In my book, Christ’s Empowering Presence: The Pursuit of God through the Ages, I include a chapter early on that’s titled “Brother Lawrence: A Most Popular Practitioner of ‘The Pursuit.’” It seemed appropriate to devote a chapter to the 17th century French monk known as Brother Lawrence since he did so much to make famous the spiritual exercise that has come to be known as “the practice of the presence of God,” an exercise that I equate with the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence.

 In the following excerpt from my treatment of Brother Lawrence’s engagement in “the pursuit,” I reflect some on the venerable monk’s insistence that the practice of the presence of God need not be limited to a particular time and place.

Anytime, Anywhere!

            Finally, a third important theme present in Brother Lawrence’s thinking about spirituality was that a person’s busyness is no excuse for failing to practice the presence of God! Scattered throughout our resource materials are passages that insist it’s possible to maintain a vibrant inner sense of God’s loving, empowering presence regardless of the many outward activities our busy lives might entail. In his description of Brother Lawrence, de Beaufort recounts that his mentor once told him:

For me the time of action does not differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are together calling for as many different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as when upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.[1]

            Brother Lawrence’s biographer goes on to provide the world with this famous passage:

I am giving you a picture of a lay brother serving in a kitchen; let me then use his own words: “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for the 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 but a straw from the ground for the love of God.[2]         

What effect did this integration of spirituality with his daily work have upon Brother Lawrence? Though later in this book we will explore in more depth the benefits of a daily pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence, it seems appropriate here to include a passage that describes the impact which practicing the presence of God had upon this particularly popular practitioner, especially since it includes a reference to the theme we are presently discussing. Rounding off his record of the four conversations he had with Brother Lawrence, de Beaufort offers these concluding remarks:

As Brother Lawrence had found such an advantage in walking in the presence of God, it was natural for him to recommend it earnestly to others; but his example was a stronger inducement than any arguments he could propose. His very countenance was edifying, such a sweet and calm devotion appearing in it as could not but affect the beholders. And it was observed that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit.[3]

            Evidently, it is possible to pursue Christ’s empowering presence despite a busy lifestyle! Possessing a plate full of mundane responsibilities is no excuse for a neglect of “the pursuit.” While we will return to this theme later in the book, it’s important that it be established here at the very beginning of the journey we’re taking together. The example of Brother Lawrence accomplishes this as well as any spiritual master I can think of.

            The overarching goal of this chapter is to introduce the concept of Christ’s empowering presence by way of a careful consideration of the life and work of one of its most famous practitioners: Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. During the process, I have cited a number of passages from the resource materials that never fail to reinspire me in my own practice of the presence of God. Rather than feeling like you’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool, I hope you will consider Brother Lawrence’s advocacy of “the pursuit” to be a life vest that can save you from “drowning” in the spiritually deadening demands of daily living. With that thought in mind, I want to conclude this chapter with one final quote drawn from Brother Lawrence’s ninth letter to Monsieur de Beaufort:

We cannot avoid the dangers of life without God’s continual help, so we should ask Him for it ceaselessly. But how can we ask for help unless we are with Him? To be with Him, we must cultivate the holy habit of thinking of Him often.

            You will tell me that I always say the same thing. What can I say? It is true. I don’t know an easier method, nor do I practice any other, so I advise this one to everybody. We have to know someone before we truly love him. In order to know God, we must think about Him often. Once we get to know Him, we will think about Him even more often, because where our treasure is, there also is our heart![4] 

This completes a series of four blog postings by means of which I have presented to website readers a glimpse of my treatment of the spirituality of Brother Lawrence in my book Christ’s Empowering Presence. It’s my hope that I’ve done more in this series than provide some reasons to buy the book. My goal in each blog posting has genuinely been to give my spiritual friends …

Something to think about.

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1967), 89–90.

[2] Ibid., 90–91.

[3] Ibid., 30.

[4] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New Kingsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982), 49.