17 November 2010

The Practice of the Presence of God

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection is, to borrow a phrase, a book for transformation and not merely information. In fact, as far as information goes, this book has only one main idea. Namely, we should live our lives every moment with the realization that God is present with us, and we should lift up our hearts to Him frequently in a spirit of prayer. It’s a painfully obvious principle going back to St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” However, how many of us actually fulfill this biblical mandate? Sadly, very few of us can avoid distractions long enough to have any sort of unbroken time of communion with God.

Brother Lawrence was a monk, but he was not the type of monk who spent all day in the chapel praying. He worked in the kitchen, bought the groceries from the market, and traveled on behalf of the monastery. In all ways, he had a very mundane and, dare is say, “worldly” job. However, the beauty of his book is to show that no vocation makes it impossible to have a strong life of prayer.

My own prayer life suffers greatly from distractions and self-imposed haste, and I have struggled often to get back on track and spend quality time in prayer. As such, some of Brother Lawrence’s sayings are welcome breaths of fresh air. “…Many souls get stuck among systems and particular devotions,” he writes, “and neglect that love which is their real end.” Systems may be helpful or they may simply obscure the real purpose for prayer. There is not a one-size-fits-all method for maintaining a healthy prayer life. Also, prayer should be normal, and not some separate experience from the rest of life. Lawrence writes that it is “a great delusion to imaging that prayer-time should be different from any other, for we are equally bound to be united to God by work at work-time as by prayer at prayer-time.”

Finally, and this strikes at the heart of man’s pride and perhaps at the heart of why I and so many others in our modern world struggle with prayer, prayer is not a matter of becoming smarter or stronger. “Neither skill nor knowledge is required to enable us to go to God…” Rather, this sort of continual prayer can only come by a deep sense of our helplessness and weakness before God. We can’t work our way there, and we can’t think our way there. “The greater the perfection to which a soul aspires, the more dependent is she upon divine grace, and this grace becomes more necessary every moment because without it the soul can do nothing. The world, the flesh, and the Devil together wage so fierce and unremitting a war that, without actual grace and a humble reliance thereon, the soul would be dragged down in spite of herself.”

It is this last emphasis, the reliance on God’s grace for all of this, which makes this book so wonderful to me. Brother Lawrence gives pointers in the right direction and practical hints for helping along the way, but there is no simple 5 step plan. He frankly admits that what he is speaking of is impossible, but he doesn’t leave us there. He points us to faith in Christ as the means to attaining the goal of ceaseless prayer. “All these acts of worship must be the fruit of faith. We must believe that God is indeed within our hearts, and that we must worship, love and serve Him in spirit and in truth…” This emphasis makes up for any shortcomings in Lawrence’s specific theology, and makes this a book by which every Christian, new or old, may grow and benefit.

No comments: