"Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him." (3 Nephi 18:15)
For years we have heard the admonition to "watch and pray always". At first glance it would seem that we are being told to "be on the lookout and pray always" so that you enter not into temptation. On the surface level the admonition sounds simple enough, but then arises the question, "How do I watch and pray always?" I mean I have to go to work. Life is busy and I have things to do. I have children to take care of, etc, etc.
In order to better understand the admonition and how to "watch and pray always", it is helpful to understand what the words mean from an Israelite perspective. The word 'watch' is often translated from the Hebrew words shamar . In context the word shamar means to guard or to observe something and is the same word wherein we get the admonition of "Keep (shamar-guard/observe my commandments). In the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew we find that this is the word used by the Messiah in his admonition as found in Matthew 26:41, "Watch (shamar-guard/observe) and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
So the question then comes, "How do I Guard/Observe and Pray Always"..... In cultural context not only is the phrase connected with the concept of the respective "watches" when guards were placed around strategic areas of the city or temple to alert the city should an enemy approach, but it also became culturally connected with practices of walking with God and "how" we are to pray always:
Israelite Tools For Guarding
Practicing The Presence:
One of the first principles of "the watch" was the idea that we are practicing our duties as a "watcher" in the presence of God. The duties of a watcher entailed not only being physically and mentally prepared, but also ever vigilant in their duties to guard the people of God and to be ever ready to carry out the commands of the King. One of the disciplines taught came to be known in later Jewish circles as "practicing the presence". The Prophets of Israel walked in the discipline of living/practicing the presence of God. This discipline was taught to their students as in doing so they began to come out from their spiritual hiding places, experience their nakedness before God, and walk in the path of his presence in this world. Their acknowledgment of God's presence in their heart (thoughts) and in the world around them was a key discipline by which they lived and governed their lives and in doing so unleashed a fundamental power of transformation and the utter destruction of doubt/unbelief.
The idea is that God is in all things and through all things-both good and bad. It was not sufficient that we simply believe in God. We must learn to see him and his presence in all things on this earth- both the good and the bad. In doing so we begin to come out from our hiding places. In doing so we begin to know God. This is why both in ancient Israel and even in the history of the restoration, men would mark their homes, their tools, their door frames, etc with the outward phrase, "Holiness To The Lord (YHVH)" or other instruments containing scriptures (i.e. mezuzah) because whether in life or death, sin or obedience, the acknowledgment of the presence of God in all things brought the person out from under the power and shame produced by our adversary and back into the presence of God and the path of true healing and redemption. By putting up signposts (whether physical or spiritual) we open ourselves to the divine presence- we begin both outwardly and inwardly acknowledge his living presence or eye. It was not the question of "Why bad things happen to good people" or the declaration that "Prosperity follows the Righteous", but that the presence of God fills the whole earth in the here and now. In fact we walk in it daily and with every breath we breathe.
In other words, we wake up to the presence of God each morning even as we lie down in his arms each night. We go to work or school each day as if the presence of God is with us. We administer to our loved ones and to the stranger on the street as if before the presence of God. We change diapers, we clean toilets, we nurse our babies, we take out the garbage, etc etc all as if we are continually before the presence of God in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. In doing so the spiritual heart of man is revealed even as the carnal man begins to fall away before his all searching eye.
This discipline of practicing or acknowledging that we live continually in the presence of God is also demonstrated by the teaching of the "eye" of God. The Prophet Jacob declares:
"O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood." (2 Nephi 9:44)
"But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God." (Jacob 2:10)
The ancient art of the Prophets was composed of disciplines designed to bring the disciple to a knowledge of God (to know in Hebrew is to experience). The disciplines were comprised of practises that schooled the disciple's daily habits and practises which ultimately led to the correction of the heart. The correction of the Heart is what was known as walking after the order or pattern of the small face of God or as is also communicated as The Only Begotten. When the heart is made whole the spirit of man is elevated and vibrates in concert with the Spirit of God (YHVH). When a group of people heal their collective heart the Kingdom of God is restored to the people. It is our direct experience (knowledge/knowing) that leads us down the path of darkness or the path of light. Unless we enter our experiences with God and man with a corrected and healed heart, we will continue to walk in the footsteps of the natural man and woman, who are an enemy to God. As we begin to experience life with a healed and corrected heart, true beauty will follow. As we create the beauty of God here on earth, the Kingdom of God is on Earth as it is in Heaven.
The phrase "watch and pray always" is also connected with an ancient meditative practice taught in the School of the Prophets called Hitbodedut ( meditative isolation or separation) wherein the disciple begins to cleanse the mind by separating from the distracting thoughts and distractions going on around us or in our heads (sometimes called mental clutter or the monkey mind). The ancient meditation and prayer teachings of Israel are a much neglected topic that adds great depth of understanding to the words of the the Prophets when they made such statements as, "Calling upon the Name" or "Watching and Pray Always", and "Ask, Seek, and Knock".
