"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

To God We Go--Brother Lawrence's fourth conversation

      Free and simple conversation characterized Brother Lawrence's formula for prayer, but only after heartily renouncing all that does not lead to God. Even his hectic duties as the monastery's cook failed to draw his mind away from God. He worked devotionally and prayed deliberately, seeking God's will where his course of action was uncertain, and plunging ahead where he had no question. In fact, he offered to God any work he undertook, and thanked God when it was completed.
      Brother Lawrence believed prayer must include praise, adoration, and loving God incessantly, trusting His grace to cover any sin we might put between Him and us. And God's grace never failed him, except where he allowed himself to wander from God's presence or neglected to ask His assistance. When our only motive is to please God, He will overcome our doubts with His light of truth.
      The church has long contended about the nature of sanctification, but Brother Lawrence's idea was simple: Do for God what we commonly do, rather than doing it for our own gratification, or spending our lives addicted to perfecting religious works that are by their very nature, imperfect. The distinction between prayer times and other times was, in his mind, a deadly illusion. Instead, prayer was simply a sense of God's presence, and insensitivity to anything but God's love. Prayer times didn't limit his spiritual communion with God, but his praise and blessing never abated.
      If Brother Lawrence had a method for practicing God's presence, it was simply a final surrender to Him, trusting His faithfulness not to deceive us. He believed there were no small works in God's eyes, but only loving and unloving works. As unnatural as is God's love to the natural man, we should not wonder at our initial failure in practicing it. With perseverance, however, we will establish that habit and live God's love without care and to our greatest delight.
      Brother Lawrence often referred to religion, but his thoughts on the spiritual life transcend simple religious practice. Perhaps he meant we should practice God's presence religiously, with all the ferver of a religious zealot. In this age of religious extremism, it's safe to say that such sectarian adherants devote themselves to the form of religion while missing its essence. This is at least as true in Christianity as in any other religion.
      He believed that in practicing faith, hope and love, we become united to God's will. All else must contribute to perfecting that practice, and if it doesn't we must abandon it. To quote Brother Lawrence, "All things are possible to him who believes. They are less difficult to him who hopes. They are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues"
      If we honestly examine ourselves, we will discover the fundamental flaw that separates us from God and makes us worthy of only His contempt. As such, we deserve to reap the harvest of our sinfulness, which includes all kinds of physical, mental and emotional failures.
      When one of the brothers asked him how he managed to stay so close to God, he replied that from the time he entered the monastary, he focussed on God as the process and the end of all his thoughts and desires. Meditating upon God, rather than practicing the prescribed rituals, he developed a profound sense of God's love and presence. Each day, after so filling his mind with God, he consciously dedicated his kitchen work and its outcomes to Him and entered into it with unbounded joy. Where he worked well, he thanked God for it. Where he failed, he asked God's pardon and resolved to set his mind right again.
      Practicing God's presence so rewarded him that he expounded its benefits to any who would listen. But it wasn't his words that convinced them. Rather it was his sweet spirit and calm devotion that attracted them to his life.
      This quote sums up his attitude toward mundane chores: "The time of business," said he, "does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper."

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