This humble, medieval mystic lay monk established and epitomized the phrase, “The Practice of the Presence of God.” His only desire was to live in an awareness of this amazing truth: God is at all times present with us and in our lives – that we are never alone.
Brother Lawrence. (1982) The Practice of the Presence of God: The Fifth Letter.
“ My day-to-day life consists of giving God my simple, loving attention. Sometimes I imagine that I’m a piece of stone, waiting for the sculptor. At times, I feel my whole mind and heart being raised up into God’s presence, as if, without effort, they had always belonged there.” – Brother Lawrence
Nicholas spent a time in the wilderness living like one of the early desert fathers – a hermit seeking God – During this period of Herman’s life, a particular experience set him on a spiritual journey … In the words of de Beaufort (1982), Brother Lawrence experienced a “singular favor in his conversion at the age of 18. During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that, within a little time, the leaves would be renewed and, after that, the flowers and fruit appear; Brother Lawrence received a high view of the providence and power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul,” (p. 11).
Poverty forced Nicholas into the military and he became a soldier in the Thirty Years War in order to have the basic amenities of life – food and shelter.
He was taken prisoner by German troops who threatened to hang him for being a spy. He answered their accusations honestly and humbly and added that “since he had never done anything to give him a bad conscience, death did not frighten him anyway” (Lawrence, 1982, p. 76). Officers in charge heard of this and released him.
Nicholas suffered a near fatal injury to his sciatic nerve that left him quite crippled and in chronic pain for the remainder of his life.
He returned to the home of his parents and sought a more holy profession – “fighting under the banner of Jesus Christ” (Ibid).
Brother Lawrence had no other devotion than to God and no other desire than to know Him – and to be known by Him.
His devotion and desire culminated in the realization of the fullness of God’s grace in the comings and goings of every day living.
His simple way to holiness was rooted in a deep sense of and love for God (King, 2001).
Brother Lawrence neither taught nor promoted any particularly special methods or practices for achieving spirituality. King writes, “he felt that special spiritual practices and penances, as well as the devotions to his community, were often more of a hindrance than a help” (p. 174).
In an account of Brother Lawrence’s life written shortly after his death by Joseph de Beaufort (1982), his friend writes:
“ He resolved to give himself wholly to God …through sentiments of true devotion. God …allowed him to perceive the nothingness of the pleasures of the world and touched him with a love of heavenly things ” (p. 77).
Brother Lawrence is most commonly remembered for the closeness of his relationship with God. In this nearly 300 year old classic are recorded the conversations with his dear friend, Joseph de Beaufort and the personal letters and spiritual maxims written by Brother Lawrence. He wrote:
“ I am doing now what I will do for all eternity. I am blessing God, praising Him, adoring Him, and loving Him with all my heart. I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."
This book has become one of the most popular Christian books in history and today tens of millions of copies are in circulation for the encouragement of all Christians to practice the presence of God.
My own spiritual journey is very similar to that of Brother Lawrence.
I have found that the pursuit of God’s presence is continual regardless of location or activity. In all of my comings and goings in life, I am conscious of God’s presence both within me and around me. I find Him in nature, in my children’s faces, in genuine laughter, in words, in thoughts, in actions, in my very soul. I am aware of Him – at all times and in all places. I believe that I truly “dwell in the secret place of the Most High … [and] abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
At times, this realization is overwhelming, bringing me to my knees, crying for God’s mercy, understanding that my insufficiencies are exposed in the light of His holiness. At other times, the power of God’s presence and glory are a comforting presence not unlike the warmth of human arms that surround me in a loving embrace.
Finally, like Brother Lawrence, there are times when I become distracted or enamored by the fleeting pleasures of this world and I slip into forgetfulness and God must gently remind me of Himself – and call me back to that place of remembrance. Living in this way, my life has become an altar upon which I constantly place my whole self – spirit, soul, and body – as a living sacrifice to Him.
The life of Brother Lawrence and his words that remain with us are yet a living testimony of the words of the Apostle Paul:
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, … but that which is through faith in Christ … That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection …
Brother Lawrence left us an example of a simple life, one not filled with pretense or pious acts done simply for the sake of appeasing God.
He never sought glory – but sought only to glory in the One whom he loved so much.
Brother Lawrence shared all that he had, both the temporal and the eternal, hoping to inspire those around him with a “burning …desire …to put the great truths into practice” – to Practice the Presence of God” (de Beaufort, p. 84-85).
The Holy Bible: Blue Letter Bible . (2006). Retrieved February 16, 2008, from http://www.blueletterbible.org . Harpur, J. (2005). Love burning in the soul: the story of the Christian mystics, from Saint Paul to Thomas Merton . Boston, MA: New Seeds. King, U. (2001). Christian mystics: their lives and legacies throughout the ages . Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring. Brother Lawrence. (1982). The practice of the presence of God. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House. Rohmann, C. (1999). A world of ideas: a dictionary of important theories, concepts, beliefs, and thinkers. New York, NY: Ballentine Books.