The Practice of the Presence of God – Book Review
The Sacredness of the Ordinary
(A book review – The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence)
It has now been over two months since most Americans were put on lockdown due to the pandemic. I am thankful for technology that has kept me in contact with the outside world, especially my worship community and the members of the small group that I belong to. Saying all that, I have a confession…. I have still complained. I have complained about the lack of face-to-face contact, not being able to experience the physical touch of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am a hugger by nature and, if I am honest, I am feeling a bit of withdrawal in this area. I miss sitting in my pew, hearing other voices singing in unison, and the visceral response to sensing the presence of God in my community.
I have discussed this with the Lord, and in his infinite wisdom, he has led me back to my bookshelves to reread some tried-and-true literary masterpieces to help me realize there is a lesson in all of this. What has really spoken to me these days is the classic The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. This tiny gem written in the 1600s is as relevant today as the day it was compiled. This humble Carmelite monk has reminded me that I can (and should) “do church” anytime…anywhere, for the bottom line is that worship is connecting with God in a way to show our love and dedication. This should be a way of life, not an event.
We are living in a time marked by fragmentation and alienation. The compilation of simple conversations and letters by Brother Lawrence brings us back to the truth of Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As I walked through the pages of The Practice of the Presence of God, I was reminded that everything is holy; everything points to God’s love for me; everything is prayer. Brother Lawrence beautifully shares his deep conviction that prayer is not saying prayers but a way of living in which all we do becomes prayer. We are not just called to say prayers but live a prayerful life. As challenging as it may seem, a prayerful life can happen while engaging in homeschooling our children, during a conference call, responding to the empty aisles of the grocery store or “doing life” in constant vicinity of family. All can be done to the glory of God!
Brother Lawrence, lovingly known as “the lord of the pots and pans” (as he worked in the kitchen of his monastery), was a living example of finding the sacred in the ordinary. These steps may sound simple in word but take a lifetime to incorporate in such a way that they become second nature.
Abandon oneself completely to God
I have realized that I am so spiritually weak that I have to ask God to show me when I need him. When I fall short, when I run ahead on my own steam, when I try to manipulate circumstances, I have wholeheartedly asked him to remind me that all of me – the good, bad, and the ugly – is to be given up to him.
Complete acceptance of God’s will
To bring me closer to God, I must accept his will with poise, levelheadedness, and happy resignation. No matter what comes my way – even with all the ramifications of this pandemic. I must be willing to endure joyfully because I know there is nothing that is happening to me that has not been sifted through the hand of God first. This means unreserved trust with no thought of immediate reward. I know that if I endure in a way that points to a loving God, I will grow to be a person with the grace that outweighs any sacrifice.
Abandonment and acceptance certainly sound impossible to obtain. These attributes are not to be obtained but divinely given only through continual communication with God. It is not easy to develop; therefore, we must persevere, and one day we will find it an incorporated rhythm. This communication must be carried on during formal times of prayer as well as during the menial tasks of the day.
Brother Lawrence stresses that repetition is the key. Never give up directing your mind back to God’s presence for the Lord delights in and honors our pursuit.
Possibly Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 12:1-2 in The MESSAGE helps to wrap up this practice of God’s presence in our lives in more modern language, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
With all sincerity of heart, mind, and soul, ask God to help bring your thoughts back to his presence, and your actions and words will follow. This will take a lifetime, but what a journey!
written by Major Lauren Hodgson, Spiritual Life Development, USA East