Being Present

Zak Robb continues our blog series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing some rhythms that have been helpful for him to not just survive this unfamiliar season we find ourselves in, but to cultivate and nurture the life within him.

One of the things I have perhaps been most aware of in this time of lockdown, is myself. Funny that isn’t it? With much of the normal busyness and distractions no longer available to me (with Zoom Fatigue potentially the only competitor right now), I have this quite raw awareness of myself. Without job description/holiday/social status (fill in the blank) to busy me and even to look forward to, I find I’m seeing myself more clearly than I have for a while, and I know I’m not alone in finding that much of the stuff that I’ve pushed under or avoided dealing with has started to come to the surface.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty ways to numb it, plenty of distractions as readily available online if you want them. In fact, they might even be more tempting to us – the evening Netflix binge, the less healthy screen time stats each day… I’ve definitely felt their pull. And so I’ve had to make a more conscious effort to put in place regular rhythms which help me learn how to be attentive to myself and to God in prayer, and through that have often in these last few months discovered that God is working and speaking to me in those raw places.

I’m a fan of Huw Richards, he’s a big name in the veg gardening world! (Unashamed gardening reference). I have his coffee table book and he has some brilliant tutorial videos. In one of his tutorials, he encourages his viewers to sit, set a timer for 5 mins, grab a pad and pen and to look around the garden, taking note of what you notice as you watch and wait, but to resist doing anything until the timer is finished. He says that it helps him to really see what’s around him where he might have missed a detail before, and to know how best to plan out his garden going forward.

I have essentially adapted this as a daily spiritual practice! I aim to get outside into the garden each day and will take a bit of time, sometimes just a few minutes and sometimes longer. I sit and reflect on where I am spiritually, emotionally, physically, as I also look around at the new growth in our garden. I will try not to do anything, except maybe pull out a weed here and there. As I sit, I begin to notice things, initially that there’s a new seedling growing where there was just soil before, and then, I notice that I’ve been carrying a bit of stress or frustration about something that’s happened earlier in the day. I note it, and give it to God, and ask what He might want to do with it. It’s a bit of a mid-day vegetable gardening Examen.

I have rarely experienced anything profound in each of these individual times, but looking back on the last 7 weeks of lockdown I know with more clarity the work that God is doing in me and I see it begin to shape the way I react and respond to situations throughout the day. These small moments are teaching me to be more attentive to God, to others and to myself, and I also get to enjoy a bit of gardening in the process!

We might not all have a garden to do this (or enjoy veg gardening), but we are all trying to work out how we can embrace some of the reality of where we are right now. Building in spiritual rhythms doesn’t need to be onerous, it can be as easy as choosing an activity which naturally lends itself to being present (like your daily exercise outdoors). Then, rather than filling that space with a podcast or music – which of course are good and helpful things but can just as easily distract us – instead choose to allow those natural pauses in our days to become moments where we learn to become more attentive to God and ourselves.

Zak resides in Edinburgh with his wife Lyndsey and their two cats Muesli and Cheetah. He is passionate about gardening and keeps us all entertained with his weekly “Veg Patch Monday” Instagram posts and dad jokes. Incidentally, he is looking forward to being a first time dad in July! He is also passionate about leading others into worship and is worship pastor at Central church, as well as part of the leadership team.

Crystal Cryer originally hails from Oregon, but now claims Scotland as home. She is the National Coordinator for 24-7 Prayer Scotland. She is also a Networker for Prayer Spaces in Schools in Scotland and is part of the Discovery family in Dunbar, where she is based.