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Practicing the Presence of God
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Brother Lawrence
The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids:  Spire Books (Baker Book House), 1958, 2003.  112p.)
Available in an edition similar to the one I read.

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Brother Lawrence was a monk in medieval France.  This book is a translation of an old manuscript, one section from the monk's own writings and the other contemporaneous with him, explaining his life and the devotional approach he developed to servanthood.  He developed a method of devotion to God through service to others.

Another Side of Catholicism
Protestants who have been taught by their tradition that Catholicism was (is?) corrupt and debauched, and thus unable to represent the true gospel of the Lord, should read this classic.  It is a simple, unpretentious presentation of this simple man's life and spiritual pilgrimage, in the only setting available to him in France in the 1500s.  It is a challenge to anyone who wants to take Jesus' teachings seriously.

The subject of this book is always known as Brother Lawrence, using the common title of a monk.  One portion is a collection of his own writings and instructions on his method.  Another section is a rather long introduction to Friar Lawrence by a bishop, commending Lawrence and his method.

Serving the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence's method arose out of his desire to grow closer to God.  Much of his approach and experience is common to the medieval mystics of Christian Europe.  As far as I know Lawrence is unique in finding a mystical union with God in his serving others.  He turned the dull work of kitchen scullery and monastery cleaning into acts of worship and expressions of love for God.

His whole guiding principle was to Practice the Presence of God in whatever person he found himself with and in whatever situation that presented itself.  Lawrence determined to see God, to see every need as a calling from God and to see every service as an act of worshipping God.  He encouraged others to see the Divine in the ordinary.  He refused to compartmentalize God in to "religious" categories.  He believed the whole of life was God's and that God could be worshipped in every portion and action of common life.

It was insightful to see how a pious man in medieval France yearned to know and love God more and more.  It was helpful as well as inspiring to see the practical ways Brother Lawrence turned every practical deed into service for God.  He performed service to any who needed it as service to God.  He taught others to work as to the Lord and love the Lord through loving those around them.

Common Personal Services
Lawrence did not limit his devotional servanthood to communal needs, for the monastery.  He made himself available to any other monk for personal services he could provide for them.  He details some of the activities he engages in and proposes how these deepen one's relationship to God.

Lawrence assisted the village at large in various needs, including weeding gardens.  The story is unusual and deserves your personal attention.  I encourage you to read this for insights into the culture of France at that time, the difficulties of life in general in the Middle Ages and the approach to life that this spiritual man recommends to us for our own time.  Atomized modern society could do with more mutual assistance and true loving relationships with our neighbours.

Admiration of a Contemporary
The first part of the book was a testimonial introduction by another servant of the church who knew him.  The admiration came through as another perspective on the life of Brother Lawrence.  It was interesting to consider that this person who dedicated his life to knowing and loving God in every moment was a French Roman Catholic, who lived about a century after the Protestant Reformation. It was interesting and encouraging to see how he came to some of the same concepts and approaches in the Middle Ages I have tried to practice now.

God is Wherever we Seek Him
At the very least, the life of Frère Lawrence demonstrates that God's grace is not limited to our human institutional communities or cultural boundaries, even if they are "religious."  Wherever people seeks him seriously and try to follow what they discover, God acknowledges and answers their call and enlightens their search.  Himself is the goal and the reward, illustrated by the unusual life experience of Brother Lawrence.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] "Image of God" - Its Practical Meaning   New
[TXT] Julian of Norwich, Medieval English Mystic
[TXT] Mysticism and Christian Unity
[Review] Mysticism, the Wound of Knowledge
[TXT] Recurring Classic of Western Christian Mysticism
[Review] South African Spirituality
[TXT] St Francis:  Conversion and Disappointment

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First reading notes written in 2003
This review written and posted on Thoughts and Resources 27 December 2006
Last updated 15 January 2009
Reviewed on Amazon 2 March 2009
Last edited 3 February 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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