Brother Lawrence introduces us to the practice of the presence of God. He emphasizes, particularly, his manner of living every moment with a sense of God’s presence.
Brother Lawrence experienced his awakening one winter when he was only eighteen, by simply recognizing the wonder of a tree. It stood barren and apparently dead only to be renewed with leaves, flowers and fruit as the seasons revolved.
This recognition changed Brother Lawrence for ever; he tells us “this view had completely freed him from this world”
This moment of awakening, this seeing the world as they had never been seen before, is common among mystics, all awakened people. We shall visit many of them, and hear of their experiences, as we travel our path. In many cases, this awakening occurred just when despair seemed to triumph; as if you approaching your nadir provides the opening through which awakening can be experienced.
Brother Lawrence joined a monastery to surrender his life to God wishes. He expected to struggle, he expected that the life would be hard and unforgiving. God fooled him though, Brother Lawrence recounts, as he found such joy and satisfaction in his simple life in the monastic community. We all struggle to understand, to truly believe, that rejection, not accumulation, of material things brings joy and satisfaction. Yet this is what Brother Lawrence found, as many others find, renunciation of belongings, rather than accumulation of them, provides the pathway to awareness, to being present. And yet, no matter how many times we are told this, we continue in our pursuit of happiness, in our accumulation of material objects, in our search for happiness in belongings.
Brother Lawrence thought he was subjecting himself to a life of difficult discipline, instead, he found joy everywhere and in everything.
We are advised to enliven our faith, to live with joy. Brother Lawrence gently reproaches us, “It is lamentable that we all have so little faith. Instead of taking faith for their rule of conduct, people amuse themselves with trivial devotions, which change daily. The way of faith is the essence of Christ’s church, and it is sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection”. I love that idea, ‘enliven our faith’, live it, embrace it, bring daily life to it.
Don’t leave it dormant, to be half-awakened from its slumber now again before being left alone again.
Awakening, though, is only a first step on the path, Brother Lawrence warns us that he “had been long troubled in mind because he worried that he was eternally lost”. This time of trouble lasted some four years, during which time Brother Lawrence suffered, “much mental anguish”. We will hear of other such sufferers of these years of darkness, referred to often in Christian Churches as the dark night of the soul, after a poem of that title written by the Spanish mystic and poet, Saint John of the Cross.
We spoke previously of simplicity, of living simply. Brother Lawrence also exhorts us, “we should walk with God in the greatest simplicity – speaking to Him frankly and plainly. We should implore His assistance in our daily affairs while they are happening.” His experience was that God never fails to grant such assistance.
We should walk our life hand in hand with God
So much of what Brother Lawrence tells us resonates with other words of wisdom. “He told me that useless thoughts spoil everything. In fact, that is where mischief begins. Therefore, we should reject them as soon as we perceive their irrelevance to the matter at hand or to our salvation. How many thoughts would we reject if any retained had to pass a strict test of being relevant to our salvation. After quickly dismissing these thoughts, we should return to our communion with God”. Brother Lawrence could be instructing us on how to meditate and how to deal with all the troublesome thoughts that come into our minds as soon as we seek to still them.
Let us live in the present, in God’s presence.