Brother Lawrence and the Constant Presence of God

Brother Lawrence and the Constant Presence of God March 9, 2023

presence of God
Daniel Mirlea via Unsplash

Have you ever had the feeling you were in the presence of a Higher Power? You might have sensed it while staring at a beautiful natural vista, or during a lengthy meditation session, or perhaps after an endorphin-releasing run. But for most of us, while this feeling seems real, it’s also fleeting. Here one moment, gone the next.

Meet a person for whom God was a constant presence: Brother Lawrence.

Born in 1611 as Nicolas Herman, Brother Lawrence was a former soldier who had been wounded in battle and held as a prisoner of war. At the age of 26, seeking spiritual fulfillment, he followed in the footsteps of his uncle. He joined the Discalced Carmelite, a Roman Catholic community in Paris, as a lay brother.

Founded in the 13th century, the Discalced were known for going barefoot or wearing only sandals, the footwear of the poor. The mission of the group was altered in the 1500s, when the mystic St. Teresa of Avila reformed the order. She sought to “restore the emphasis on contemplative life,” believing that the key to developing a strong relationship with God was through personal prayer. It was all Brother Lawrence could have wished for.

Brother Lawrence took the contemplative life to heart.

Despite his lowly position in the order, Wikipedia reports that “his character attracted many to him. He had a reputation for experiencing profound peace and visitors came to seek spiritual guidance from him. The wisdom he passed on to them, in conversations and in letters, would later become the basis for the book The Practice of the Presence of God.”

The book was published in 1693, two years after Lawrence’s death. In a modern translation of The Practice of the Presence of God, Marshall Davis informs us that “Brother Lawrence developed the practice of living always in conscious awareness of God.” And he does mean always. Lawrence thought of God every waking moment.

Now you might think Brother Lawrence sat in a church or a hovel all day, deep in prayer. But in fact, he was working from morning to nightfall in the monastery’s kitchen. One church official, a monsignor, observed that “even in the middle of the greatest bustle of kitchen work, he preserved his composure and heavenly mindedness.” Brother Lawrence explains it like this:

 The time of work is not different for me than the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several people are calling out for different things at the same time, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees praying.

What happens to Brother Lawrence when he experiences this connection with God?

The lay brother told others he experienced continual joy exclaiming, “There is no sweeter and delightful life.” The monsignor backs this up, finding Lawrence to be in a perpetual state of happiness, stating: “What contentment and satisfaction he enjoys!” He continues:

Brother Lawrence is now so accustomed to the Divine Presence that he receives from it continual help on all occasions. For about 30 years, his soul has been filled with joy that is continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to use effort to control it in order to prevent it from appearing outwardly.

Brother Lawrence describes his method as “a simple attention to God combined with a general sense of hunger for God. This inward yearning is so delightful and delicious that I am ashamed to describe it.” But over the course of his life, he did reveal his method. Here’s my edited version pulled from key passages in the book.

A 10-Point Guide to the Practice of the Presence of God

  1. In order to know God, you must think of Him often.
  1. You should relate to God in a simple way, silently communing with Him. All that is needed to bring you to union with God is love.
  1. Go about your daily activities quietly, calmly and lovingly. Know that God is with you in everything you do. He is at the very depth and center of your soul, nearer than you know.
  1. Offer your heart to Him from time to time amidst your busyness. Lift up your heart to Him, even during meals and when you are in the company of others.
  1. Do it every minute of the day if you can. The smallest remembrance is always acceptable.
  1. When you realize you have not thought about God for a while, or your mind has wandered, don’t worry. Gently and quietly bring your attention back to God.
  1. Make God the end of all thoughts and desires. God is the target to which everything should point and within which everything will be fulfilled.
  1. It is not necessary to be in church to be with God. Make your heart a chapel where you can withdrawal from time to time and commune with Him.
  1. By repeating this practice often, it becomes second nature, and the presence of God becomes your normal state of mind. It will be as if He were at one with your soul and your soul at one with him.
  1. The greatest pleasures of the world do not compare with what you will experience. It is the most spiritual, the most real, the most life-giving form of prayer.

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