Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God is an interesting and rewarding read. A collection of letters, observations, and reflections by a Parisian lay brother associated with the Carmelites that lived in the second half of the 1600’s, the book represents a departure from many “standard” works on spirituality and contemplation. In fact, having read many other books, this one seems to be a bit too simple. But therein lies its value. It calls us back to where we are to be headed.

You see, its easy, being human, to grasp hold of a new system of spirituality, learn its techniques in and out, and then proceed to structure our lives by it. We tend to major in living that system rather than using the system to get us where we want to be.

Brother Lawrence’s advice is simple and straight forward: Decide to love God and live in His presence, and all the rest falls into place. Not that we will have an easy life physically, or that we will always enjoy what we are assigned to do, but determining to live in the awareness of and in submission to God is greatly satisfying in that we return to the place we were made to be.

While Brother Lawrence kept the daily offices of prayer, his writing makes them appear to be interruptions rather than natural for him. In his life, one that starts the day with an “OK God, this one’s for you” sort of an attitude, praying before doing the slightest work, and then when idle, returning to the presence of God through prayer and contemplation, the formality of the daily office seems to be less than needed – although he does not recommend avoiding them.

There are other practices of Brother Lawrence’s that appear simple, but don’t allow for much argument. The first is at least a daily reflection on how he did that day. Did he work as well as he could have? Did he reflect his God in an honoring manner? This daily examen was not to cause himself more emotional pain, but was an honest attempt at continued growth and submission to God. Whether during this daily review or at some other point in the day, if Brother Lawrence detected that he had not been the person he wanted to be, he would immediately confess his shortcoming to God and ask for forgiveness. After that, he wouldn’t mention it again, trusting that God had heard him, and had forgiven him. That having been done, there was no reason to bring up the subject again.

No doubt you have noticed that there are no great systems of contemplation, no sacred places per se, no series of defined theological terms, no systematic superstructure at all. The entire enterprise consists of a serious and dedicated submission to God with a continual seeking to be in God’s presence through prayer and contemplation.

All other spiritual formation efforts and systems are designed to achieve at least this degree of living in the awareness of God. Perhaps a truly mystical experience of God would be beyond this type of life, but this type of life would surely provide the foundation for an experience of the Creator as direct as some writers have described.

Give Brother Lawrence a try. He might make your spiritual life a bit easier.

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