Category Archives: Practice

Keep Vigilant Watch…

Keep vigilant watch over your heart;

    that’s where life starts.

~Proverbs 4:23

Day by day, I have been praying this proverb. If you walked into my house, you would eventually notice all the hearts and surmise correctly I was initially drawn to the word heart in this verse. In their own way, these decorative reminders help me pay attention to the stirrings of my heart. However, by the middle of the month I found myself pondering the phrase “keep vigilant watch.”

How do we keep vigilant watch over our hearts on a consistent basis? When I realized how many times a day I glance at my Apple watch, I decided to replace the message app with the heart monitor app. Now the little heart icon on the face of my watch keeps me more attentive to my feelings than to the number of text messages I have.

When I made this switch it never dawned on me I might really need the heart monitor. But just last week before the start of a meeting, I thought I was getting a phone call. However, the vibration on my wrist was so intense I immediately looked down to see my heart rate was 130 beats per minute. My anticipation of what might transpire was affecting my heart, mind and body more than I knew. I was so relieved when the words of this old familiar hymn came to mind:

Be Thou my vision / O Lord of my heart / Naught be all else to me / Save that Thou art / Thou my best thought / By day or by night / Waking or sleeping / Thy presence my light*

The health of our physical bodies, the quality of our emotional lives and the spiritual state of our souls begin and end with how well we pay attention to the beats and stirrings of our hearts. 

All spiritual practices start with being keenly aware of how God is at work in our lives. This awareness equips and enables us to live authentically and lovingly with God, ourselves and others. It takes courage to keep vigilant watch over our hearts. Madeleine L’Engle writes the following:

We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.**

To that end, may the Lord of our hearts help us to always keep vigilant watch over our hearts. 

If you are a spiritual director, how are you keeping watch over your heart so that you can help others do so also?

If you have spiritual direction practice, what are you keenly aware of that you can bring to your director to process?

*Mary Elizabeth Byrne, translator. Be Thou My Vision. (Public Domain, 1905)

** Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (New York: Convergent Books, 2016), 58.

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Simply Begin Again

As always, a new year begins again. And I am still reflecting on one particular Christmas letter. Initially, I was caught off guard by the authenticity of the young woman I met several years ago and spent time with before she moved to another state. Moreover, I am inclined to keep her letter at the ready to receive the gift of inspiration for my own practice of what the apostle Paul’s encourages in three short verses of 1st Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; 

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. vs.16-18

The following is a portion of the letter (I left out their names and the place). I invite you to consider how you would adjust to unfamiliar living circumstances.

We are entering our 4th year of living here! I still rely way too much on GPS to get around, and I am constantly surprised when I make it to my intended destination! (Honestly, this happened in California too! HaHa!) The weather still keeps us guessing daily, but the predictability of the season changes is just so magical to us. The crisp winters, the awakening of spring, lush green summers, and my favorite – the colors of fall! Seriously, it looks like the most amazing confetti when the leaves hit the ground! I sound just like a travel brochure don’t I!!?!…We do miss everyone in California, but I guess you can say we really have hit our stride this past year. Isn’t it amazing how life can surprise you like that? In 2020 we actually didn’t think we would last another year here. We realized that our original vision of what our life would be like here did not match reality. This was a hard realization, but we both decided we were going to change our thinking and adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for our space and surroundings. Well, here we are Happier!

I am amazed by this couple’s year long adoption of an “attitude of gratitude.” Most often I create a long list for whom and what I have deep gratitude. But this couple was grateful for one thing all year: the space and surroundings of their new home. It was intentional. It was life-giving. And like any spiritual practice, I am sure they had to do as Benedict of Nursia reminds us:

Always we begin again. 

This is a new way to begin again. Simplifying the practice of gratitude by giving thanks for one “thing” at a time be it a person, place, thing or even a pandemic can be life-giving. And I am convinced it includes being generous and gracious with ourselves to “always begin again” with the hope that we will be happier and even rejoicing always!

If you are a spiritual director or in spiritual direction, consider how simplifying gratitude might be incorporated into your spiritual directions sessions?

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