Monk in a scriptorium.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Brother Lawrence

This is a relatively short book, about 60 pages, that has been illustrated with some woodcuts. The text consists of four conversations and over a dozen letters.

The conversations are not dialogues, so there is no interaction between Brother Lawrence and one or more interlocutors. They’re the recollections and summaries of what Brother Lawrence said. Though Brother Lawrence is described as uneducated he was evidently not illiterate, and wrote a number of letters.

His method can perhaps be best summarized as doing everything as if he was continually in the presence of God. Every task is done as if God is right there beside him in a sensible presence. I don’t know if the lady I’m about to mention was aware of Br. Lawrence, she was raised Catholic though she was a non-denominational Christian when I knew her 30 years ago. This lady, Louise P_, told me that she tried to ask God what soup He wanted her to have for lunch. Now I don’t know if Br. Lawrence would think this was carrying out his method or not, but it seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that God has better things to do than to concern Himself with my choice of soup. I think, since this was during a strong period of growth in the charismatic movement, and a period when books like Are You Running With Me, Jesus were popular that it was more the result of that than from reading Br. Lawrence.

Now the problem with Jesus as best bud and somebody to share a brewski with is that it strips Him of his divinity, and reduces Him to a purely human level. St. Teresa always refers to God as His Majesty, or in some similar fashion. Concentrating too much on that aspect loses sight of the humanity. As with much else, it’s a question of balance and of timing.

Br. Lawrence speaks of possessing God:

"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

"Je possède Dieu, affirme-t-il, aussi tranquillement dans le tracas de ma cuisine, où quelquefois plusieurs personnes me demandent en même temps des choses différentes, que si j’étais à genoux devant le Saint Sacrement.” (cf. Wikipedia article on Br. Lawrence.)

Now it seems as if he is saying that prayer in and of itself is as sure a means of possessing God as through the sacrament of the Eucharist. I don’t know if he got in trouble for statements like that, or even if he should have got in trouble. I think he’s equating the feeling from prayer with the feeling from the Eucharist. The feeling of possession through prayer is equivalent to the feeling of possession through the sacrament.

Most writers on prayer, and this includes St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, don’t spend a good deal of time on the sacraments. This is understandable because their topic is after all prayer, and because their tacit assumption is that prayer takes place within an active sacramental life.

This sacramental life is important because it is in the sacraments that matter and spirit are united. Without a sacramental understanding of reality, the dualities remain separate, and competing. It is possible to overemphasize one, especially spirit in the religious context, to a large degree. This in itself is a kind of heresy, and one that might lead someone to think that the Creator of the universe, who is busy taking care of the birth and death of stars, solar systems, galaxies, and the whole universe actually cares whether you have minestrone or lentil soup for lunch.

The trick, as I said before, is to balance the personal, BFF Jesus with the divine majesty.

Next up, in a change of pace, John Ringo’s Citadel, a rousing SF yarn.