I went outside a few minutes ago to the corner of our sandy yard where I tend a small garden. Most mornings and evenings, I allow myself the joy of a few minutes wasted in the garden, mostly observing. My watermelons are growing rapidly, somehow inexplicably in the mid summer gale-force South Easterly winds of a Cape Town summer’s day. Most days, I’ll pull a weed here or there, or turn on the rhythmic hum of the hose pipe to water for a few minutes. Sometimes I’ll re-tie a string around a tomato vine, or gently coax a growing bean plant up a string trellis, encouraging its climb towards the sun. Occasionally, I’ll chuck a snail over the fence, a serial killer (of slugs) nod to my mom, who could never bear to crush their guts with the satisfied glee my grandfather received from the endless battle against nature’s starving herbivore. The happiness of a harvest – however small, I grew this out of the ground with my own hands! – never ceases to amaze me.
And yet, what happens most days in these small windows of time is the same exact thing:
I watch the garden.
Eyes slowly examining every nook and cranny, looking for new growth, weak branches, dying leaves, or a thousand other little things that need to be attended to. Although I come from a family of green thumbs, and have always enjoyed time outside, I am continually surprised by how naturally this crucial aspect in the life of a gardener has emerged in my adult years. Tending to a small corner of my yard, in the most subtle of ways, is teaching me far more than how to encourage nature to flourish around me.
I am learning how to pray as I spend these moments in slow, methodical work. My spirit expands, I exhale my to-do list and endless worries, and I find myself letting go of the innumerable things I cannot control in this season of uncertainty. What I can focus on is what is present right before me, and more crucially, who dwells inside me. The ever-present, consistently gentle, openly accessible presence of the Spirit – right within the centre of my soul – is with me as I breathe, in and out, in and out.
David Benner’s definition of prayer as “attending to God’s presence”1 is reframing everything for me. As I tend to the garden, what I am actually doing is directing my attention – my focus, my awareness, my responsiveness – on the presence of the Spirit within me. Although this concept of prayer is not new within the contemplative tradition of Christian spirituality, I sense a massive shift within me, and I welcome the slow change with gladness.
“Attending to God’s presence is prayer. Increasing one’s attunement to the ever-present God is living a life of prayer. Worded prayers form part of such a life. But prayer is much more than worded prayers. An increased sense of God’s presence is the blessing of prayer that does not originate with me but is a direct and personal gift of the God whose name is Revelation. Attending to God’s presence allows prayer to emerge from within me, not simply to be a disciplined offering of words at those times when I remember to pray.”
(David Banner, Sacred Companions, p. 115)
/// Tending to a small corner of my yard, in the most subtle of ways, is teaching me far more than how to encourage nature to flourish around me. I am learning how to pray as I spend these moments in slow, methodical work. Click To Tweet David Benner’s defines prayer as 'attending to God’s presence.' As I tend to the garden, what I am actually doing is directing my attention – my focus, my awareness, my responsiveness – on the presence of the Spirit within me. Click To Tweet
Chris Kamalski facilitates space for Missio’s Writing Collectives to thrive, shaping both words and ideas to help our writers find and use their unique voice within the global Church. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Chris has lived in South Africa since 2009, happily married to Maxie, an Afrikaans South African. Together, they are committed to the restoration and development of all Africans in a just manner. Presently, they are rooting deeply in Jeffreys Bay with their two girls, Mia and Clara, and their Scottish terrier, Wally.
Chris’s work and calling lies at the intersection of the holistic spiritual formation and leadership development of Christian leaders, particularly under-resourced leaders from the global south. As a Gallup certified strengths coach, spiritual director, and habitual developer of resources, the ideation and creation of initiatives that mature a leader’s formation is a thrilling part of his work. Formational theological education remains a significant area of interest for Chris, who just completed a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary.
1 David Banner, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press (2002), 115.