The Limping, Unceasingly Praying Brother Lawrence
Googling "Brother Lawrence" yields over 2,000,000 hits—astonishing for a person with an unremarkable biography and a rather thin writing portfolio, including one short essay called The Spiritual Maxims; 16 letters to several nuns, a spiritual director, and one or two laywomen; and four recorded conversations. Born Nicolas Herman in 1614 in a small village in Lorraine, France, he had a soul-altering experience at 18. That winter, while looking at a leafless tree, he marveled that its barrenness would soon turn green again, flower, and bear fruit. This insight made him intimately aware of God's love from then on. Next, however, he chose military service, fighting and being wounded in the Thirty Years' War. Still unsure about his life's direction, he tried being a hermit, then a valet. At 26, he entered the Order of Discalced Carmelites on the Rue Vaugirard in Paris as a lay brother, took the name of Brother Lawrence, and lived there some 50 years. Plagued by a limp probably resulting from his war wound, he was cook and dishwasher until his physical limitations made that contribution impossible. Then he became the monastery's sandalmaker, a job that allowed him to sit and mend some 200 pairs of sandals worn by the clerics and lay brothers. Brother Lawrence died on February 12, 1691, but his inimitably simple writings still teach us how to walk boldly the path of God's love.
If we renounce ourselves, we'll know unspeakable joy. Always turn to Jesus Christ, asking him for his grace that makes everything easy. Neither finesse nor learning is required to approach God, only a heart resolved to devote itself exclusively to him, loving him only.
Ground yourself in God's presence by continually conversing with him. Nourish your soul by focusing your mind on God's glory. Accept the joy that comes from spending time with him. Renew your faith; it's terrible that we have so little.
Give yourself completely to God. Abandon yourself to him. Find joy in doing his will, in all circumstances. Suffering and joy are synonymous to someone yielded to God. We must be faithful in times of aridity when God is testing our love for him.
The Spiritual Maxims
We must keep our eyes fixed on God in all we say or do. Our goal is to adore God unceasingly.
We must work towards making every action, without exception, into a kind of brief conversation with God—not in any artificial way, but purely, simply.
We must always act carefully and deliberately, not impulsively or hurriedly, for those are the marks of a distracted mind. Cooperate gently and lovingly with God.
Because you know God is always with you in your deepest core, stop whatever you're doing often and adore him, praise him, ask his help, offer him your heart, and thank him.
The soul that turns inward to practice the presence of God becomes so intimate with him that it spends practically its entire life in continual acts of love, adoration, godly sorrow, trust, thanksgiving, offering, and petition. Sometimes these become one unending act because the soul constantly practices the exercise of Christ's divine presence.
I have no will other than God's. I try to follow him in all things. I'm so surrendered to God's will that I wouldn't so much as pick up a straw from the ground against his order, or for any reason other than that I love him.
I think the answer to our problems is that we must confess our faults and humble ourselves before God. Stand there before God like a poor, mute paralytic at the door of a rich man. Struggle to be attentive in God's presence.
That's why I confess all my sins to God. I ask him to pardon me, and I abandon myself into his hands so he can do with me as he pleases.
Get used to suffering. Ask God for the strength to suffer as he wants, and for as long as he judges necessary.
There's no greater lifestyle and no greater happiness than that of having a continual conversation with God.
I do know this—God looks after me. My tranquility is so great that I fear nothing. What could I fear when I am with him? I cling to God with all my strength.
A brief lifting up of the heart is enough. Do this even when you're on the run because brief reflections on God, inner acts of adoration—short though these prayers may be—please God.
We must work faithfully, without anxiety, gently bringing our minds back to God whenever we find ourselves distracted.
We can make our hearts a chapel where we withdraw sometimes to converse with God. Everyone can have these familiar conversations with God. He knows what we can do. So why not try. Perhaps he's only looking for the right intention on your part. Be brave. Life is short.
Think of God throughout the day, during every activity, even when you relax. He's always near. Don't leave him alone. Would you consider it rude to ignore a friend who's visiting you? So why abandon God and leave him alone? Don't forget God. Think of him often, adore him unceasingly, and live and die with him.
Our God is infinitely good and knows what we need.
So put your hand to the plow.
Carmen Acevedo Butcher is associate professor of English and scholar-in-residence at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia.
Learn more about Brother Lawrence by reading the most complete version of his writings—the excellent critical edition by Conrad De Meester, OCD, featuring a fine translation by Salvatore Sciurba, OCD: Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, OCD (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1994). Its impeccable, well-written scholarship combined with a superb translation create the best edition of Brother Lawrence available, contextualizing Brother Lawrence's life within the turbulent historical milieu and passionate religious discussions of his time and presenting us with full, responsible biographical information. My article benefited greatly from this resource, and the excerpts featured here are adapted from it (from these pages—Conversations: 96, 89, 90; Spiritual Maxims: 35, 36, 36, 36-37, 43; and Letters: 53, 65, 54, 73, 57, 61, 63, 59, 69, 71, 63, and 58). The other recommended version of Brother Lawrence's work (from the countless on the market) is The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, now in its 24th printing by Spire (January 2009). Brother Lawrence's work is also available online in the London, Epworth Press edition of Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life, found in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Brother Lawrence ranked number six on Today's Christian's 1997 list of "Best Devotional Books of All Time," between number five, A. W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God, and number seven, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. (Number one was Oswald Chambers's classic, My Utmost for His Highest.) You can find more information about this gentle Carmelite lay brother online in "What's the Secret to a Great Prayer Life?" by Elesha Coffman (August 8, 2008), "Confessions of a Spiritual Amnesiac: No minister had prepared me for God's absence" by Philip Yancey (July 15, 1996), and "Brother Lawrence: Practitioner of God's Presence."
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History & Biography magazine.
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