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Practice of the Presence

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Brother Lawrence (1611–1691) was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery, where he primarily worked in the kitchen. His reflections, known as Practice of the Presence of God, have inspired countless Christians and other spiritual seekers to simple practices of contemplation and presence. He begins by encouraging us to take brief moments of pause during our busy days to enhance our awareness of God’s presence. Carmen Acevedo Butcher offers a modern translation:  

During our work and other activities, even during our reading and writing, no matter how spiritual, and, I emphasize, even during our external devotions and vocal prayers, we must stop for a brief moment, as often as we can, to love God deep in our heart, to savor them [1], even though this is brief and in secret. Since you are aware that God is present before you during your actions, that they are in the deep center of your soul, why not stop your activities and even your vocal prayers, at least from time to time, to love God, praise them, ask for their help, offer them your heart, and thank them?… 

Ultimately, we can offer God no greater evidence of our faithfulness than by frequently detaching and turning from all things created so we can enjoy their Creator for a single moment. I don’t mean to give the impression, though, that you should stop working or abandon your duties. That would be impossible. Wisdom, the mother of all our spiritual strengths, will be your guide. I am saying, however, that it is a common oversight among spiritually minded people not to turn from outside engagements from time to time to worship God within ourselves and enjoy in peace some small moments of their divine presence. 

Brother Lawrence teaches that this practice begins with a faith that God is truly present with us in all times and circumstances:  

All this reverence must be done by faith, believing God is really living in our hearts, and we must honor, love, and serve them in spirit and in truth…. Infinitely excellent and with sovereign power, they deserve all that we are, and everything in heaven and on earth, now and through eternity. All our thoughts, words, and actions belong rightly to God. Let’s put this into practice. 

We must carefully consider what qualities we most need to be kind. Which are the most difficult for us to develop, which ways of harming ourselves and others do we most often fall into, and which are the most frequent and predictable of our falls? At the moment of our struggle, we must turn back to God with complete confidence. Be still in the presence of divine majesty. Respect God humbly, telling them our heartaches and our weaknesses, and asking them lovingly for the help of their grace. This is how in our fragility we find in God our strength.  


[1] From Translator’s Note: “This binary-surpassing, unified threeness at the center of the lived spirituality of Brother Lawrence is one reason that the representation of God in this translation has a home in pronouns “they/themself/theirs.” These signify the trinitarian mystery of Love, the friar’s leitmotif, and limn the image of the Trinity’s community, or perichoresis….” (Butcher, Practice of the Presence, 35)  

Nicolas Herman, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Practice of the Presence, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2022), 48–49. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Wings (detail), digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Tuesday Chemistry (detail), digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Field Study 1 (detail), oil pastel. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

In the midst of color and movement we focus and are present to one point in a sacred sphere. 

Story from Our Community:  

Recently, in the midst of a busy day, my husband approached me with a request to help him process a conversation with his sister. I felt annoyed at the interruption but agreed. As we moved to sit down together the words “opportunity to love” came into my mind and I knew I was being asked to set aside my agenda and become fully present to my husband in that moment. I am finding that the daily meditations and practice of contemplative prayer is having this effect on me. I am perceiving and responding differently to the many “opportunities to love” that surround me all the time. —Jane M. 

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