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Monday, 6 July 2015

Framing Prayer 5 Brother Lawrence

The advantage of starting with Brother Lawrence is that his manner of approaching God in prayer remains one of the clearest and simplest for lay people to adopt.

He had set hours of prayer, but he learned from the Holy Spirit to live in the Presence of God constantly, humbling recognizing that without grace he was not capable of doing this.

Brother Lawrence provides real guidelines for the layperson who lives in a busy times.

Remember that Brother Lawrence lived the life of a busy lay brother, taking care of the business of the monastery, meeting people in the world daily, working with his hands, and so on.

Here is a selection from his Second Letter:

My most usual method is this simple attention, and such a general passionate regard to GOD; to whom I find myself often attached with greater sweetness and delight than that of an infant at the mother’s breast: so that if I dare use the expression, I should choose to call this state the bosom of GOD, for the inexpressible sweetness which I taste and experience there. If sometimes my thoughts wander from it by necessity or infirmity, I am presently recalled by inward motions, so charming and delicious that I am ashamed to mention them. I desire your reverence to reflect rather upon my great wretchedness, of which you are fully informed, than upon the great favours which GOD does me, all unworthy and ungrateful as I am. As for my set hours of prayer, they are only a continuation of the same exercise. Sometimes I consider myself there, as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue: presenting myself thus before GOD, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul, and render me entirely like Himself.

 At other times, when I apply myself to prayer, I feel all my spirit and all my soul lift itself up without any care or effort of mine; and it continues as it were suspended and firmly fixed in GOD, as in its centre and place of rest. I know that some charge this state with inactivity, delusion, and self-love: I confess that it is a holy inactivity, and would be a happy self-love, if the soul in that state were capable of it; because in effect, while she is in this repose, she cannot be disturbed by such acts as she was formerly accustomed to, and which were then her support, but would now rather hinder than assist her. Yet I cannot bear that this should be called delusion; because the soul which thus enjoys GOD desires herein nothing but Him. If this be delusion in me, it belongs to GOD to remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me: I desire only Him, and to be wholly devoted to Him. You will, however, oblige me in sending me your opinion, to which I always pay a great deference, for I have a singular esteem for your reverence, and am yours in our Lord.  

And from his Sixth Letter:

I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of GOD. For my part I keep myself retired with Him in the depth of centre of my soul as much as I can; and while I am so with Him I fear nothing; but the least turning from Him is insupportable. This exercise does not much fatigue the body: it is, however, proper to deprive it sometimes, nay often, of many little pleasures which are innocent and lawful: for GOD will not permit that a soul which desires to be devoted entirely to Him should take other pleasures than with Him; that is more than reasonable. I do not say that therefore we must put any violent constraint upon ourselves. No, we must serve GOD in a holy freedom, we must do our business faithfully, without trouble or disquiet; recalling our mind to GOD mildly and with tranquillity, as often as we find it wandering from Him. It is, however, necessary to put our whole trust in GOD, laying aside all other cares, and even some particular forms of devotion, though very good in themselves, yet such as one often engages in unreasonably: because those devotions are only means to attain to the end; so when by this exercise of the presence of GOD we are with Him who is our end, it is then useless to return to the means; but we may continue with Him our commerce of love, persevering in His holy presence: one while by an act of praise, of adoration, or of desire; one while by an act of resignation, or thanksgiving; and in all the manner which our spirit can invent. Be not discouraged by the repugnance which you may find in it from nature; you must do yourself violence. At the first, one often thinks it lost time; but you must go on, and resolve to persevere in it to death, notwithstanding all the difficulties that may occur.

Obviously, the bent towards self-denial provides one of the underlying means of concentration in Brother Lawrence. This need for mortification remains a missing part of so many Tertiaries' lives. The problem in America is that too many orders have adopted middle-class values, values which demean mortification as a good. The practicing of the Presence of God must be seen in context. The other great asset to practicing God's Presence would be the virtue of humility. clearly seen in the life of this humble lay brother.

Th simplicity of Brother Lawrence's approach is that he totally realizes that without God's grace, he would not grow in holiness. Trust in God forms the pillar of his practicing the Presence of God. He noted a bare tree trunk with one small leaf. This image represented his life-a life totally reliant on grace.

This habit of mind can be acquired by lay people easily. One turns to God during the day at all times, and puts one's trust in Divine Providence, relying on God's Presence.

If you feel an attraction to Brother Lawrence's words, please purchase the little book The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I still have a 1963 edition.