An Excerpt from Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life by Mary Margaret Funk

Mary Margaret Funk explains 25 Christian spiritual practices in this spiritual "workbook." Here is some of what she says about vigils and guard of the heart.

"The word translated vigils is the noun derived from the verb "to watch" (in Hebrew shamor): both in the sense of "observe" and "guard." This word is used to describe the work of shepherds. The Lord is acting as the shepherd of his people. . . .

"From Scripture we can see that when we keep vigil, we participate in 'watching' with God to protect our turbulent world from the forces of evil that are at work. . . .

"If I were to keep a vigil what would I do? This format is for those who have what is sometimes called a rule of life and make vigils part of their everyday life. They wake at dawn with prayer, so they must rise before the sun and be present to the dawn. Since the purpose of this prayer is to ask for blessings for the day and to ward off evil spirits of the night, most practitioners take the hour before dawn in stillness. Some do centering prayer for thirty minutes, then do a lectio on a current book or experience. Somehow, it seems that our natural inclination is to do intercessory prayer as the sun rises. . . .

"Another type of vigil is during an occasion of concern for another. From time to time we are called to pray intensely on behalf of another. This is the original meaning of a 'wake.' We stay awake and pray for another who may be dying or who is already dead. We can do this beside the bed, or the body. We can either dedicate an hour before we sleep or an hour in the middle of the night, or an hour before dawn: the method is to sit and center before an icon. Light a candle and lift up names in prayer as the Holy Spirit inspires you."

"Guard of the heart is a practice that is most helpful once we've made a resolution about something. When we want strongly to follow through with our resolution we should guard our heart from doubt and from counter experiences that move us away from our resolve. The fruit of guard of the heart is a heart full of strength and commitment to our vocation, our work, and our relationships. Since the heart provides us our innermost experience of 'being with' God, we should guard all our choices to 'be with' God.

"An example of guarding our heart is to notice when we feel anger rising. Is there a pattern? Is it when we're with certain company? Does it follow after watching hours of football and drinking beer? Is it after we've watched certain TV programs? Once we find a pattern, when we're trying to decide how to invest our time and energies, we then can guard our hearts from those factors harmful to our calm mind and our prayer. When thoughts rise that incline us to anger, then we practice guard of the heart and foreclose those activities. Guard of the heart is preventative and helps us anticipate rather than be a victim. Actions and their results on our hearts should be no mystery. Our hearts are sensitive to everything we do. The people we are with change us for the better or for the worse. Our environment is an energy field that either supports our way of life or challenges it. Guard of the heart is taking care of our heart and protecting it for our heart's desire."