First Conversation with Brother Lawrence
The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was on August 3, 1666. He told me that God had done him a great favor when he was eighteen.
In the winter of that year, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves – and realizing that within a little time, the leaves would be restored, and after that the flowers and fruit would appear – Brother Lawrence received a view of the glory and power of God, which has never left him.
He told me that he had been a servant in his early life, and that he was a very awkward fellow who broke everything. He had entered a monastery, thinking that he would atone for his awkwardness there, and sacrifice his life to God – but God had disappointed him in this endeavor, for he had found not sacrifice, but satisfaction.
Brother Lawrence had learned that we can establish a sense of God's Presence by continually speaking with Him. He felt that it was a sad thing to end this conversation, and think instead of trifles and foolishness.
He believed that we ought to give ourselves up to God, in both worldly and spiritual matters, and seek our satisfaction only in fulfilling His will. He counseled faith during those dry spells in prayer. He said that those were the times for us to strengthen our commitment and speed our spiritual advancement.
He told me that if it was my wish to serve God sincerely, I might come to him (Brother Lawrence) as often as I pleased, without any fear of being troublesome.
Second Conversation with Brother Lawrence
In my talks with him, I noted that Brother Lawrence had always been guided by love. Having decided to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found great peace. He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God.
He said that in order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, we must at first apply some effort. However, after a while we will find His love motivating us to do it without any difficulty.
When an occasion arose which required some virtue, he said to God, "Lord, I cannot do this unless You allow me." After that, he received strength more than sufficient.
When he had failed in his duty, he simply confessed his fault, saying to God, "I could not possibly do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must correct my failing, and mend what is amiss." And after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about his mistake.
We should speak to God frankly and plainly, he said, and ask for His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen. God never fails to grant this assistance, as he had often experienced.
He had recently been sent into Burgundy to buy wine for the monastery, which was a very unwelcome task for him, because he had no skill for business and because he was lame. But he gave himself no uneasiness about it. He said to God, "It is Your business I am doing." After saying this, things turned out well.
In a similar way, in his work in the monastery kitchen – having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God – he had found everything easy during the fifteen years that he had been employed.
He was very well pleased with the job he was now in, but he was as ready to leave that one as the former, since he was always pleasing himself by doing little things for the love of God.
With him, the set times of prayer were not different from other times. He retired to pray, according to the directions of his Superior, but he did not need such retirement because none of his business diverted him from God.
Third Conversation with Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence told me that the basis of his spiritual life was to think only of God, and to reject every other thought.
When he had not thought of God for a good while, he did not punish himself for it. But after having acknowledged his failing, he returned to Him with much greater trust.
When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from God reinvigorated his soul, and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself.
He felt that the worst that could happen to him was to lose the sense of God which he had enjoyed so long – but the goodness of God assured him that He would not forsake him.
He felt that perfect trust in God was a sure way to heaven, a way in which we had always sufficient support for our conduct.
He said that there was neither an art nor a science for going to God, but that the only requirement was a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him.
Fourth Conversation with Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence spoke with me frequently concerning his manner of going to God.
He said that we must release everything which does not lead to God, so that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him.
We need to recognize that God is intimately present with us, and address ourselves to Him every moment, so that we may know His will in things that are doubtful. We offer our actions to Him before we do them, and give Him thanks when we have finished.
In this conversation with God, we are also employed in praising, adoring, and loving him incessantly for His infinite goodness and perfection.
God offers us His grace at each action – Brother Lawrence knew this, and never forgot it, except when his thoughts had wandered from a sense of God's Presence, or he had forgot to ask His assistance.
Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing them for God's sake instead of doing them for our own. He said that it was sad to see how many people mistook the means for the end, filling their lives with work which they performed imperfectly, because of their human or selfish goals.
He said that the most excellent method he had found of going to God was that of doing his common business without any goal of pleasing men, but purely for the love of God.
