Let us begin to be devoted to Him in good earnest. Let us cast everything besides out of our hearts; He would possess them alone.
I can't help but read this passage and think of the Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. In one of his influential books on the spiritual life, he talks about this undivided heart, committed to God. Without going into too much detail about the book, the name will suffice to make my point. The title of the book is, "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing." Too often, we think of purity in the form of cleanliness or chastity or freedom from guilt, but it is so much more than that. Think of pure gold or silver. All of the impurities and contaminants have been removed. Think of a pure gem that is almost completely transparent and flawless. Think of water that has been completely purified for drinking.
All of these tie in to what Kierkegaard is saying. A pure heart is one that has no contaminant, no guilt, no flaw, is completely transparent for all to see. A completely pure heart is to will one thing - God. to desire God, to desire God's will, to bring God pleasure, to follow God, to love God. Purity is to allow all other things that might pollute our devotion to be removed - refined, filtered, boiled, washed. It is to remove ALL idols from our lives - anything that might threaten to divert our attention from God. This should always be our goal.
I hope that reading through this book has been helpful for you. I know that it has been for me and I look forward to how Goid is go
Let us not amuse ourselves to seek or to love GOD for any sensible favors (however elevated) which He has or may do us. (-Br. Lawrence)
When I read this, I couldn't help but thinking of a writing from Bernard of Clairvaux. Now, I must admit that it is not exactly what Br. Lawrence is talking about, but hey this is my blog post and my stream of consciousness, so I'm going to go in that direction anyway.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was a member of the Cistercian Order of monks in France. He was responsible for many of the reforms that allowed the Cistercians to survive throughout the years. Born to French nobility, Bernard entered the monastic life following his mother's death, at the age of 23. Given the title "The Doctor of the Church," he was known for his eloquence and his writings still remain very influential today.
One such writing is a treatise entitled, "On Love." In this, Bernard lays out what he calls "four degrees of love" that correspond pretty closely with Br. Lawrence. They are as follows:
1. When man loves himself for his own sake
2. When man loves God for his (man's) own good
3. When man loves God for God's own sake
4. When man loves himself for the sake of God
Bernard felt that this last stage of life could not be reached prior to the resurrection. Trapped within our mortal bodies, we could not achieve a pure love for self for the sake of God. Therefore, the highest level we could achieve on this earth is to love God for God's sake. In other words, we should not love only ourselves (the selfishness of the first degree), or for the blessings God gives us (the second degree), but we love God for God. We desire God's will alone. We desire nothing more than to know him. We become completely enraptured just by God's existence. We devote our whole lives to seeking this God and arrange our lives so that nothing else gets in the way of this pursuit.
This is what I want for my life, but I'm not there yet. I find myself too often in the selfishness of the first and second degrees. Oh god, purify my love for you, that I may desire you and you alone. If I were never to receive another blessing, another answered prayer, another gift, another comfort or consolation, you would still be worthy of my praise. Make my life a prayer. Amen.
As we come to the end of Br. Lawrence's little book, I am struck by the many things that resonate with this last letter. they are too much for one blog post, so I will flesh them out over the next couple of days as we wrap this up.
Let all our employment be to know GOD: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. (-Br. Lawrence)
When I read this, I can't help but think of the idea of finding one's vocation. One of the best books I've read on vocation comes from a Quaker by the name of Parker Palmer. In his little book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, he says the following:
"Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about - quite apart from what I would like for it to be about - or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.
"That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for "voice." Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live - but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life." (p.4-5)
If we were to combine these two thoughts, we would see that Br. Lawrence is calling us to make our vocation to know God. Drawing on Palmer, we might understand that to mean that since God creates us, only God can truly tell us who we are and who God is. Let's push that a little further to say that, if our true vocation is to know God, our jobs are the fertile ground in which that knowledge grows.
We learn who God is as we learn to live out our faith as nurses, teachers, small business owners, construction workers, pastors, etc. These may be how we make a living, but our true calling is to know God through these things - to allow God to shape us into the image of Christ in the midst of our jobs. As we interact with coworkers, customers, students, employees, neighbors, friends, and family, we are being sharpened "as iron sharpens iron" and have the opportunity to know God in the midst of our everyday activity. This is why Br. Lawrence can say that he is just as much in prayer washing pots and pans as he is kneeling before the altar. This is the goal of Practicing the Presence - constant communion with God, becoming more and more like Jesus, and letting Jesus live through our hands and feet - touching the world through us.
