Brother Lawrence on the Presence of God - Part III

Source: District of Asia

Let us now examine the all-important practice that made of Brother Lawrence a saintly Carmelite, all the while he stoked his stoves, peeled his potatoes, wrestled with his pots, and strove successfully to please his hungry but discerning brethren. He tells us about it simply and clearly.

The most holy, common and necessary practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God; that is, habitually to take pleasure in His divine company, speaking humbly and conversing with Him lovingly at all seasons, at every minute, without rule or measure—above all, in time of temptations, sorrows, dryness, distaste, even of infidelities and, sins.

One must try continually so that all his actions without distinction may be a sort of little conversation with God; however, not in a studied way, but just as they happen, with purity and simplicity of heart.

During our work and other actions, even during our reading and writing. on spiritual. topics, more --during our exterior devotions and vocal prayers-let us stop a few minutes, as often as we can, to adore God in the depths of our hearts, to enjoy Him, as it were, in passing and in secrets Since you are not unaware that God is present before you during your actions, that He is in the depth and center of your heart, why should you not cease your exterior occupations-at least, from time to time -- and even your vocal prayers, to adore Him interiorly, to praise, petition Him, to, offer Him your heart, and d to thank Him?

All this adoration should be made by faith, believing that God really is in our hearts; that He must be adored, loved and served in spirit and in truth.

Brother Lawrence makes a great deal of adoring God in spirit and in truth. Here is how he explains it:

God is a spirit, then He must be adored in spirit and in truth. That is to say, we must worship Him with a humble, sincere adoration of spirit in the depth and center of our souls To adore God in truth is to recognize truly, actually and in our heart that God is what He is -- that is to say, infinitely perfect, infinitely adorable, infinitely apart from evil, and so with all the divine attributes. . . To adore God in truth is to admit, moreover, that we are just the opposite, and that He is willing to make us like Him, if we wish it.

By this sort of prayer, one attains to union with God, of which there are three kinds.

Three kinds of union exist; the first habitual, the second virtual and the third actual. Habitual union occurs when one is united to God only by grace: Virtual union exists when, commencing the action by which one unites oneself to God, a person remains united to Him by virtue of this action, as long as it lasts. Actual union is the most perfect kind. Wholly spiritual as it is, it makes its movement felt, because the soul is not asleep as in the other unions, but powerfully excited. Its operation is livelier. than that of fire and more luminous than a sun undarkened by a cloud. However, one can be mistaken in, this sentiment. It is not a simple expression of the heart, like saying, “My God, I love Thee with all my heart,” or other similar words; it is an ineffable, state of the soul-gentle, peaceful, devout, respectful, humble, loving and very simple -- that urges and presses it to love God, to adore Him, even to embrace Him with inexpressible tenderness such as only experience can, make us imagine.

Let Brother Lawrence tell how he himself practiced this doctrine from the very beginning of his religious life.

From the moment of my entrance into religion, I looked upon God as the limit and the end of all the thoughts and affections of my soul. At the beginning of my novitiate, during the hours designated for prayer I occupied myself in convincing myself of the truth of this Divine Being, rather by the light of faith than by the labor of meditation and reading; and by this short and sure means I advanced in the knowledge of this lovable Person, with whom I resolved to dwell always.

Then, wholly penetrated as I was with the grandeur of this infinite Being, I used to shut myself up in the place that obedience had destined for me, which was the kitchen. There, alone, after having arranged all the things necessary for my duty, I used to devote to prayer all the time that was left as much before my work as after it. At the beginning of my duties I would say to God with filial confidence, “My God, since Thou art with me and since by Thine order I must occupy my mind with these external things, I beg Thee to grant me the grace to remain with Thee and to keep Thee company; but that it may be the better done, my Lord, work with me, receive my labors and possess all my affections.”

Then, during my work, I continued to speak to Him familiarly, to offer Him my little services and to ask His graces. At the end of the action, I used to examine how I had done it. If I found good in it, I thanked God. If I noticed faults, I asked His pardon for them and without being discouraged I purified my intention and began again to dwell with God as if I had not strayed from Him. Thus, rising up after my falls and making a multiplicity of acts of faith and of love, I have arrived at a state in which it would be as impossible for me not to think of God as it was difficult for me to accustom - myself to it in the beginning.