He felt that it was a great mistake to think that times of prayer ought to differ from other times. His prayer was nothing but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time closed to everything but Divine love. When the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might. In this way he passed his life in continual joy.
We ought, he said, to put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him. We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.
We should not be disturbed if, in the beginning, we fail in our discipline, because eventually we will gain a habit, which will naturally produce its fruits in us, without our care, and to our great delight.
The end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be. The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is on Divine grace.
Being questioned by someone in his monastery about his means for attaining such an habitual sense of God, he told him that, since first coming to the monastery, he had considered God to be the end of all his thoughts and desires.
In the beginning he had spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of God. When he had thus filled his mind with a great sense of that infinite Being, he went to his work in the kitchen (for he was a cook). He spent all his time – before, during and after his work – in prayer.
When he began this business, he said to God, "O my God, since You are with me, and I must now apply my mind to these outward things, I ask You to grant me the grace to continue in Your Presence."
As he proceeded in his work, he continued his familiar conversation with his Maker, imploring His grace, and offering all his actions to Him.
When he had finished, he examined how he had done his duty. If he found well, he returned thanks to God. If otherwise, he asked pardon.
Without being discouraged, he set his mind right again, and continued this exercise of the presence of God, as if he had never deviated from it. "Thus," he said, "by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I came to a state where it was as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to think of Him."
As Brother Lawrence had found such peace in walking in the presence of God, it was natural for him to recommend it to others. But his example was a stronger inducement than any words he could offer.
His gaze was strengthening – a sweet and calm devotion appeared in it. In the greatest hurry of the kitchen, he still preserved his heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty, but did each thing with tranquility.
"For me," he said, "the time of business does not differ from the time of prayer. And in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, I possess God in the same great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament."
First Letter from Brother Lawrence
Since you have asked me to communicate the method by which I arrived at a sense of God's Presence, I must tell you. However, I can do it only upon the terms that you show my letter to nobody. The account I can give you is:
Having found in many books many different methods of going to God, and complex practices of the spiritual life, I was puzzled. For I simply wanted to become wholly God's.
I chose to renounce, for the love of God, everything that was not God; and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world. I worshipped Him as often as I could, keeping my mind in His holy Presence, and recalling it as often as I found my mind wandering from Him.
I did not find this exercise easy, and yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred. I made it my business, all day long.
At all times – every hour, every minute, even in the height of my activity – I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.
Such has been my common practice ever since I began. And though I have done it very imperfectly, I have found great benefits by it. These benefits, I well know, are due to the mere mercy and goodness of God, because we can do nothing without Him, and I still less than any.
May all things praise Him. Amen.
Second Letter from Brother Lawrence
Not having found my practice in books, I will be glad to know your thoughts concerning it.
In a recent conversation, a man told me that the spiritual life was a life of grace, which begins with fear, which is increased by hope of eternal life, and which results in pure love. He said that each of these states had its different stages, by which one arrives at last at that blessed consummation.
I have not followed all these methods, however. At my entrance into the spiritual life, I resolved to give myself up to God, as best I could; and, for the love of Him, to renounce everything else.
At length I was able to focus my mind on God during my set time of prayer, which caused in me great delight and consolation. This practice produced in me so high a love for God, that faith alone was capable to satisfy me in that point.
Such was my beginning; and yet I must tell you, that for the first ten years I suffered much from the belief that I was not as devoted to God as I wished to be. During this time I fell often, and rose again.
When I decided to devote my life to God, I found myself changed all at once – and my soul, which till that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest.
Ever since that time I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility and with love. I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him. I hope that when I have done what I can, He will do with me what He pleases.
As for what happens in my life, I cannot express it. I have no difficulty about my state, because I have no will but that of God, which I try to accomplish in all things. I would not try to take up a straw from the ground against His order, or from any other motive but purely that of love to Him.
I make it my business only to rest in His holy presence, which I keep myself in by a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God. This often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others.