. . . we must make our heart a spiritual temple, wherein to adore Him incessantly . . . (-Br. Lawrence)
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, he tells the story of one character’s journey of self-discovery and heroism to save all of Middle Earth from the evil that threatens to destroy it. Though told in many smaller stories, that is the big picture, or "meta-narrative" at work. (meta = "beyond" or "about" and narrative = "story"; metanarrative = story about a story)
The Bible works in a somewhat similar manner. Though there are many small stories throughout, there is a larger metanarrative at work. In this letter, Br. Lawrence taps into one of these key metanarratives that we find woven throughout scripture.
This story is God's search for a home. From the outset of Genesis, God creates a garden and populates it with plants, animals, and people. Then, God comes down to walk, talk, and live with his creation (until disobedience messes things up). After Adam and Eve are expelled, God chooses to make a covenant with Abram, a nomad who lives in tents and builds altars (a foreshadowing of the tent/tabernacle to come).
There is a story about Abram's grandson, Jacob, a little later in scripture, where he goes to sleep and dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth with angels descending and ascending. He wakes up, realizes he’s been in the presence of God, and declares that this place is the "house of God."
After Sinai, Moses takes God’s detailed commands and builds a tabernacle, or tent of meeting for the assembly of the people. Within this tent is the ark of covenant. This is the place where the presence of God will dwell. With the ark present, the people know that God is present - at home with them. After the people get to the promised land, the portable tent was no longer necessary. Consequently, two different permanent temples are built to house the ark and the worship of the Israelite people. Again, the temple represents the presence of God among the people.
In Jesus, we are told that God came down and made his home among us. In Jesus, "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" and we beheld God face to face (Colossians 1:15-20). After Jesus died, rose, and ascended back to heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell in the hearts of believers as a seal for the coming day when God would bring a new heaven and a new earth. This new earth consists of a new Jerusalem, the holy city, where all the people of God shall dwell. As Revelation (the final book of the Bible tells us) in this new Jerusalem, there will be no temple because God will dwell among the people.
See, from beginning to end (from Genesis to Revelation), this has been God’s desire all along - to dwell with his people. Br. Lawrence is onto something here. Practicing the Presence means that we become aware that we live in the age of the Spirit, where God takes up residence in the lives of his people. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” the Apostle Paul asks us (1 Corinthians 6:19).
If we are the temple, we don’t have to go to a sacred space for worship (though that may be helpful). We don’t have to strike a certain pose for prayer (though it may be useful). We don’t have to say prescribed liturgies (though they may be guides). All we have to do is recognize the truth: God lives within you. So wake up, take notice, open the door of your heart, and welcome him home.
(For a good book on the metanarratives found in scripture, see Frank Viola's book From Eternity to Here - not the same Frank Viola who used to pitch for the Twins)
Love sweetens pains; and when one loves GOD, one suffers for His sake with joy and courage. (-Br. Lawrence)
O.K., Br. Lawrence, I've been with you up to this point, but today I can't accompany you to this conclusion. I understand what you are saying, sure. I preached on something very similar just this morning. But I'm convinced that love does not always sweeten pain. In fact, I am quite certain, love increases pain, deepens it, make its sting that much sharper and more bitter.
Consider this: it is the ones we love that are able to hurt us the most. I am less hurt by the comments of people I don't know for the sheer fact that I don't know them - their opinions don't matter that much. For those that I love deeply, however, the pain I feel from them (or because of them) cuts to the very heart of who I am.
As a case in point, take some of the survivors of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel, survivor of the death camps at Auschwitz, has written very eloquently about how his love for God only served to intensify the pain because of God's apparent absence in the midst of his great suffering. (For an example of such writing, see Wiesel's "A Prayer for the Days of Awe.") When God seems to be absent in our suffering, the suffering deepens, not because we don't believe, but because we do in fact believe. The reality is often this: the more we believe, the more we love God, the greater the suffering.
Unlike how you present it, Br. Lawrence, this is not always a black and white issue. There are times, as you say, that we can endure suffering because we feel (as Mary Stevenson's poem "Footprints In the Sand" suggests) that God is "carrying us." Yet, there are also times that God's seeming absence intensifies our suffering greatly. Sometimes suffering leads to joy. Sometimes not. I'm just asking that we be honest.
What has been your experience?