We must turn to Abbé de Beaufort for more details. The Abbé says that Brother Lawrence considered the practice of the presence of God “an application of our soul to God; or a remembrance of God present, which can be made either by the imagination or by the intellect.” Brother Lawrence practiced an intellectual presence of God, to which, however, he gave several other names.

Sometimes he calls it a simple act, or a clear and distinct knowledge of God, sometimes a vague view or general and loving look at God, a remembrance of God. Other times he terms it attention to God, mute intercourse with God, confidence in God, the life and peace of the soul. To sum it up.... all these manners of the presence of God are but synonyms which signify one identical thing.

He says that by means of acts, frequently recalling to his mind the presence of God, he has formed such a habit that, as soon as he is free of his exterior occupations and even often when he is engaged in them, the tip of his spirit, or the highest part of his soul, rises without any effort on his part and remains as suspended and fixed in God, above all things, as in its center and place of repose. Since in this repose he feels his soul almost always accompanied by faith, that suffices. That is what he calls the actual presence of God, which includes all the other kinds of presence and much more. Now he lives as if there were no one but God and he [sic] in the world, he converses everywhere with God, asks Him for what he needs, and rejoices with Him ceaselessly in a thousand ways.

Nevertheless, one should realize that this conversation with God occurs in the depth and center of the soul. It is there that the soul speaks to God heart to heart, and always in a great and profound peace that the soul enjoys in God. Everything that happens outside is to the soul only a blaze of straw that goes out while it is catching fire, and scarcely ever disturbs its interior peace.... This gentle and loving gazing at God insensibly lights in the soul a divine fire which so enkindles it with the love of God that a person is obliged to-do many exterior things to temper it. . . . The presence of God is, then,. the life and nourishment of the soul, which can be acquired with the grace of God.

To sum up briefly, Brother Lawrence considered the practice of God's presence a matter of repeated acts, particularly of adoration and love of God present in the depths of the soul. These acts, persisted in everywhere and any where, become a habit, bringing about a state of actual union of the soul with God, characterized eventually by the prayer of simple regard. All this is the fruit of a lively faith and persevering cooperation with the grace of God.

Principal Means

As a first means of acquiring the practice of the presence of God, the Carmelite brother urges purity of life, that is, the constant striving for progress in perfection. The second is a great fidelity to the practice of this presence and to the interior gazing upon God in faith. This must always be done gently, humbly, and lovingly, without giving way to any trouble or anxiety.”. Indeed, the practice must become a firm habit, and for this purpose “you must take particular care that this interior glance, although it may last only a moment, precedes your exterior acts, that from time to time it accompanies them, and that you finish all of them with it.” Hence, “we must do all our actions with deliberation and care, without impetuosity or precipitation, for these show a disordered spirit. We must work gently, calmly and lovingly with God, and beg Him to accept our work.”

For beginners he recommends the use of ejaculations:

It will not be out of place for those who are beginning this practice to form interiorly some phrase, such as, “My God, I am all Thine”; “God of love, I love Thee with all my heart”; “Lord do with me according to Thy will”; or some other words that love inspires at the time. But they must take care that their mind does not wander nor return to creatures, and they must hold it attached to God alone, so that, pressed and forced by the will, it may be obliged to dwell with God.

Neither great skill nor knowledge are needed to practice the presence of God, but only courage and good will, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be, even though it be the battlefield. “A little lifting of the heart suffices. A brief remembrance of God, an interior act of adoration, even while one may be running with sword in hand, are prayers which, however short they are, are nevertheless very pleasing to God.” Finally, earnest prayer for this gift must accompany all our efforts.


What are the main obstacles? Forgetfulness is one. Brother Lawrence admits that “he had some difficulty about it at first, that he did pass some time without remembering his exercise; but that, after having humbly confessed his fault, he took up the practice again without trouble.” Then there are distractions, which hinder the practice. “Sometimes a crowd of extravagant thoughts violently took the place of God and he contented himself with setting them aside gently, to return to his customary converse.” And so he counsels us:

In prayer, hold yourself before God like a poor dumb man and a paralytic at the door of a rich man, and occupy yourself in keeping your soul in the presence of the Lord. If it wanders and withdraws from Him at times, do not be upset, for troubles of mind serve rather to distract than to recall it, the will must recall it gently. If you persevere in this way, God will have pity on you.

