The Practice of the Presence of God – Conversations

FIRST CONVERSATION with Father Joseph, Abbe de Beaufort

3 August 1666

The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was Upon the third of August, 1666.  He told me that God had done him a singular favor in his conversion at the age of eighteen.

That, in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the providence and power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul.  That this view had perfectly set him loose from the world and kindled in him such a love for God that he could not tell whether it had increased during the more than forty years he had lived since.

That he had been a footman to Monsieur Fieubert, the treasurer, and that he was a great awkward fellow who broke everything.

That he had desired to be received into a monastery, thinking that he would there be made to smart for his awkwardness and the faults he should commit, and so he should sacrifice to God his life, with its pleasures; but that God had disappointed him, he having met with nothing but satisfaction in that state.

That we should establish in ourselves a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with Him.  That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversations to think of trifles and fooleries.

That we should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God, which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.

That we ought to quickeni.e., to enlivenour faith.  That it was lamentable we had so little; and that instead of taking faith for the rule of their conduct, men amused themselves with trivial devotions which changed daily.  That the way of faith was the spirit of the Church, and that it was sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection.

That we ought to give ourselves up entirely to God, with regard both to things temporal and spiritual, and seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will, whether he lead us by suffering or by consolation, for all would be equal to a soul truly resigned.  That there was need of fidelity in those times of dryness, or insensibility and irksomeness in prayer, by which God tries our love to Him; that then was the time for us to make good and effectual acts of resignation, whereof one alone would oftentimes very much promote our spiritual advancement.

That, as for the miseries and sins he heard of daily in the world, he was so far from wondering at them that, on the contrary, he was surprised that there were not more, considering the malice sinners were capable of; that, for his part, he prayed for them; but knowing that God could remedy the mischiefs they did when He pleased, he gave himself no further trouble.

That, to arrive at such resignation as God requires, we should watch attentively over all the passions which mingle as well in spiritual things as in those of a grosser nature; that God would give light concerning those passions to those who truly desire to serve Him.  That, if this was my design, viz., sincerely to serve God, I might come to him (Brother Lawrence) as often as I pleased, without any fear of being troublesome; but if not, that I ought no more to visit him.

SECOND CONVERSATION with Father Joseph, Abbe de Beaufort

28 September 1666

That he had always been governed by love, without selfish views; and that, having resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found good reason to be well satisfied with his method.  That he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only and nothing else, not even His gifts.

That he had been long troubled in mind from a sure belief that he was lost; that all the men in the world could not have persuaded him to the contrary; but that he had thus reasoned with himself about it: I engaged in a religious life only for the love of God, and I have endeavored to act only for Him; whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God.  I shall have this good at least, that until death I shall have done all that is in me to love Him.  That this trouble of mind had lasted four years, during which time he had suffered much; but that at last he had seen that this trouble arose from want of faith, and that since then he had passed his life in perfect liberty and continual joy.  That he had placed his sins betwixt him and God, as it were, to tell Him that he did not deserve His favors, but that God still continued to bestow them in abundance.

That, in order to form a habit of conversing with God continually and referring all we do to Him, we must at first apply to Him with some diligence; but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.

That he expected, after the pleasant days God had given him, he should have his turn of pain and suffering; but that he was not uneasy about it, knowing very well that, as he could do nothing of himself, God would not fail to give him the strength to bear it.

That, when an occasion of practicing some virtue offered, he addressed himself to God, saying, Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me; and that then he received strength more than sufficient.

That, when he had failed in his duty, he simply confessed his fault, saying to God, I shall never do otherwise if Thou leavest me to myself; it is Thou who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.  That after this he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

That we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs just as they happen.  That God never failed to grant it, as he had often experienced.

That he had been lately sent into Burgundy to buy the provision of wine for the Society, which was a very unwelcome task to him, because he had no turn for business, and because he was lame and could not go about the boat but by rolling himself over the casks.  That, however, he gave himself no uneasiness about it, nor about the purchase of the wine.  That he said to God, It was His business he was about, and that afterwards he found it very well performed.  That he had been sent into Auvergne the year before upon the same account; that he could not tell how the matter passed, but that it proved very well.

So, likewise, in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God, and with prayer, upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy during the fifteen years that he had been employed there.

That he was very well pleased with the post he was now in; but that he was as ready to quit that as the former, since he was always finding pleasure in every condition by doing little things for the love of God.

That with him the set times of prayer were not different from other times; that he retired to pray, according to the directions of his Superior, but that he did not want such retirement, nor ask for it, because his greatest business did not divert him from God.

That, as he knew his obligation to love God in all things, and as he endeavored so to do, he had no need of a director to advise him, but that he needed much a confessor to absolve him.  That he was very sensible of his faults, but not discouraged by them; that he confessed them to God, but did not plead against Him to excuse them.  When he had so done, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.

That, in his trouble of mind he had consulted nobody, but knowing only by the light of faith that God was present, he contented himself with directing all his actions to Him, i.e., doing them with a desire to please Him, let what would come of it.

