To place oneself in the presence of God is often a challenge. Many people look to lofty practices filled with pious rituals to find the Divine Presence. If this is suited to one’s spiritual temperament, such practices are fruitful and valuable. However, such rituals are not suited for many, yet it is possible to place oneself in God’s presence through more practical, or mundane, methods. Such practical spirituality is typified by a Discalced Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence (1611-1691).
According to Christianity Today, He was assigned to the monastery kitchen where, amidst the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule of spirituality and work. Even in more modern times, such monotonous, menial, and tedious chores are assigned to “teach humility”. Brother Lawrence wrote a personal journal, called Maxims. In these pages he writes;
"Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?"
As Christianity Today writes;
For Brother Lawrence, "common business," no matter how mundane or routine, was the medium of God's love. The issue was not the sacredness or worldly status of the task but the motivation behind it. "Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for 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 up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.
Brother Lawrence retreated to a place in his heart where the love of God made every detail of his life of surpassing value. "I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world." Together, God and Brother Lawrence cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world.
In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence writes;
“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. . . He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.. . . There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it”.
Although he lived a quiet life in the priory, Brother Lawrence gathered an impressive following of those seeking hi simple wisdom. The book, The Practice of the Presence of God, is read widely by most Christian religions. This important book was approved by Archbishop of Paris, Louis Antoine de Noailles. When the Archbishop of Paris approved the life of Brother Lawrence made by his Grand Vicar and in his own organization, he approved in that it is said that this brother "forgot himself and was willing to lose himself for God, that he no longer thought of virtue or his salvation ... that he had always governed himself by love without interest”. Curiously, there is record regarding canonization of Brother Lawrence.
During my studies for the Priesthood, I have spent time in several monasteries in looking a Religious Orders. It was difficult for me to adjust to the routine and performing tasks that, seemingly, had little to do with my faith in God. In my attempts to understand the “formation” process, I stumbled across the story of Brother Lawrence. His writings led me to understand the importance of simplicity in my relationship with the Lord. God is part of everything that we do, if we let him be a part of our lives, and all our actions, no matter the lowliness or grandeur, could make up a fruitful conversational relationship with our Lord.