When the mind becomes separated from this sensory clutter we begin to hear the voice of God that pierces the hearts of man. When the prophets came before God in prayer they detached from the sensations and sensory clutter of the world and their bodies and mind became quiet and still. Once they reached this quietness of soul, they begin to reach a condition of spiritual balance wherein the rhythm of the opposing polar thoughts and forces are neutralized and the path of spiritual connection is open. The idea of asking, seeking, and knocking does not mean that we repetitively hound God until we get what we want but that we first find the place of quietness, then ask with our desire or intention. It is then that the prophet descended into the klipot/the veil/the internal barrier into the darkness wherein they reached a point of almost total consumption by the darkness wherein they called upon the Name of YHVH (knocking) whereon they were then brought into the light.
These meditative disciplines taught in the ancient Schools of the Prophets were deeply connected with disciplines of meditating upon the name YHVH, The Aleph Prayer, the 72 Names of God, and the creative prayer of the 42 letters in the first chapter of Genesis (sometimes called the prayer of creation) which later came to be expressed in a prayer called The Ana Bekoach.
The idea of "watching" being connected with a meditative discipline appears very foreign to our western gentile culture, but to an ancient Israelite culture prayer and meditation were intricately connected. Praying or meditating upon the names of God was a common practice taught in the Ancient School of the Prophets. The Power of the Holy Names of God is a discipline found within many of the remaining traditions of the House of Israel to this day. Some choose to meditate upon the name YHVH or El Shaddai as a recitation, repetition, or for lack of a better word a mantra of prayer to focus their prayers of desire through and to God. One of the most ancient disciplines was the specific meditation upon letters of the Hebrew Alephbet (alphabet) wherein it was taught lay certain spiritual devices that caused the spirit of man to resonate with the Spirit of God. One such meditation was upon the Letter Aleph in the Hebrew Alephbet:
The Aleph represented the oneness of God, his throne, and reaches into what is termed Worlds Without End (Ayin Soph). It's expression as a symbol, Aleph represents the organization of order or creation out of chaos. It represents the sacred breath being breathed into Adam and the first expression he uttered. It is the letter upon which when intentionally contemplated and meditated would draw Heaven and Earth together; connecting the worlds above with this world down below. The discipline of the Aleph Prayer was passed down in some surviving traditions of Judaism and even then only passed on by word of mouth. It was taught that by employing the prayer or meditation upon the Aleph one's voice of pure desire would ascend to Heaven before the sacred throne. It was considered a part of a very sacred discipline of prayer.
The letter Aleph while one is composed of three elements of letters in its outward representation. Aleph Lamed Peh. Since man was fallen and unclean he could not enter directly into the presence of God. In order to connect with God the Aleph Prayer or Meditation was by tradition the manner by which fire from Heaven was called down to consume the sacrifice of which prayer was an integral part. The Meditation or recitation of this ancient prayer was vocalized by praying/meditating/ mantra-ing the outward letters that composed the ALEPH in the reverse fashion as follows:
PEH LEH EL
In light of this teaching, it would would be ironic if there was not some connection to the restoration of the Gospel. As it so happens, Joseph Smith stated, "The grand key word was the first word Adam spoke and is a word of supplication...It is that key word to which the heavens is opened." (Joseph Smith, The Journals of William Clayton, June 15, 1844)
This vocal expression of prayer should have a special significance to older Mormons who have walked in the House of the Lord. Unfortunately, many of the younger generation are not familiar with the expression, but there are many who seek for God to hear the words that their mouths produce.
It was taught anciently that the Prayer or Mediation upon the Aleph brought about a condition of the heart of oneness with God wherein true connection was established and Heaven and Earth Connected. This discipline among many other ancient disciplines of prayer/meditation were also preserved but were only taught among certain traditions within Judaism. In these traditions, it was taught that the language of God was a not only an instrument of creation wherein creation was sung into existence, but it was also an instrument of transformation, bonding, and unity for man in this world as well.In this state, the mind of God dwelt in the vessel of man and as such the living soul became a living Urim and Thummim.
THE FIRES OF THE WATCHERS
During the hours of greatest darkness the watchers had the duty to maintain the fires that were used to provide light to the occupants of the city and to keep the city safe. The idea of maintaining the fire is connected with the Hebrew Letter Shin:
As one of the mother letters, Shin represents the celestial fires of that proceed forth from the throne of God carrying with it revelations of wisdom, understand, knowledge, power, and mercy of God. In Israelite priestly tradition the Levites and sons of Aaron acted as watchers before the Throne of God. Their duty was to maintain the oil in the lamps and to preserve not only the sacrificial fires but the fires that lit the menorah which represented the Tree of Life. As preservers of the light, we are not only meant to guard but also to bestow the light upon all Israel.
Those who seek to watch and pray always must be on their guards by implementing the same tools as those prophets of old who stood as watchers/guards over the House of Israel. We must practice the presence of God in our daily lives, we must draw our hearts in contemplative meditation on God, and we must preserve the celestial fire of revelation in the darkest hours so that the enemy does not come upon us unawares.