Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The Practice Of The Presence Of God
Brother Lawrence's Conversations and Letters
Light Heart Edition
Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1610 in Herimenil, Lorraine, a Duchy of France. His birth records were destroyed in a fire at his parish church during the Thirty Years War, a war in which he fought as a young soldier. It was also the war in which he sustained a near fatal injury to his sciatic nerve. The injury left him quite crippled and in chronic pain for the rest of his life.
He was educated both at home and by his parish priest whose first name was Lawrence and who was greatly admired by the young Nicholas. He was well read and, from an early age, drawn to a spiritual life of faith and love for God.
In the years between the abrupt end of his duties as a soldier and his entry into monastic life, he spent a period of time in the wilderness living like one of the early desert fathers. Also, prior to entering the monastery, he spent some time in private service. In his characteristic, self deprecating way, he mentions that he was a "footman who was clumsy and broke everything".
At mid-life he entered a newly established monastery in Paris where he became the cook for the community which grew to over one hundred members. After fifteen years, his duties were shifted to the sandal repair shop but, even then, he often returned to the busy kitchen to help out.
In times as troubled as today, Brother Lawrence, discovered, then followed, a pure and uncomplicated way to walk continually in God's presence. For some forty years, he lived and walked with Our Father at his side. Yet, through his own words, we learn that Brother Lawrence's first ten years were full of severe trials and challenges.
A gentle man of joyful spirit, Brother Lawrence shunned attention and the limelight, knowing that outside distraction "spoils all". It was not until after his death that a few of his letters were collected. Joseph de Beaufort, counsel to the Paris archbishop, first published the letters in a small pamphlet. The following year, in a second publication which he titled, 'The Practice of the Presence of God', de Beaufort included, as introductory material, the content of four conversations he had with Brother Lawrence.
In this small book, through letters and conversations, Brother Lawrence simply and beautifully explains how to continually walk with God - not from the head but from the heart. Brother Lawrence left the gift of a way of life available to anyone who seeks to know God's peace and presence; that anyone, regardless of age or circumstance, can practice -anywhere, anytime. Brother Lawrence also left the gift of a direct approach to living in God's presence that is as practical today as it was three hundred years ago.
Brother Lawrence died in 1691, having practiced God's presence for over forty years. His quiet death was much like his monastic life where each day and each hour was a new beginning and a fresh commitment to love God with all his heart.
Introduction: At the time of de Beaufort's interviews, Brother Lawrence was in his late fifties. Joseph de Beaufort later commented that the crippled brother, who was then in charge of the upkeep of over one hundred pairs of sandals, was "rough in appearance but gentle in grace". This comment was originally made by another church official who had taken note of Brother Lawrence's simple and gentle approach to living in God's presence.
First Conversation: The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was on the 3rd of August, 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favor in his conversion at the age of eighteen. During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that, within a little time, the leaves would be renewed and, after that, the flowers and fruit appear; Brother Lawrence received a high view of the providence and power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul. This view had perfectly set him free from the world and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased in the forty years that he had lived since.
Brother Lawrence said he had been footman to M. Fieubert, the treasurer, and that he was a great awkward fellow who broke everything. He finally decided to enter a monastery thinking that he would there be made to smart for his awkwardness and the faults he would commit, and so he would sacrifice his life with its pleasures to God. But Brother Lawrence said that God had surprised him because he met with nothing but satisfaction in that state.
Brother Lawrence related that we should establish ourselves in a sense of God's presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our soul with high notions of God which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.
He said we ought to quicken and enliven our faith. It was lamentable we had so little. Instead of taking faith for the rule of their conduct, men amused themselves with trivial devotions which changed daily. He said that faith was sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection. We ought to give ourselves up to God with regard both to things temporal and spiritual and seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will. Whether God led us by suffering or by consolation all would be equal to a soul truly resigned.
He said we need fidelity in those disruptions in the ebb and flow of prayer when God tries our love to Him. This was the time for a complete act of resignation, whereof one act alone could greatly promote our spiritual advancement.
He said that as far as the miseries and sins he heard of daily in the world, he was so far from wondering at them, that, on the contrary, he was surprised there were not more, considering the malice sinners were capable of. For his part, he prayed for them; but knowing that God could remedy the mischief they did when He pleased, he gave himself no further trouble.