Discouragement will come, especially in the beginning. “Since time and much effort are needed to acquire this practice, one should not be discouraged when one fails, because a habit can be formed only with difficulty; but when once it is formed, everything will be done with pleasure.”

Spiritual Fruits

What are some of the spiritual fruits to be derived from the practice so insistently recommended by Brother Lawrence? What are the benefits accruing to the religious life of perfection from this habitual living in God's holy presence?

The first is an increase of faith:

The first fruit that the soul receives from the practice of the presence of God is that its faith is livelier and more active in all: the circumstances of life, particularly in times of need, since this practice easily obtains for us grace in our temptations and in the inevitable intercourse that we must have with creatures. The soul, accustomed by this exercise to the practice of faith, by a simple act of memory sees and feels God present; she invokes Him easily, efficaciously, and obtains what she needs. One might say that in this she possesses something approaching the state of the Blessed: the more she advances, the more lively her faith becomes, and finally it grows so penetrating that she might almost say, “I no longer believe, but I see and experience.”

The second fruit is a strengthening of hope:

The practice of the presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope increases in proportion to our knowledge-in the measure that our faith penetrates by this holy exercise into the secrets of the Divinity, in the measure that it discovers in God a beauty infinitely surpassing not only that of bodies that we see upon earth, but even that of the most perfect souls and that of the angels-our hope increases and grows stronger, and the greatness of the good that it expects to enjoy and that in some degree it tastes, reassures and sustains it.

The presence of God brings with it also a perfecting of love:

This practice inspires in the will a contempt for created things and sets it aglow with the fire of holy love; because the soul is always with God, Who is a consuming fire and reduces into powder whatever can be opposed to Him. The soul thus enkindled can no longer live except in the presence of its God, a presence which produces in the heart a holy ardor, a sacred urgency and a violent desire to see this God, Who is loved, known, served and adored by all creatures.

From the lively exercise of these three virtues of faith, hope, and charity come a great familiarity with God and the prayer of simple regard.

By the presence of God and by this interior gaze the soul familiarizes itself with God to such an extent that it passes almost its whole life in continual acts of love, adoration, contrition, confidence, thanksgiving, offering, petition, and all the most excellent virtues. Sometimes it even becomes one single act that does not end, because the soul is always in the ceaseless exercise of this Divine presence.

I know that there are few persons who arrive at this degree, for it is a grace with which God favors only some chosen souls, since this simple regard is a gift of His generous hand. But I will say, for the consolation of those who wish to embrace this holy practice, that He gives it ordinarily to those who dispose themselves for it; and if He does not, one can at least, with the help of His ordinary graces, acquire by the practice of the presence of God a method and state of prayer which approaches very closely to this simple gazing upon Him.


In conclusion, picture Brother Lawrence at his post of obedience, the austere monastery kitchen, where he spent his long life. There he stands before the stove in his Carmelite habit, with an apron over it, his sleeves rolled up. He is patiently stirring with a ladle in a huge cauldron, coaxing along the soup for the friars' noonday meal.

Outwardly there is nothing remarkable about him; he is like many another religious at a similar task, perhaps only a bit more recollected. Inwardly, however, he lives in a world of spiritual activity. Conscious of the presence of God within his soul, he is quietly adoring Him in spirit and in truth, loving Him fervently and without ceasing. His life and work are a continual prayer, a prayer that grows simpler with the years.

This humble Carmelite brother has a message for all religious, above all for those who like him spend their days in the kitchen or in other manual work. He seems to be beckoning to them to follow in his footsteps, and so we shall give him the last word: “The practice of the presence of God draws down in abundance the graces of the Lord and conducts the soul insensibly to that pure gazing, that loving sight of God present everywhere, which is the holiest, the firmest, the easiest and the most efficacious manner of prayer.”