Her Center and Place of Rest

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation), Uncategorized

I am not always humble, but I have a great respect for humility.  It’s the Christian virtue that the mystics seem to have in most abundance.  When opening a text like Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle or Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, you assume that you’ll find someone full of deep, gnomic wisdom and complicated thoughts and ideas.  Instead you find people whose wisdom is chatty and deeply human.  You feel like you’re talking to a friend on a long car ride.  The conversation is deep but the person you’re with isn’t trying to show that they’re particularly deep – they’re investigating their own questions as you’re investigating yours.  Being honest about one’s own questions seems to be the key to having wisdom in humility.  There really are no spiritual experts, no one who has figured everything out.  There are practitioners, people who have prayed long and hard, and will tell you the fruit of their prayers, and maybe something about their practice, without trying to mystify you with complicated systems or procedures.  In the end, the most surprising thing about true mysticism is how down to earth and honest it is.  In the passage below, Brother Lawrence talks about his struggles with complex systems and practices.  He’s open and honest about the fact that they seemed intent on teaching him something he already knew, and that he didn’t need them.  But that’s not because he isn’t humble.  It’s exactly his humility that allows him to see through the scaffolding surrounding a life with God, and perceive God’s presence and love for him just as it is, unencumbered by anything that obfuscated or tries to be “mystical.”

The apprehension that I was not devoted to God as I wished to be, my past sins always present to my mind, and the great unmerited favors which God did me, were the source of my sufferings and feelings of unworthiness. I was sometimes troubled with thoughts that to believe I had received such favors was an effect of my imagination, which pretended to be so soon where others arrived with great difficulty. At other times I believed that it was a willful delusion and that there really was no hope for me.  Finally, I considered the prospect of spending the rest of my days in these troubles. I discovered this did not diminish the trust I had in God at all. In fact, it only served to increase my faith. It then seemed that, all at once, I found myself changed. My soul, which, until that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest.

Give the All for the All

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation), Uncategorized

Having found in many books different methods of going to God and diverse practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly God’s. This made me resolve to give the all for the All. After having given myself wholly to God, to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of God, everything that was not God, and I began to live as if there was none but God and I in the world.

-Brother Lawrence

This, truly, is for me the most intimidating quote from Brother Lawrence.  I am a person who likes methods, practices, liturgies, and literary forms.  I feel more comfortable if there’s a roadmap, if I can feel myself surrounded by spiritual mentors and forebears. The very desire to use someone else’s spiritual writings in prayer arises from this tendency.  I find many different methods of going to God and diverse practices in books, and I like doing this, and trying out those methods and practices for awhile, depending on my season of life.  But Brother Lawrence makes me pause and wonder if all of these spiritual contraptions aren’t simply a distraction.  Knowing and loving God isn’t really that hard, after all.  You just have to pay attention to yourself and the world, and invite God into your observations.  That said, I don’t think I’ll stop dipping into books and looking for the wisdom of others to help me in my prayer life.  But it’s good to be reminded that it’s not necessary for me to do so, and that I shouldn’t let these methods become an idol by clinging to them too desperately, or assuming that I have no relationship with God without them.

In the Kitchen

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation), Uncategorized

I have often wondered what the disciples felt at the last supper.  I think that their primary emotion was fear.  They knew that they were being hunted by Herod, and Jesus had been talking for weeks about how he would go to Jerusalem, would be arrested, and would die.  Now they were in Jerusalem, sitting together in a nondescript little room, the smell of roasting lamb drifting down wind from the temple sacrifice.  I think that when Jesus picked up the bread and the wine, and said that they were his body and his blood, he was telling them that he would never abandon them, that even when he was gone, they could find him in the smallest, most ordinary things in their lives.

At first glance, Brother Lawrence seems to read this scene differently than I do.  Placing himself within the upper room, he experiences tranquility, rather than fear.  But this is because he’s already learned the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach the disciples.  He’s used to finding God in the most ordinary things.  Even in a fretful, busy kitchen, he’s tranquil.  He has learned the assurance that Jesus offers to the disciples:

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 in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen, he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season with an even uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit. “The time of business,” said he, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper.”

Praising, Adoring, and Loving God

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation), Uncategorized

What is the grace that Brother Lawrence speaks of in the quote below?  We’re happy when things go our way, and we might think of this as grace, but it’s not.  Happiness is a comparatively simple thing, drawing its energy and existence from temporal success or momentary relationships with other people, or, often in my case, the ability to convince oneself of everyone else’s love and regard.  But grace isn’t really temporal.  For Brother Lawrence, it comes from cultivating and maintaining contact with the eternal.  Often, this means simply living in the moment and reaching out to God in the moment.  This is the grace of a dancer, who’s physical body seems to occupy space in a way that’s different from the rest of us, but mostly because she’s conscious of that space, and her body’s movement through it.  Her grace comes from awareness of present movement and present moment.