In short, I am assured beyond all doubt, that my soul has been with God these thirty years. I pass over many things, that I may not be tedious to you, yet I think it proper to inform you how I consider myself before God, whom I behold as my King.
I consider myself as the most wretched of men, one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. I ask His forgiveness. I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His loved one.
I find myself attached to these secret conversations with greater sweetness and delight than that of an infant at the mother's breast. If I dare use the expression, I should choose to call this state the bosom of God, because of the inexpressible sweetness which I taste and experience there. If sometimes my thoughts wander from it, I am presently recalled by inward motions, so charming and delicious that I am ashamed to mention them.
As for my set hours of prayer, these are only a continuation of the same conversations. Sometimes I feel like a stone before a sculptor, as he is about to make a statue. Presenting myself before God, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul, and render me entirely like Himself.
At other times, when I apply myself to prayer, I feel my spirit and my soul lift itself up without any care or effort of mine. And it continues as though it were firmly fixed in God, as in its center and place of rest.
Third Letter from Brother Lawrence
We have a God who is infinitely gracious, and Who knows all our needs.
He will come in His own time, when you least expect it. Hope in Him more than ever. Thank Him with me for the favors He does you, even in your challenges. Comfort yourself with Him, and give thanks for all.
I admire the fortitude and bravery of your friend. God has given him a good disposition, and a good will; but there is in him still a little of the world, and a great deal of youth. Let him think of God as often as he can, especially in the greatest dangers. A little lifting up of the heart suffices. A little remembrance of God, one act of inward worship, are prayers which, however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to God.
Let him then think of God as often as he can. Let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise. Nobody perceives it, and nothing is easier than to repeat often during the day these little internal adorations.
Recommend to him, if you please, that he think of God as often as he can. It is a very fit and most necessary practice for a soldier, who is daily exposed to dangers of life.
I trust that God will assist him and all the family, to whom I present my service, being theirs and yours.
Fourth Letter from Brother Lawrence
In this letter I have taken the opportunity to communicate to you the thoughts of one of our brothers in the monastery.
This brother has tried, for the past forty years, to be always with God, and to do nothing, say nothing, and think nothing which may displease Him.
He is now so accustomed to that Divine presence, that he receives from it continual blessings upon all occasions. For about thirty years, his soul has been filled with joys so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to use means to moderate them, and to hinder their outward appearance.
If he is a little too much absent from that Divine presence, God presently makes Himself to recall him. This often happens when he is most engaged in his outward business.
He answers faithfully to these inward drawings, either by an elevation of his heart towards God, or by a meek and fond regard to Him, or by such words as love forms upon these occasions. For instance, he may say, "My God, here I am all devoted to You. Lord, make me according to Your heart." And then it seems to him that this God of love, satisfied with such few words, reposes again, and rests in the depth and center of his soul.
The experience of these things gives him such an assurance that God is always in the depth or bottom of our souls, and renders him incapable of doubting it.
God, he says, has infinite treasure to bestow. We often hinder Him, and stop the current of His graces. But when God finds an open and faithful soul, He pours His graces into it plentifully. There they flow like a once-blocked river, which finds a passage, and spreads itself with abundance.
Yes, we often stop up this river, by the little value we set upon it. But let us stop it no more. Let us enter into ourselves and break down the bank which hinders it. Let us make way for grace; let us redeem the lost time.
I say again, let us enter into ourselves. The time presses: there is no room for delay. I believe you have taken such good measures that you will not be troubled. I commend you for it, it is the one necessary thing.
We must, however, always work at it, because not to advance, in the spiritual life, is to go back. However, those who have the gale of the Spirit go forward even in sleep. If the vessel of our soul is tossed with winds and storms, let us awaken the Lord, and He will quickly calm the sea.
I have taken the liberty to offer you these thoughts, that you may compare them with your own. Let us both recall our first devotions. I will pray for you; do you please pray for me, who am yours in our Lord.