Centering Prayer in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

by Christine Sine
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posts and photos by Jenneth Graser,

We live near one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, South Africa. Hugged by majestic mountains which seem to hold the garden from beneath with loving support, heralding the garden as if to announce to everyone the display of beautiful indigenous forest, fynbos, rivers, springs, and trees, views sweeping across the city toward far, sometimes snow-tipped mountains and the distant sea.

We have regularly kept a membership there, walking together over the years and sharing with our girls what I experienced as a child, and grew up visiting and exploring when my parents took us there for walks and picnics. We enjoy walking up the steep pathways which wind up to the uppermost reaches of the garden where there are magnificent proteas, ericas, birds, and all sorts of scents, sights, and sounds.

There is a bridge where we can overlook the winter river pouring into a shallow catchment area and then rushing off under the bridge over rocks and boulders tumbling down the mountainside. We see tadpoles and bubbles popping, froth collecting amongst rocks in the brackish water.

We like to find a bench in the heights of the garden to stop and rest for a while. This is where we do centering and listening prayer together. We use the Contemplative Outreach app (Centering Prayer Mobile App – Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.), choose a starting sound of the singing bowl, a finishing sound of wind chimes, a starting scripture, and a closing prayer. We set the timer for about 3 minutes of silence and choose a word to center around in God’s presence before asking, “Jesus, what would you like to share with me today?”

Then we sit in the stillness and birdsong of the garden with the sound of rushing waters in the background and listen with our eyes closed. Afterward, we record our sharing of what we experienced during our quiet sit. Our girls are currently 9, 10, and 13 years old and we began centering with them about 2 years ago. It was at first an education in becoming still without fidgeting and then listening for what to them felt like a long period of time. But it became easier and easier for them with some practice and adjustments here and there, to sit and be still for a short period of time, and then they always love the feedback time at the end where we all feel so encouraged by the things God shares with us.

When they saw for themselves that Jesus is sharing pictures with them, we encouraged them to also ask for the interpretation. What is God sharing through the picture they see? What do they think it means? Now they most often see a picture and then receive a sentence or two to go with it which explains more about what they saw. It takes in all about 10 minutes, but we come away refreshed and uplifted every time.

It is such a precious time to share with our children, as we have seen them grow in how they can approach God with freedom and confidence and hear from Him, with loving words to support, offer wisdom and lift them up with just what they need to hear at the given time. This brings us together as a family in a shared time of listening and encountering God. Our children teach us so much! How wonderful that Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 (NIV), “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Especially as we are living through one of the most unprecedented times we have ever known as a globe, no matter how we may feel when we enter the gates of the garden, we always feel peace as a gift from our walks together. It is good to get outdoors, away from distractions and into God’s presence in creation which lifts us up, heals us, speaks to us through everything we see, and renews us with praise. 

Then we wind back down the mountain wherever our hearts take us. Sometimes we have a treasure hunt – the first person to find a seed, leaf, stone, and feather! We go to Colonel Bird’s bath which is shaped like a bird fed by a pure water spring where we collect drinking water which tastes so good, perfectly PH balanced from the heart of the mountain. This spring feeds into a channel that runs towards a small overhang of a gentle waterfall, and then trickles between smooth stepping stones, a home to small fish and tadpoles. We take time to listen to the bell-clicks of singing frogs, the sunbird’s whistling tunes, and I love to take photos of the flowers we see. We also walk through the meandering touch and smell fragrance garden, squeezing leaves between our fingers and taking in the mesmerising scents as we go along. These sensory garden walks fill us up with an incredible sense of wellbeing as we go home, taking our encounters with us in heart and spirit.

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Here are some things the girls have to share about centering, when I asked them each to come one at a time and tell me, what do you think about centering prayer?

“I really like centering prayer. I always feel good when I’ve done centering prayer.”

“I like centering prayer, because it’s peaceful and it makes me feel good. I like it because then you get in touch with the Lord and I also like it because I like hearing all the noises of the birds and everything and I also like sharing.”

“Wonderful, it’s calming. It makes me feel nice when I’m flying in all of my centerings. It’s a wonderful thing to do. God speaks to us through it. It’s like going through a new life.”

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Christine Sine August 12, 2021 - 3:03 pm

This is a wonderful idea for doing with kids

jennethgraser August 14, 2021 - 2:27 am

Thank you Christine ?

rodney.marsh38 August 12, 2021 - 4:29 pm

Thanks Jenneth. I had many beautiful experiences meditating with classes of 6-12 year olds in school. To children stillness and silence is as natural as play and I would say, as beneficial and it is wonderful to be still and silent in nature. See WCCM for many great resources for meditation with children and a well researched book “Meditation with Children” by Noel Keating. In his book Noel has some wonderful quotes from the children. I was reminded of these when I read your children’s words. It is difficult, I have found, to get Middle Schoolers (with their raging hormones!), to be still and silent, but by 17/18 the 5 min silence I led for the whole year group had a wonderful effect. I believe stillness and silence is the most effective antidote to the relentless stress we place on adolescents in school.

jennethgraser August 14, 2021 - 2:26 am

Thank you Rodney for this lovely message of your experiences meditating with the children at school and thank you for sharing the helpful resources!

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