In our conversation with God we should also engage in praising, adoring, and loving God incessantly for God’s infinite goodness and perfection. Without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for God’s grace with a perfect confidence, as relying upon the infinite merits of our Lord. Brother Lawrence said that God never failed offering us 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 God’s assistance. He said that God always gave us light in our doubts, when we had no other design but to please.

A Continual Exercise of Love

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation), Uncategorized

Brother Lawrence tells us that he spent a lot of time trying to be dutiful and follow the prayer methods that everyone else seemed to be using before he finally settled on his own simple way of praying.  W/hen I read the quote below, it’s hard not to be reminded of Centering Prayer, and of the carefully delineated method laid out in The Cloud of Unknowing.  I doubt that this was a method Brother Lawrence was taught – he speaks more often of rites of abstinence and mortification as the standard practice of his place and time.  But even if he was taught some form of Centering Prayer, I can’t imagine him actually sticking to it for very long.  His method was much more direct, and, more importantly, it was all his own.  As a person who often teaching methods of prayer, it’s important for me to remember that the best kind of prayer is the one that is suited to the person who is praying.  And sometimes, as in Brother Lawrence’s case, its a communion with God that is so direct that it can hardly be called a method at all.

He said that useless thoughts spoil all – that the mischief began there. We ought to reject them as soon as we perceived their impertinence 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. Nevertheless, at first he had meditated for some time, but afterwards that went off in a manner that he could give no account of. Brother Lawrence emphasized that all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless unless they serve 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 God’s sake.

Greatest Simplicity

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation), Uncategorized

Brother Lawrence was both very humble and very trusting.  The intimacy he had with God left him in no doubt that God would provide for him, even if what God offered in the moment was a series of trials or, even, a good death.  We have trouble thinking of trials as a gift from God.  When I was young I welcomed them because I knew that they were helping me learn and develop.  Now that I’m in middle age, I find them burdensome.  Aren’t I developed enough?  God’s answer, of course, is no.  I wish that I had Brother Lawrence’s simplicity, his ability to simply ask for God’s assistance without having a pre-planned idea of what that assistance should look like.  Here’s the quote that accompanies the prayer card I made to help me meditate on this:

When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, Brother Lawrence addressed himself to God saying, “I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me”. And 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 falling and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.  He said we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to God frankly and plainly, and imploring God’s assistance in our affairs just as they happen. God never failed to grant it, as Brother Lawrence had often experienced.

A Tree Stripped of Its Leaves

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation), Uncategorized

I love that Brother Lawrence’s conversion was accomplished through nothing more than noticing a tree stripped of its leaves in winter.  He is like the Zen master who reaches enlightenment when a tile falls off the roof.  Of course, for Brother Lawrence the tree is an image of resurrection – the repeated nature of resurrection and, necessarily, the repeated nature of death.  But instead of leading Brother Lawrence to a lifelong exploration of this ongoing process of death and resurrection, the tree stripped of its leaves mainly leads him to look for God in all things and all moments, most particularly mundane things and moments.  This is enough for Brother Lawrence, this continual call and exploration of what it means to pay attention and stay in communion with God.

Here is the text that accompanies this prayer card:

During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, Brother Lawrence received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul… He said we ought to quicken and enliven our faith. It was lamentable we had so little. Instead of taking faith for the rule of their conduct, people amused themselves with trivial devotions which changed daily. He said that faith was sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection. We ought to give ourselves up to God with regard both to things temporal and spiritual and seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of God’s will. Whether God led us by suffering or by consolation all would be equal to a soul truly resigned.

Practicing the Presence of God

Little Flowers (Quotes for Meditation)

I have been working on a series of images to accompany Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God.  Here in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, we’re planning a series of retreats that are based on Brother Lawrence’s life and letters.  It has been a joy to spend so much time with this great saint and mystic, a man of profound humility and simplicity.  I’ve created a chapbook that contains a transliteration of the whole text of Practicing the Presence of God, and twenty-eight images.  I’ve also created prayer cards with the quotes and images that I like the best.  They’re meant for use during times of private devotion.  In the following days I’ll be putting up separate posts featuring these cards, with some commentary.

The chapbooks that I’ve created are hand assembled and hand stitched, and there are only a limited number of them for sale.  You can purchase one by following this link to my Shopify page.