GOD often permits that we should suffer a little, to purify our souls, and oblige us to continue with Him. . . . I know not how GOD will dispose of me: I am always happy: all the world suffer; and I, who deserve the severest discipline, feel joys so continual, and so great, that I can scarce contain them. (-Br. Lawrence)
It is interesting to me that I have been reading this book along with another book that I received for Christmas about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In that latter book, written by Nikos Kazantzakas, St. Francis is depicted as finding great joy in persecution and suffering because he felt that it was God's way of purifying him like gold. As "Francis" was burned away, it made more room for God to fill him. For this reason, he welcomed stonings, beatings, insults, and the like because it gave him the chance to live out the love of Christ, "loving his enemies and praying for those that persecuted him" (see Matthew 5:39-42).
This is nothing new. The early followers of Jesus could identify with the suffering Christ. In the midst of their own suffering, it was a pleasure to know that they served a Savior who understood what they were going through and could identify with their struggle. They even went so far as to rejoice in this this persecution. Writing to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote,
"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
Suffering became the means through which one knew that they were a part of what Christ was doing in the world. For those in the midst of suffering, this perspective was able to help them look beyond the present to the future that God had in store for them. It helped to provide a context, a reason for their suffering and a hope for the other side. In suffering they were becoming like Christ.
It begs the question, though: what about those of us who don't suffer? What about those who are relatively healthy, don't experience persecution, live middle-class lives of relative comfort? How do we identify with Christ? How do we make the death of Christ a reality in our bodies so that the life of Christ may also become a reality?
What do you think?
I DO not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray GOD earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases . . . I wish you could convince yourself that GOD is often (in some sense) nearer to us and more effectually present with us, in sickness than in health. (-Br. Lawrence)
Upon reading this letter, I could not help but be reminded of the famous quote by C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and many other great books. In his book, The Problem of Pain, he makes the following statement:
"But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
I wonder if this is what Br. Lawrence was getting at. I have definitely found it to be true that God has used illness and pain to get my attention. Too often, in our busyness, we miss hearing God's voice, miss seeing God's handiwork on display, miss God's gentle nudging in our lives. Illness often gives us the chance to slow down long enough to become aware of what what saying all along. Maybe God uses pain and illness to get our attention, to help us reorder our priorities, to shake us out of the delusion that we are in control and can handle things on our own. Yes, maybe pain is God's megaphone.
Maybe the greatest need many of us have when it comes to illness and pain is not in the healing we so often pray for. Maybe the biggest need is for God to reorient our relationship to the pain/illness/suffering. Pain is not the enemy. Pain can be the grace of God interrupting our overloaded schedule. Pain can be the unannounced guest, who brings with it the hidden treasure. Pain can be the jolt that shakes us from our apathy, that rouses us from our sleep-walking, that breathes new life into our decaying flesh and reminds us that we are, in fact, still alive and breathing. Pain may not be the enemy we try so hard to avoid, but the messenger of God we bend over backwards to welcome.
What is your experience with pain/illness? How has God used pain/illness in your life? Has it drawn you closer to God or pushed you away?
Perhaps M. -- was too much attached to him he has lost. We ought to love our friends, but without encroaching upon the love of GOD, which must be the principal. (-Br. Lawrence)
As I thought more about this connection to hospitality today, I remembered another passage from Henri Nouwen's book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, that is closely connected to Br. Lawrence's comments about the man who had experienced great loss. True hospitality, Nouwen argues, requires a certain distance, a willingness to offer the guest solitude in order to create that needed space. This solitude is in direct contrast to loneliness, which grabs and holds and demands rather than letting go and offering freedom. Rather than offering much comment on it, I just want to quote a passage from Nouwen's book:
"The movement from hostility to hospitality cannot be thought os without a constant inner connection with the movement from loneliness to solitude. As long as we are lonely, we cannot be hospitable because as lonely people we cannot create free space. Our own need to still our inner cravings of loneliness makes us cling to others instead of creating space for them.
"I vividly remember the story if a student who was invited to stay with a family while studying at a university. After a few weeks he realized how unfree he felt and slowly became aware that he was becoming the victim of the crying loneliness of his hosts. Husband and wife had become strangers to each other and used their guest to satisfy their great need for affection. the hosts clung to the stranger who had entered their house in the hope that he could offer them the love and intimacy that they were unable to give to each other. So the student became entangled in a complex net of unfulfilled needs and desires, and felt caught between the walls of loneliness. He felt the painful tension of having to choose between two lonely partners and was being pulled apart by the cruel question: are you for him or for me? Are you on her side or on mine? He no longer felt free to go and come when he wanted; he found himself gradually unable to concentrate on his studies while at the same time powerless to offer the help his hosts were begging for. He had even lost the inner freedom to leave.