Brother Lawrence said to arrive at such resignation as God requires, we should carefully watch over all the passions that mingle in spiritual as well as temporal things. God would give light concerning those passions to those who truly desire to serve Him.
At the end of this first conversation Brother Lawrence said that, if my purpose for the visit was to sincerely discuss how to serve God, I might come to him as often as I pleased; and without any fear of being troublesome. If this was not the case, then I ought visit him no more.
A Lenten Journey
Introducing Brother Lawrence
"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." ... Brother Lawrence
At our first retreat together, we applied ourselves to the task of discovering and discerning our mission statement. It was then that we envisioned our church to be “A House of Prayer for ALL People”. Now we seek to build a church that reflects that mission statement and also wish to learn more about the presence of God within us as well as among us.
We prepare now for our next retreat. A wise monk from the 17th Century, Brother Lawrence, coined the term “The Practice of the Presence of God”. I would like to adopt and adapt that theme for our Lenten journey and for our Parish Retreat in April. I hope that as we provide this set of spiritual opportunities, you will prayerfully consider setting yourself under the discipline of learning together about the “Practice of the Presence of God”.
Wednesday Evenings in Lent
March 4th at 7pm Taize Chris Lawrence
March 11th at 7pm Vespers Joe Tardiff
March 18th at 7pm Evensong Fr. Paul and Joe Tardiff
March 25th at 7pm Order of Worship Fr. Paul
for the Evening
April 1st at 7pm Compline Fr. Paul, Joe Tardiff and Chris
Beginning this evening, I will distribute a “conversation” or a “letter” from Brother Lawrence. You may study the handout and we will discuss it the following week to see what we can glean of its significance for us in our Lenten Journey. May we learn to continue our “Practice of the Presence of God”. ~Fr. Paul
Monday, February 02, 2009
Peace through Prayer
The arrogance of power and the impulse to violence have very little to do with prayer. When ones’ teeth are set on edge and seethe with a cry for vengeance, it is not possible to see God other than as a vengeful agent of partisan bloodlust. Thus it was for so long in
The Obama Administration is making new initiatives in the area that bring some hope for a break in this violent spiral. George Mitchell, who made such an impact with the Good Friday Accords in
Yet we must keep a steady eye and a sober mind on the subject of peace and justice in an area that has suffered atrocities of all sorts for so long from all quarters. The longer the violence continues the more complex its resolution becomes.
It was into such a world that Jesus was born. A hated occupation force held the land during the times of our Lord’s earthly days. And at the outset of his ministry he proclaimed a message of repentance as the core of his Gospel. It would take nothing less than a complete change in our hearts and souls to effect the kind of change that God envisioned for the world. And Jesus brought that message to us.
Thus as he made his way around Capernaum and the other cities and towns he traveled to, they brought him all who were sick and beset with unclean spirits. Tirelessly, he healed them whether it was a weekday or even on the Sabbath. Eventually that generosity of spirit would cost Jesus dearly.
But then after a long day of healing and teaching in their synagogues, Jesus would go to a deserted place by himself to pray. Then Simon and his companions “hunted” him down. They were drawn to him even when he needed to be alone. Naturally they wanted him to know that he was in demand in all the neighboring towns and villages. And so they pressed on.
As we read on through the Gospels, we realize that Jesus would “steal away” whenever it was possible to be in a deserted place where he could pray. This is so often the missing ingredient. The crowds are often pressing in. The demands of life press upon us like the crowds did for Jesus. There is always a list of things to do as long as our arms…but we need time to catch our wind and remember who it is that sends us into our very busy worlds and why we are sent.
If we cannot pray we cannot have peace. If don’t pray, we won’t notice injustice and oppression. If we won’t stop and take time for ourselves in a deserted place, we may miss our own need for healing and the wounds of others around us.
The prophet Isaiah took time to pray as we read in today’s first lesson, and when he did he remembered that the God of history was active even as Cyrus held the nation in captivity. His time alone in a deserted place was the only pathway he knew that could remind him of God’s ultimate judgment in history.
So then we live in a time of violence and economic crisis. Will we take the time for prayer as Jesus and Isaiah and the ancients did? After all it was in that time of prayer that they all discovered the pathway to peace. They noticed the realities of injustice and oppression. They saw the gaping wounds of a world in desperate need of the healing balm of a Godly touch.