contemplative life that monks live, but he is firmly entrenched in his Church of Christ heritage.
"I am such a child of this tradition and heritage - I've got my feet buried very deeply in the Restoration Movement," he said.
Harris' love of contemplative prayer is something he can bring to students in the department that perhaps others can't. He has found that students are eager to experience the same depth of communion with God that he has discovered through contemplative prayer.
"They want to know how to pray and how to listen to God," he said.
While contemplative prayer may not be a part of the heritage of the Church of Christ, Harris believes it can be woven into the fabric, enhancing worshippers' experience.
"Part of my ministry is to bring that contemplative aspect to my own heritage," he said.
From Arkansas to Abilene
Harris grew up in Bentonville, Ark., best-known nowadays as home of Wal-Mart genius Sam Walton. After graduating from high school, Harris was off to Harding University in Searcy, Ark., where he earned a bachelor's degree, master of arts degree and master's in theology. He later added a master of philosophy degree from Syracuse University in New York, which has historic ties to the Methodist tradition.
Harris taught for 10 years at Lipscomb University in Nashville and preached at Donelson Church of Christ while teaching. For the past 10 years, he has been on the faculty at ACU. He also formerly was the preacher at S. 11th and Willis Church of Christ.
Harris' course load includes teaching the freshman Bible major sequence, undergraduate theology, introduction to philosophy and advanced preaching.
Time among the monks
He somehow finds time to engage in contemplative prayer and to go on retreats where that is the sole activity. His experiences include a 40-day silent prayer retreat with hermits at Lebh Shomea House of Prayer in South Texas, participation in Jesuit and Franciscan retreats and trappist monasteries, and a celtic retreat on the Island of Lindesfarne.
"I go where people know things about prayer that I don't," he said.
He also completed a two-year certificate program in contemplative spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute in Bethesda, Md, which will serve him well in his role as spiritual director for the College of Biblical Studies.
Harris' first encounter with contemplative prayer came after a difficult period in his life when he was studying at Syracuse University. He had read Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth." When he experienced difficulties, he fell back on what he had learned and experienced.
"I kind of went back to those disciplines," he said.
Once safely through the difficult time, Harris discovered that he didn't want to leave the contemplative life behind. Instead, he chose to make it a part of his life. A profound experience sealed that decision.
40 days of silence
Harris undertook a 40-day silent prayer retreat at the remote Lebh Shomea House of Prayer outside Sarita, Texas, on the famed King Ranch. The experience consisted mainly of silently contemplating God's mysteries, with some spiritual direction and a dose of manual labor thrown in.
"That was such a life-changing experience, it has really dominated my quest the past 10 years," he said.
The name "Lebh Shomea" comes from Solomon's response to God in 1 Kings 3:9: "Give your servant lebh shomea (a listening heart) so as to be able to discern."
That prayer could just as easily have come from Randy Harris and King Solomon. He listens more than he talks, a rare trait in today's society.
He has more than one plaque in his office with the wise words of Psalm 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God."
Figurines of monks, some serious, some tending toward humorous, and various styles of crosses dot Harris' office, along with books more commonly associated with his Church of Christ heritage.
"The only Church of Christ monk" is quite at peace in both traditions.