"This story illustrates how difficult it is to create free space for a stranger when there is no solitude in our lives. When we think back to the places where we felt most at home, we quickly see that it was where our hosts gave us the precious freedom to come and go on our own terms and did not claim us for their own needs. Only in a free space can re-creation take place and new life be found. The real host is the one who offers that space where we can listen to our own inner voices and find our own personal way of being human. But to be such a host we have to first of all be at home in our own house." (Reaching Out, p. 101-102)
Feel free to offer your own thoughts on how this might realate t
He is always near you and with you; leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone, who came to visit you: why then must GOD be neglected? (-Br. Lawrence)
When I read this letter, I couldn't help but think about the connection here to the practice of hospitality. One of the most important and widespread of Christian disciplines, the practice of hospitality is about much more than a clean house, cold drinks, and light conversation about the weather.
Henri Nouwen describes it this way: "At first the word "hospitality" might evoke the image of soft sweet kindness, tea parties, bland conversations and a general atmosphere of coziness. Probably this has its good reasons since in our culture the concept of hospitality has lost much of its power and is often used in circles where we are more prone to expect a watered down piety than a serious search for an authentic Christian spirituality." (Reaching Out, p. 66)
Nouwen defines a Christian approach to hospitality as a movement away from hostility and towards brotherhood. In fact, he says that it "is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced." (Reaching Out, p.66)
Hospitality is, therefore, creating a space where transformation can take place. Too often, however, we fall prey to the temptation to fill this empty space. We are fearful of silence and emptiness. We are uncomfortable just being in the presence of another, so we fill the space with shallow conversations about inconsequential things. Our prayers can be a lot like this. Too often, we ramble on, filling the empty space and thereby choking off any chance of real transformation.
I really believe that Br. Lawrence is calling us to a practice of hospitality. He is calling us to a place where we make room (create a space) for God to enter into our lives on a regular basis. He is calling us to fight the temptation to fill that space, but to allow room for transformation. We must allow room for God to speak, to move, to convict, to teach, to love us. This is what we see in Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha fills the space with busyness (see Luke 10:38-42).
We must also extend this hospitality to ourselves, treating ourselves gently when we fail to meet expectations rather than beating ourselves up over every little fault. We must create space in our life for our own transformation, not filling it constant busyness. We must treat God and ourselves as welcomed guests, allowing our lives to experience the movement from hostility to hospitality.
What has been your experience with hospitality? Have you seen a connection between hospitality and prayer in your own life? (Let us know about it by leaving a comment.)
She seems to me full of good will, but she would go faster than grace. One does not become holy all at once.
This must be speaking to me, because I can be the most impatient person in the world at times. I have a habit of being inspired by something, then going for it head first, expecting to become an expert overnight. I think, at our heart, we all wish our life was characterized by the Burger King slogan, "Your way, right away." The spiritual life just doesn't seem to work like this, however. The metaphor of a baby growing up is a good one. Think of this way - no one would expect a baby to go from womb to adult in one night, one week , one month, even one year. No, it takes years and years to grow from infant to mature adult. The same is true of the spiritual life as well. We may be an adult physically, but an infant in the faith. It takes time.
I can't help but think of the following quote, attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, when I think about spiritual development:
Sow a thought and you reap an action;
sow an act and you reap a habit;s
ow a habit and you reap a character;
sow a character and you reap a destiny.
In fact, Br. Lawrence seems to lay out a similar path as a summary of this practice that he is teaching. He says:
. . . let us then pray to Him for it continually.
How can we pray to Him without being with Him?
How can we be with Him but in thinking of Him often?
And how can we often think of Him, but by a holy habit which we should form of it?
So, we don't just decide today that we are going to pray continually and automatically become successful at it, instantly achieving spiritual maturity. No, we develop a habit of thinking of God. This takes place more and more often. As we think of God, we enter into the presence of God. As we cultivate living our life in God's presence, our lives become a continual prayer to God. This is the practice in a nutshell.
It's simple, but difficult. It's difficult, but worth it. What are waiting for? Get started today.
Ecclesia Writer's Consortium
We are blessed at Ecclesia to have a number of gifted writers and teachers. Here, you'll find devotions, meditations, and musings from a sample of those writers.