Pilgrim's Path Daily

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

'The Practice Of The Presence Of God'
- Conversations and Letters of Brother Lawrence -
an audio-booklet, narrated by Dennis Rideout

"I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility and with love; and I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him." --Brother Lawrence

PART TWO (24 minutes)

this is an audio post - click to play



Second Conversation: Brother Lawrence told me he had always been governed by love without selfish views. Since he resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.

He said he had been long troubled in mind from a certain belief that he should be damned. All the men in the world could not have persuaded him to the contrary. This trouble of mind lasted four years, during which time he suffered greatly.

Finally he reasoned: I did not engage in a religious life but for the love of God. I have endeavored to act only for Him. Whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God. I shall have this good at least that until death I shall have done all that is in me to love Him. From that time on Brother Lawrence lived his life in perfect liberty and continual joy. He placed his sins between himself and God and told Him that he did not deserve His favors, yet God still continued to bestow them in abundance.

Brother Lawrence said that in order to form a habit of conversing with God continually and referring all we do to Him, we must, at first, apply to Him with diligence. Then, after a little care, we would find His love inwardly draw us to Him without any difficulty.

He expected after the pleasant days God had given him, he would have his turn of pain and suffering. Yet he was not uneasy about it. Knowing that, since he could do nothing of himself, God would not fail to give him the strength to bear them.

When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, "Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me". Then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, "I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss." Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

Brother Lawrence said we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs just as they happen. God never failed to grant it, as Brother Lawrence had often experienced.

He said he had been lately sent into Burgundy to buy the provision of wine for the community. This was a very unwelcome task for him because he had no turn for business and because he was lame and could only move around the boat by rolling himself over the casks. Yet he gave himself no uneasiness about it, nor about the purchase of the wine. He said to God, it was His business he was about, and that he afterwards found it very well performed. He mentioned that it had turned out the same way the year before when he was sent to Auvergne.

So, likewise, in his work in the kitchen (to which he had, at first, a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God and asking for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy during the fifteen years he had been employed there. He was very well pleased with the post he was now in. Yet, he was as ready to quit that as the former, since he tried to please God by doing little things for the love of Him in any work he did. With him the set times of prayer were no different from other times. He retired to pray according to the directions of his superior, but he did not need such retirement nor ask for it because his greatest labor did not divert him from God.

Since he knew his obligation to love God in all things, and as he endeavored to do so, he had no need of a director to advise him, but he greatly needed a confessor to absolve him. He said he was very aware of his faults, but not discouraged by them. He confessed them to God and made no excuses. Then, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.

In his trouble of mind, Brother Lawrence had consulted no one. Knowing only by the light of faith that God was present, he contented himself with directing all his actions to Him. He did everything with a desire to please God and let what would come of it.

He said that useless thoughts spoil all - that mischief began there. We ought to reject useless thoughts quickly and return to our communion with God. In the beginning he had often passed his time appointed for prayer in rejecting wandering thoughts and falling right back into them. He could never regulate his devotion by certain methods as some do. At first, he had practiced meditation but, after some time, that went off in a manner of which he could give no account.

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.

Brother Lawrence said the greatest pains or pleasures of this world were nothing compared to what he had experienced of both kinds in a spiritual state. As a result he feared nothing, desiring only one thing of God - that he might not offend Him. He said he carried no guilt because, "When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to do so. I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself. If I do not fail, then I immediately give God thanks, acknowledging that it comes from Him."

Third Conversation: Brother Lawrence told me that the foundation of the spiritual life in him had been a high notion and esteem of God in faith. When he had once well established his faith he had no other care but to reject every other thought so he might perform all his actions for the love of God. He said when sometimes he had not thought of God for a good while he did not disquiet himself. Having acknowledged his wretchedness to God, he simply returned to Him with so much the greater trust.

He said the trust we put in God honors Him and draws down His great grace. It was impossible not only that God should deceive but that He should long let a soul suffer which is perfectly resigned to Him and resolved to endure everything for His sake.

Brother Lawrence often experienced the ready succors of Divine Grace. Because of his experience of grace, when he had business to do, he did not think of it beforehand. When it was time to do it, he found in God, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do. When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself. He said he was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for devotion in retirement.

