Practicing God’s presence

The term Practicing the Presence of God goes back to Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite brother, who was born as Nicolas Herman in French Lorrain in 1611 (or 1614?) and died in February 1691. Some call him the ‘kitchen saint’ because he worked in the monastery kitchen for most of his life. Despite his lowly status, many were attracted to him by his passionate relationship with God and came to him for advice. These conversations and letter exchanges with people of his community were later collected and published by Father Joseph de Beaufort. [The quotes and pages numbers in this post refer to the book ‘Practicing His Presence‘ by Br Lawrence and Frank Laubach]

Br. Lawrence defines Practicing the Presence of God as living consciously in God’s presence every moment of the day by continually talking with him, and “referring all that we do to Him” no matter which task is at hand. In the beginning this practice needs diligence but after a while

we shall find His love inwardly excites us to His presence without any difficulty. (46)

As a result Br. Lawrence admitted that

My set times of prayer are not different from other times of the day. Although I do retire to pray (because it is the direction of my superior) I do not need such retirement nor do I ask for it because my greatest business does not divert me from God. (47)

His interaction with God was marked by simplicity, a desire to please God in everything and never let himself be diverted by thinking “of trifles and foolish things.” (42) It resulted in a holy freedom and familiarity with God, and a deep assurance of God’s presence and goodness.

According to Br. Lawrence devotions are only the means to an end where being in God’s presence is the end, which makes devotions useless once you are living in God’s presence. He goes even so far as to say that

I have given up all forms of devotion and set prayers other than those to which my state obliges me. My only business now is to persevere in His holy presence. I do so by simple and loving attention to the Lord. Then I have the experience of the actual presence of God. To use another term I will call it a secret conversation between my soul and the Lord. (77)

Frank Charles Laubach (1884-1970) in his search for a more complete surrender to God developed a similar praxis 200 years after Br. Lawrence’s death. He was a missionary among Muslims in the Southern Philippines when he started at age 45 the practice of abiding in Christ’s presence. He chronicled his personal experience in letters to his father, which were later published as “Letters by a modern mystic.” Like Br. Lawrence he testifies that it is possible to continuously live in and experience God’s presence. Laubach’s efforts seem rather legalistic and forced at first when he tries to think of God every few seconds but fails for most of the day. However, eventually the effect made it all worthwhile:

This concentration upon God is strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatever. (15-6)

I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that … I saw a little of that marvelous pull that Jesus had as He walked along the road day after day ‘God-intoxicated’ and radiant with the endless communion of His soul with God. (19)

Laubach recommends in the beginning to

try to call Christ to mind at least one second of each minute. You do not need to forget other things nor stop your work, but invite Him to share everything you do or say or think. (30)

Which is why he called his fresh approach to Br. Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God” also “Game with minutes” and gives very practical suggestions on how to go about it. He assures people that

the results of this effort begin to show clearly in a month. They grow rich after six months, and glorious after ten years. (30)