BOOK REVIEW:PRACTICING THE PRESENCE OF GOD

I bought this little book, written by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a while ago, but I just couldn’t get into it. I guess you read things when the time is right.

Recently, I got together with my friend Lisa, who is coming up on the first anniversary of her sister’s death. In learning to deal with everything that has happened to her and her family in the past year or so, she was interested in contemplative prayer. That happens to be what this book is about, so I decided I would read it. Funny how it was easy to read this time through. Since you can print your own copy of the book from this site, I will borrow some of my quotes from it, too.

The morning I was to meet Lisa, before I knew the path our conversation would take, I heard a DJ discussing PRACTICING THE PRESENCE OF GOD and had already thought about revisiting it. What was so interesting? Well, the DJ said that Brother Lawrence did NOT say that you have to be on your knees all the time (although that never hurts). He said the idea behind the book was that you should use the times when you veg out, waiting in line at the grocery store, doing dishes, etc., to praise God and talk to him. Now THAT makes sense.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection did not start out as a monk.

…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….

…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”.

According to the book I have, Brother Lawrence was a very shy man. His work was not published until after his death, at the end of the seventeenth century. “…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.”

Lawrence did not seek attention. In fact, toward the end of the first conversation, he told de Beaufort that “if [his] purpose was to sincerely discuss how to serve God, [he]might come to him as often as [he] pleased;and without any fear of being troublesome.If this was not the case, [de Beaufort] should visit him no more.

So what was it that compelled de Beaufort to seek Brother Lawrence’s advice? I gather that it was the joy that he radiated. Or maybe it was that he seemed to have peace. It is hard to maintain a joyful or peaceful outlook in this life, and Brother Lawrence, whose circumstances certainly did not seem to be either, managed to do just that. How do we go about “practicing the presence of God”? Here’s what he told de Beaufort:

Brother Lawrence emphasized that all physical and mental disciplines and exercises were useless, unless they served to arrive at the union with God by love. He had well considered this. He found that the shortest way to go straight to God was by a continual exercise of love and doing all things for His sake.

Also, he noted that there was a great difference between acts of the intellect and acts of the will. Acts of the intellect were comparatively of little value. Acts of the will were all important. Our only business was to love and delight ourselves in God.

He then said that all possible kinds of self-sacrifice, if they were void of the love of God, could not efface a single sin. Instead, we ought, without anxiety, expect the pardon of our sins from the blood of Jesus Christ, endeavoring only to love Him with all our heart. He noted that God seemed to have granted the greatest favors to the greatest sinners as more proof of His mercy…

In our conversation with God we should engage in praising, adoring, and loving Him incessantly for His infinite goodness and perfection. Without being discouraged because of our sins, we should pray for His grace with perfect confidence, relying on the infinite merits of our Lord….

I don’t know about you, but one of the things that continually frustrates me in my spiritual life is the fact that I can’t keep my mind on my Bible reading or my prayers for long periods of time. I realize that it is an act of will to keep my mind where it needs to be, but a lot of the time, I fail. Still, there is hope in the effort, I think. And so did Brother Lawrence. There are maxims at the end of the book that I read, and one of them is this”

…I will say for the consolation of those who wish to undertake this holy practice that He usually gives it to souls which are disposed in that direction, and if He does not give it, one can, at least, with the help of His ordinary graces, acquire by the practice of the presence of God a way and a state of prayer which very closely approaches this simple gaze.

If you have time, go on the net and give this book a read. You may agree with it, and you may not. But I bet you will spend some time thinking about it.

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