Brother Lawrence's doctrine on the practice of the presence of God and all that it implies is but a reflection of his own remarkable spiritual life, since he himself lived first what he so earnestly recommended and skilfully adapted to others. Hence, I shall try to synthesize his important message from the monastery kitchen to the world by reporting as often as possible his own words, just as he spoke them or wrote them, or as they were relayed to us by the Abbé Joseph de Beaufort, his close friend for many years.
Some Necessary Foundation Virtues
Brother Lawrence was eminently a man of faith and so he is especially insistent on the practice of the virtue of faith.
All the fine speeches that I hear about God, what I can myself read about Him or feel about Him, would not be enough to satisfy me; for, being infinite in His perfections, He is consequently ineffable, and there are no words eloquent enough to give me a perfect conception of His grandeur. It is faith that discovers them to me and makes me know Him as He is. By means of it I learn more about Him in a short time than I would learn in many years in the schools . . .
O faith, faith, admirable virtue! You enlighten the mind of man and conduct him to the knowledge of his Creator. Lovable virtue, how little you are known and still less practised, although the knowledge of you is so glorious and so profitable.
The Abbé de Beaufort describes the brother's practice of the virtue of hope.
From this lively faith were born the firmness of his hope in the goodness of God, a filial confidence in His providence, a total and universal abandonment of himself into His hands, without worrying what would become of him after his death.... The more desperate things appeared to him, the more he hoped, like a rock beaten by the waves of the sea and settling itself more firmly in the midst of the tempest.
Of charity Brother Lawrence speaks in a very familiar way.
It is too much, O Lord! It is too much for me. Give, if it please Thee, these kinds of favors and consolations to sinners and to the people who do not know Thee, in order to attract them to Thy, service. As for me, who have the happiness of knowing Thee' by faith, I think that must be sufficient; but because I ought not to refuse anything from a hand so rich and generous as Thine, I accept, O my God, the favors Thou givest me. Yet grant, if it please Thee, that after having received them, I may return them just as Thou didst give them to me; for Thou knowest well that it is not Thy gifts that I seek and desire, but Thyself, and I can be content with nothing less.
However, it was not ever thus, as he tells his younger brethren in religion.
O Goodness, so ancient and so new, too late have I loved Thee! Do not act this way, my Brothers. You are young; profit by the sincere confession I make to you of the little care I took to consecrate my first years to God. Consecrate all of yours to His love; for, as for me, if I had known sooner and if anyone had told me, the things that I am telling you now, I would not have waited so long to love Him. Believe me, and count for lost all the time that is not spent in loving God.
To sum up:
All things are possible to him who believes; still more to him who hopes: still more to him who loves; and most of all, to him who practices these three virtues and perseveres in them.
Besides faith, hope, and charity, Brother Lawrence counsels purity of intention in the following maxim:
Always to regard God and His glory in what we are doing, saying and undertaking; let the end that we propose be to become the most perfect adorers of God in this life, as we hope to be through all eternity.
When we undertake the spiritual life, we ought fundamentally to consider who we are; and we will find ourselves deserving of all contempt, unworthy of the name of Christian, subject to all sorts of miseries and to an infinity of accidents which upset us and render us unstable in our health, in our moods, in our interior and exterior disposition-in short, people whom God wills to humble by a countless number of pains and labors, within us as well as without.
Hence, there must be submission to the will of God, for “without this submission of heart and mind to the will of God, devotion and perfection cannot exist.”
“I try in all things to do His will, and I am so submissive to it that I would not wish to lift a straw from the ground against His order, nor for any other motive than the pure love, of God.”.
And this submission must be carried even to the point of abandonment, for Brother Lawrence used to say that “one must give oneself entirely to God in pure abandonment, for temporal and spiritual affairs, and seek one's happiness in the doing of His will, whether He should lead us by suffering or by consolation. It should be all the same to one who was truly abandoned.”
Mortification and progressive detachment from creatures are indispensable.
I know that for this (the practice of the presence of God) the heart must be emptied of everything else, God wishing to be the only one to possess it; and as He cannot be the only one to do so without emptying it of everything that is not-He, so neither can He act in it or do with it what He would like....
This exercise does not kill the body. Still, it is proper to deprive the latter from time to time, and even often, of many little consolations, although they are innocent and permissible; for God does not allow a soul that wishes to be entirely His to take its consolations elsewhere than with Him. . . . Do not be discouraged by the repugnance you may feel on the part of nature, for you must do violence to yourself.
It is impossible that a soul which still takes some pleasure in creatures can wholly enjoy this divine presence; for to be with God, one must absolutely leave creatures.
To achieve the proper dispositions for the practice of the presence of God requires not only energetic will-action but above all a dependence on the grace of God, for “a soul is all the more dependent upon the grace of God, the more it aspires to high perfection, and the help of God is so much the more needed at each moment, because without it the soul can do nothing.”.
Faith, hope, charity, purity of intention, self-knowledge, submission to God's holy will, detachment, mortification, and reliance on the grace of God-these are the foundation stones on which Brother Lawrence would build his temple of the presence of God.