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The Practice of the Presence of God and The…

The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims (udgave 2005)

af Brother Lawrence

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445243,228 (3.93)Ingen
This simply written little book about prayer and Christian life combines two classics in one -- each a primer of practical Christian devotion. The works beautifully convey the thoughts of a 17th-century Carmelite monk and have much to say to those trying to live a spiritual life in a busy, modern world.… (mere)
Titel:The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims
Forfattere:Brother Lawrence
Info:Dover Publications (2005), Paperback
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
Nøgleord:christian living

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The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims af Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection


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Brother Lawrence was a 17th-century Carmelite monk who lived in a monastery in Paris. Though a mere lay brother who worked in the kitchens for most of his life, Brother Lawrence gained a reputation over the years as one who knew and loved God intimately. People began to seek him out, and he wrote several letters to various supplicants. Those letters comprise The Practice of the Presence of God. This volume also contains his Spiritual Maxims, which is a more formal distillation of his practical theology. Brother Lawrence defines the practice of the presence of God as "the schooling of the soul to find its joy in His Divine Companionship" (70), and lays out various practical ways to attain this lofty goal. This volume also includes a brief bio by one M. Beaufort, who knew Brother Lawrence.

I'm finding this a singularly difficult book to review. It's unpleasant to come down on someone who breathes such sincerity and humility in his writing. And there is so much to like about Brother Lawrence's writings; it's clear he loved God deeply and found Him to be the source of all joy and hope. So much of what he wrote is so true:

I have no pain or difficulty about my state, because I have no will but that of God, which I endeavor to accomplish in all things, and to which I am so resigned that I would not take up a straw from the ground against His order, or from any other motive than purely that of love for Him. (35)

Lift up your heart to Him, sometimes even at your meals, and when you are in company; the least little remembrance will be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of. (47)

Accustom yourself, therefore, by degrees thus to worship Him, to beg His grace, to offer Him your heart from time to time in the midst of your business, even every moment, if you can. Do not always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules, or particular forms of devotion, but act with a general confidence in God, with love and humility. (48)

We cannot escape the dangers that abound in life without the actual and continual help of God. 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 think of Him but by a holy habit which we should form of it? You will tell me that I am always saying the same thing. It is true, for this is the easiest and best method I know; and as I use no other, I advise all the world to do it. We must know before we can love. (51)

You would think it rude to leave a friend alone who came to visit you; why, then, must God be neglected? Do not, then, forget Him, but think on Him often, adore Him continually, live and die with Him; this is the glorious employment of a Christian. (52–3)

He often sends diseases of the body to cure those of the soul. (54)

A soul is the more dependent on grace, the higher the perfection to which it aspires; and the grace of God is the more needful for each moment, as without it the soul can do nothing. (70)

But in other places, the sharp bones of his Roman Catholic theology stick through. He says he loves to read the Scriptures above books written by men, but there is little Scripture in his own writing. Also, he claims that his principles for closeness with God can be used by anyone, monk or not, but what about statements like this?

Having found in many books different methods of going to God, and divers practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly God's. This made me resolve to give the all for the all; so after having given myself wholly to God, that He might take away my sin, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not He; and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world. (31)

There are a couple things wrong with this. God doesn't take away our sin because of anything good we do. No surrender of self, no matter how radical, will be enough to earn forgiveness. This is a theological problem underlying much of Brother Lawrence's thought.

As for living as if there were "none but He and I in the world," is that really a biblical way to live? That is not a state I desire; is that unspiritual of me? I am a daughter and wife and sister and friend as well as a lover of Christ, and I would not wish away those relationships or the joys and responsibilities they entail so that I can contemplate God. I don't believe that the God who created relationships desires us to live as if other people don't even exist.

The idea of God and I being the only two beings in the world is a false one; why should I seek a false idea to augment my spiritual life? Knowing Christ is about knowing truth, not finding comfort in theological or emotional delusions. I guess I just don't see how Brother Lawrence's sanctification took place in the context of the Body of Christ. We know from Scripture that the Body needs all its parts to function, and that other Christians are vital in God's work of our personal sanctification. So how does someone arrive at spiritual maturity without even mentioning how God has used other believers in his life?

In keeping with his Roman Catholicism (but oddly out of character for one who exudes such joy in God's presence), Brother Lawrence desired to suffer physical pain. This seems strange in one who talks so rapturously of the wonders of the divine and who seems so in tune with the whole concept of pleasing God by enjoying Him deeply, but so it is. Beaufort writes,

His one desire was that he might suffer something for the love of God, for all his sins, and finding in his last illness a favorable occasion for suffering in this life, embraced it heartily. Purposely he bade the brethren to turn him on to his right side; he knew that this position gave great pain, and therefore wished to remain therein to satisfy his burning desire to suffer. (98–9)

Brother Lawrence saw physical suffering as a way to draw near to God, and so it can be. But the Bible never teaches us to deliberately seek out physical suffering for the sake of knowing Christ. We are to bear infirmity in patience and grace, with the strength God provides, and know Him better in the trials He sends. We aren't to create trials for ourselves, or damage our physical bodies in pursuit of a spiritual high.

Another problem is the idea that God will abandon us if we turn from Him:

I know not how He can leave me alone, because faith gives me as strong a conviction as sense can do that He never forsakes us until we have first forsaken Him. (56)

God does not forsake us if we forsake Him (II Timothy 2:13: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself"). Brother Lawrence is spouting a Roman Catholic doctrine that is directly contradicted by Scripture — a reminder that no matter how spiritual he was, his words are not divinely inspired.

There is also a focus on faith at the expense of written revelation; Beaufort writes,

Faith was the one light he took for his path; not only did it afford him his first glimpse of God, but he never desired any other lamp to give him light in all the many ways of God. Often he has told me... "In the depths of our soul, God reveals Himself, could we but realize it, yet we will not look there for Him." (87)

It sounds rather New Age, doesn't it? I guess the mystical concept of looking within for the life-source is not really a new one. And it's still wrong.

So I'm divided on this book. Can I admire Brother Lawrence's devotion and learn from him without ascribing to all his teachings? Yes... but it does complicate things a bit. And I think that's where I'll have to leave it. ( )
2 stem atimco | Jan 28, 2011 |
This simply written little book about prayer and Christian life combines two classics in one — each a primer of practical Christian devotion. The works beautifully convey the thoughts of a 17th-century Carmelite monk and have much to say to those trying to live a spiritual life in a busy, modern world.
  OCMCCP | Oct 13, 2010 |
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This simply written little book about prayer and Christian life combines two classics in one -- each a primer of practical Christian devotion. The works beautifully convey the thoughts of a 17th-century Carmelite monk and have much to say to those trying to live a spiritual life in a busy, modern world.

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