“No conceited scholar was brother Lawrence; theological and doctrinal debate bored him, if he noticed them at all. His one desire was for communion with God. We find him worship more in his kitchen than in his cathedral.” (pg. 11)
Such is a man like Brother Lawrence.
Frankly, this vivid description of Brother Lawrence in the preface encourages me, as these days, theological and doctrinal debate are often more popular than the pursuit of union with Christ.
Through a collection of conversations, letters, spiritual maxims, and memories of M. Beaufort, this book gives readers a glimpse of how Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God throughout his life. Brother Lawrence “walked among the lowly”. “Where he was, Light was there.” (pg. 13).
Some Insights From Brother Lawrence
On prayers, Brother Lawrence says, “It’s a great delusion to think the times of prayer ought to differ for other time. “ As recorded, he was one who lived out Psalm 16:11 (“In thy presence is fullness of joy”), for even after he had finished his prayer, he continued in the same way of living with God which was marked by an ever-flowing joy (pg. 26). Sometimes the joy exhibited through him was so great that he needed to intentionally hinder it outwardly (pg. 40).
Brother Lawrence believes our union with God is “not a mere fleeting emotion” – as feelings can be deceiving – but rather “a state of soul” that is spiritual yet simple. Experience is to him the best teacher. Nevertheless, to be united in a such a way with God comes first a denial of self that can only be done through love and a steadfast gaze on Him. A steadfast gaze is essential if we desire an unclouded vision of the Lord. This way may not be easy, but God grants those who earnestly desire such a vision (pg 75).
Brother Lawrence simply sees love as the end of all actions. We do not need to be “great men who do great things”. Even frying a cake for the service of the Lord can bring us great joy. There is no need for specific method to attain happiness or excessive words in prayers. In his love for God, he forgot self – not even the thoughts of heaven or hell or his past sins (pg. 93).
The Characters of Brother Lawrence
In contrast to what many perceive as “godly” and “holy”, Brother Lawrence, in the word of Beaufort, was “intensely human” with a “frank and open” manner. Those who met him felt immediately as if they had found a friend.
Such a description reminds me of Eugene Peterson’s saying, “We don’t become more spiritual by becoming less human.” Sometimes people find Christians unapproachable – acting all holy but without compassion. Nevertheless, our God was the one who took a revolutionary step by taking the form of humanity.
It is also interesting to note that Brother Lawrence was someone who spent more time on the gospels than the other books of the Bible. He wanted to soak himself in the words spoken by Jesus Christ Himself when He walked upon the earth. The other person whom I knew from my reading that had done a similar practice is Carl Demearis, who spent seven years in his life readying only the four Gospels.
The Most Profound Insight
The most profound passage that I came across in the book is the following,
“All that he (Brother Lawrence) had heard others say, all that he had found in books, all that he had written himself, seemed savourless dull and heavy, when compared with what faith had unfolded to him of the unspeakable riches of God and Jesus Christ.” Brother Lawrence on said, “He alone can reveal Himself to us. We toil and exercise our mind in reason and in science, forgetting that in there we can see only a copy while we neglect to gaze on the incomparable original. In the depths of our soul, God reveals himself, could we realise it, yet we won’t look there for Him.” (pg. 87)
“It is not enough to just know God as a theory or some fleeting emotions,” continues Brother Lawrence. The Lord is indeed always present as the King who lives inside us, waiting for to commune with Him (pg. 87). The question is, will we be ones who desire to live in such a reality, where we experience the infinite riches of the “incomparable original”?
P.S. There is perhaps only one view from Brother Lawrence that I am not all the way with him. Brother Lawrence believes God sends disease to body to cure the soul (pg. 54). While we often experience more of Him during times of hardship and sickness, perhaps saying God “passively permits” instead of “(actively) sends” will be more appropriate and sensitive to the suffering ones? Also, Brother Lawrence, in his letter, encourages his friend who was suffering an illness (who found no way to be healed humanly) to leave off all human remedies. Today, many believers may disagree, but to Brother Lawrence, this practice allows us to rely on and expect from God completely.