Brother Lawrence said that the worst that could happen to him was to lose that sense of God which he had enjoyed so long. Yet the goodness of God assured him He would not forsake him utterly and that God would give him strength to bear whatever evil He permitted to happen to him. Brother Lawrence, therefore, said he feared nothing. He had no occasion to consult with anybody about his state. In the past, when he had attempted to do it, he had always come away more perplexed. Since Brother Lawrence was ready to lay down his life for the love of God, he had no apprehension of danger.

He said that perfect resignation to God was a sure way to heaven, a way in which we always have sufficient light for our conduct. In the beginning of the spiritual life we ought to be faithful in doing our duty and denying ourselves and then, after a time, unspeakable pleasures followed. In difficulties we need only turn to Jesus Christ and beg His grace with which everything became easier.

Brother Lawrence said that many do not advance in Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises while they neglect the love of God which is the end. This appeared plainly by their works and was the reason why we see so little solid virtue. He said there needed neither art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him and to love Him only.

Fourth Conversation: Brother Lawrence spoke with great openness of heart concerning his manner of going to God. He told me that all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we know does not lead to God. We might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him with freedom and in simplicity. We need only recognize God intimately present with us and address ourselves to Him every moment. We need to beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful and for rightly performing those things which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving God thanks when we have completed them.

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. Brother Lawrence said that God never failed offering us His grace at each action. It never failed except when Brother Lawrence's thoughts had wandered from a sense of God's presence, or he forgot to ask His assistance. He said that God always gave us light in our doubts when we had no other design but to please Him.

Our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works. Instead, it depended on doing those things for God's sake which we commonly do for our own. He thought it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works which they performed very imperfectly because of their human or selfish regard. The most excellent method he had found for going to God was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men but purely for the love of God.

Brother Lawrence felt it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action, as by prayer in its time. His own prayer was simply a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time aware of nothing other than Divine Love. When the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and thanking Him with all his might. Thus his life was a continual joy.

Brother Lawrence said we ought, once and for all, heartily put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us. We ought not 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. We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit which will naturally produce its acts in us without our effort and to our great delight.

The whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and charity. In the practice of these we become united to the will of God. Everything else is indifferent and to be used as a means that we may arrive at our end and then be swallowed up by faith and charity. All things are possible to him who believes. They are less difficult to him who hopes. They are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues. The end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, and as we hope to be through all eternity.

We must, from time to time, honestly consider and thoroughly examine ourselves. We will, then, realize that we are worthy of great contempt. Brother Lawrence noted that when we directly confront ourselves in this manner, we will understand why we are subject to all kinds of misery and problems. We will realize why we are subject to changes and fluctuations in our health, mental outlook, and dispositions. And we will, indeed, recognize that we deserve all the pain and labor God sends to humble us.

After this, we should not wonder that troubles, temptations, oppositions, and contradictions happen to us from men. We ought, on the contrary, submit ourselves to them and bear them as long as God pleases as things highly advantageous to us. The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine Grace.

Being questioned by one of his own community, to whom he was obliged to respond, by what means he had attained such an habitual sense of God; Brother Lawrence told him that, since his first coming to the monastery, he had considered God as the aim and the end of all his thoughts and desires.

In the beginning he spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of God, so as to convince his mind and impress deeply upon his heart the Divine Existence. He did this by devout sentiments and submission to the lights of faith, rather than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations. By this short and sure method he immersed himself in the knowledge and love of God. He resolved to use his utmost endeavor to live in a continual sense of His presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more.

When he had thus, in prayer, filled his mind with that Infinite Being, he went to his work in the kitchen where he was then cook for the community. There, having first considered the things his job required, and when and how each thing was to be done; he spent all the intervals of his time, both before and after his work, in prayer.

When he began, he said to God with a filial trust, "O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and prosper me with Thy assistance. Receive all my works, and possess all my affections." As he proceeded in his work, he continued his familiar conversation with his Maker, imploring His grace, and offering Him all his actions.

When he was finished, he examined how he had performed his duty. If he found well, he returned thanks to God. If not, he asked pardon and, without being discouraged, he set his mind right again. He then continued his exercise of the presence of God as if he had never deviated from it. "Thus," said he, "by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I have come to a state where it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to the habit of thinking of Him."

As Brother Lawrence had found such an advantage in walking in the presence of God, it was natural for him to recommend it earnestly to others. More strikingly, his example was a stronger inducement than any arguments he could propose. His very countenance was edifying with such a sweet and calm devotion appearing that he could not but affect the beholders.

It was observed, that even in the busiest times in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its turn with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit. "The time of work," said he, "does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper."

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