Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Humility of a Saint: Brother Lawrence

I have recently been introduced to the writing of Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth-century lay Carmelite brother who penned The Practice of the Presence of God. This little book is chock full of poignant and profound descriptions of Brother Lawrence’s intimate connection and superhuman devotion to the Lord. In fact, it is a very difficult book to pare down, as it already reads like a devotion-a-day calendar (though it might be because I mistakenly bought an abridged version, but passages on the internet from other editions are very similar).

The book is comprised of conversations and letters of Brother Lawrence that were recounted and compiled after his death by his friend Fr. Joseph le Beaufort. The theme unifying each short chapter is that of living every moment in the profound presence of the Lord—that is, constantly being aware of God’s existence within and surrounding oneself. From this awareness springs exclusive trust in the Lord and, therefore, peace of spirit.

This man’s wisdom, humility, and devotion to God are incredibly inspiring—and, quite frankly, incredibly daunting. Here is one who successfully rose above the distractions of the world and instead lived in communion with his Maker. Here is one who completely died to himself and lived solely for love of God. The humility described in this book is in stark and terrifying contrast to the lukewarm and half-hearted faith often deemed acceptable in today’s world. I would like to show a few examples of Brother Lawrence’s wisdom, but would first implore you to read him yourself. I’m afraid these snippets may seem less poignant when removed from the context of the book…nevertheless, here are a few passages:

“To be constantly aware of God’s presence, it is necessary to form the habit of continually talking with Him throughout each day. To think that we must abandon conversation with Him in order to deal with the world is erroneous. Instead, as we nourish our souls by seeing God in His exaltation, we will derive a great joy at being His” (12).

“Brother Lawrence said that he was always guided by love. He was never influenced by any other interest, including whether or not he was saved. He was content doing the smallest chore if he could do it purely for the love of God. He even found himself quite well off, which he attributed to the fact that he sought only God and not His gifts. He believed that God is much greater than any of the simple gifts He gives us. Rather than desiring them from Him, he chose to look beyond the gifts, hoping to learn more about God Himself” (14).

“The dear brother remarked that we must give ourselves totally to God in both temporal and spiritual affairs. Our only happiness should come from doing God’s will, whether it brings us some pain or great pleasure. After all, if we are truly devoted to doing God’s will, pain and pleasure won’t make any difference to us” (12).

“He remarked that thinking often spoils everything and that evil usually begins with our thoughts. In Brother Lawrence’s opinion, we should reject any thoughts that distract us from serving the Lord or that undermine our salvation” (17).

“Our brother remarked that some people go only as far as their regular devotions, stopping there and neglecting love, which is the purpose of those devotions. This could easily be seen in their actions and explained why they possessed so little solid virtue” (21-22).

Again, I highly recommend this book! It is one to be savored and meditated upon as a gauge of our own spiritual growth. It and similar writings can be found here .

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