Carmelite: December 2003 Archives

The classic editions of The Practice of the Presence of God consist of approximately four conversations and fifteen letters of advice offered by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a SEVENTEENTH century Carmelite. Hailing from the province of Alsace-Lorraine, I suppose there is some question as to nationality; however, he wrote in French and thus we might consider him French.

Ms. Deb Platt has reorganized the material thematically and produced an interesting and recommended "study guide" to the work, which makes for a more coherent reading of the main texts.

However, I will follow the classic line and look at the letters (or so I propose, by tomorrow I may have changed my mind)

from Practice of the Presence of God Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection


How the habitual sense of God's Presence was found.

SINCE you desire so earnestly that I should communicate to you the method by which I arrived at that habitual sense of GOD's Presence, which our LORD, of His mercy, has been pleased to vouchsafe to me; I must tell you, that it is with great difficulty that I am prevailed on by your importunities; and now I do it only upon the terms, that you show my letter to nobody. If I knew that you would let it be seen, all the desire that I have for your advancement would not be able to determine me to it. The account I can give you is:
Having found in many books different methods of going to GOD, and divers practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me, than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly GOD's.

This made me resolve to give the all for the All: so after having given myself wholly to GOD, to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not He; and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world. Sometimes I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge; at other times I beheld Him in my heart as my FATHER, as my GOD: I worshipped Him the oftenest that I could, keeping my mind in His holy Presence, and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him. I found no small pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred, without troubling or disquieting myself when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this my business, as much all the day long as at the appointed times of prayer; for at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of GOD.

Such has been my common practice ever since I entered into religion; and though I have done it very imperfectly, yet I have found great advantages by it. These, I well know, are to be imputed to the mere mercy and goodness of GOD, because we can do nothing without Him; and I still less than any. But when we are faithful to keep ourselves in His holy Presence, and set Him always before us, this not only hinders our offending Him, and doing anything that may displease Him, at least wilfully, but it also begets in us a holy freedom, and if I may so speak, a familiarity with GOD, wherewith we ask, and that successfully, the graces we stand in need of. In fine, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of GOD is rendered as it were natural to us. Give Him thanks, if you please, with me, for His great goodness towards me, which I can never sufficiently admire, for the many favours He has done to so miserable a sinner as I am. May all things praise Him. Amen.

For the complete, classic work, see here.

What is remarkable in this is the very straightforward way Brother Lawrence treats common problems in prayer. A simple bullheadedness with one Goal in mind--God Himself and nothing less. "I gave my all for the All."

"I worshipped Him oftenest as I could. . ." meaning that he did not wait until he was in a chapel or an oratory or some quiet place of continued recollection, but throughout the day of work and labor, he worshipped God. As he did the dishes, He called upon His name. As he swept the floors or attended to whatever needed done, He praised God and called upon Him. In a word--he "practiced."

And by practicing he became adept. He points out that when we often turn our thoughts to God, it becomes very difficult to deliberately offend Him. The thought of God is a bit in the mouth, a bridle that trains us to recognize his touch and respond, in the way a well trained horse needs no encouragement from the reins, but merely the pressure and signal from the rider to turn and to jump. When we accustom ourselves to the bridle, or as Jesus told us, "the yoke" we discover in it a holy freedom and an intimacy that does not make us so reluctant to ask for the graces we require to grow ever nearer our Lord.

And perhaps the most glorious phrase of the letter: "In fine, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of GOD is rendered as it were natural to us." What could possibly be a greater source of delight and joy than for God's presence to be "natural." By that Brother Lawrence means, I think, that it is expected, it becomes in the environment in which we live whether or not we are constantly attuned to it. In a sense, it becomes our hope. When St. Thérèse experienced her long dark night, she still did not fail in faith because she had grown so intimate with God His presence was natural to her--it pervaded her. Her human senses and the devil called her to despair, but her soul knew that it lived and breathed in God's Holy Presence--there could be no despair in such living. That is what Brother Lawrence refers to. We may not be constantly aware of God in our intellect or will, but in the deepest part of our spirit we rejoice constantly in His presence. His presence is habitual, and more than habitual, life sustaining. By the practice of the presence of God, we move toward the intimacy taught by all the great Carmelite Saints. By making the effort to turn to Him (an effort that is sustained by grace alone but willed by ourselves with the help of that grace) we grow accustomed to God the way spouses are accustomed to each other in a good marriage. When one is left alone, there is great longing to be again reunited. The difference is that God never leaves us alone. We are always with Him.

There is so much truth here and such a simplicity that we would do well to consider following this advice. Throughout the day hum a hymn, or speak to God, thanking Him for small pleasures, asking advice in any situation. Bless those around us with His presence with us. When we are so moved, we can perform miracles of grace and draw souls toward God inexorably because it is His Will that moves them, His Grace that calls to them, His Presence that beckons. And best of all, we can start this practice today. And if we fail in it for a while, we can start again, and again, and again, picking up with purpose and following the trail of Grace to our Sovereign Lord.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from December 2003.

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