That useless thoughts spoil all; that the mischief began there, but that we ought to reject them as soon as we perceived their impertinence to the matter in hand or our salvation and return to our communion with God.

That, at the beginning, he had often passed his time appointed for prayer in rejecting wandering thoughts and falling back into them.  That he could never regulate his devotion by certain methods as some do.  That, nevertheless, at first he had meditated for some time, but afterwards that went off in a manner he could give no account of.

That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless except as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love; that he had well considered this and found it the shortest way to go straight to Him by a continual practice of love and doing all things for His sake.

That we ought to make a great difference between the acts of the understanding and those of the will; that the first were comparatively of little value, and the others, all.  That our only business was to love and delight ourselves in God.

That all possible kinds of mortification, if they were devoid of the love of God, could not efface a single sin.  That we ought, without anxiety, to expect the pardon of our sins from the blood of Jesus Christ, laboring simply to love Him with all our hearts.  That God seemed to have granted the greatest favors to the greatest sinners, as more signal monuments of His mercy.

That the greatest pains or pleasures of this world were not to be compared with what he had experienced of both kinds in a spiritual state; so that he was careful for nothing and feared nothing, desiring only one thing of God, viz., that he might not offend Him.

That he had no qualms; for, said he, when I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.  I fail not, then I give God thanks, acknowledging the strength comes from Him.

THIRD CONVERSATION with Father Joseph, Abbe de Beaufort

22 November 1666

He told me that the foundation of the spiritual life in him had been a high notion and esteem in God in faith; which, when he had once well conceived, he had no other care but faithfully to reject at once every other thought, that he might perform all his actions for the love of God.  That, when sometimes he had not thought of God for a good while, he did not disquiet himself for it; but after having acknowledged his wretchedness to God, he returned to Him with so much the greater trust in Him as he had found himself wretched through forgetting Him.

That the trust we put in God honors Him much and draws down great graces.

That it was impossible not only that God should deceive, but also that He should long let a soul suffer which is perfectly surrendered to Him and resolved to endure everything for His sake.

That he had so often experienced the ready succor of divine grace upon all occasions, that from the same experience, when he had business to do, he did not think of it beforehand; but when it was time to do it, he found in God, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do.  That of late he had acted thus, without anticipating care; but before the experience above mentioned, he had been full of care and anxiety in his affairs.

That he had no recollection of what things he had done, once they were past, and hardly realized them when he was about them; that on leaving table, he knew not what he had been eating; but that with one single end in view, he did all for the love of God, rendering Him thanks for that He had directed these acts, and an infinity of others throughout his life: he did all very simply, in a manner which kept him ever steadfastly in the loving presence of God.

When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to restrain himself.

That he was more united to God in his ordinary occupations than when he left them for devotion in retirement, from which he knew himself to issue with much dryness in spirit.

That he expected hereafter some great pain of body or mind; that the worst that could happen to him would be to lose that sense of God which he had enjoyed so long; but that the goodness of God assured him that He would not forsake him utterly, and that He would give him strength to bear whatever evil He permitted to happen to him; and therefore that he feared nothing, and had no occasion to consult with anybody about his soul.  That, when he had attempted to do it, he had always come away more perplexed; and that, as he was conscious of his readiness to lay down his life for the love of God, he had no apprehension of danger.  That perfect abandonment to God was the sure way to heaven, a way on which we had always sufficient light for our conduct.

That, in the beginning of the spiritual life, we ought to be faithful in doing our duty and denying ourselves; but after that, unspeakable pleasures followed.  That, in difficulties, we need only have recourse to Jesus Christ and beg His grace; with that everything became easy.

That many do not advance in the Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises while they neglect the love of God, which is the end.  That this appeared plainly by their works, and was the reason why we see so little solid virtue.

That there was need neither of art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for His sake, and to love Him only.

FOURTH CONVERSATION with Father Joseph, Abbe de Beaufort

25 November 1667

He discoursed with me very fervently and with great openness of heart, concerning his manner of going to God, whereof some part is related already.

He told me that all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which does not lead us to God in order that we may accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity.  That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, and to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see he requires of us; offering them to Him before we do them and giving Him thanks when we have done.

That, in this conversation with God, we are also employed in praising, adoring, and loving Him unceasingly, for His infinite goodness and perfection.

That, without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for His grace with perfect confidence, relying upon the infinite merits of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  That God never failed to offer us His grace at every action; that he distinctly perceived it and never failed of it, unless when his thoughts had wandered from a sense of God’s presence or he had forgotten to ask His assistance.

That God always gave us light in our doubts when we had no other design but to please Him and to ask for His love.

That our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which commonly we do for our own.  That it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly by reason of their human or selfish regards.

That the most excellent method he had found of going to God was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, (Galations 1:10, Ephesians 6:5, 6), and, as far as we are capable, purely for the love of God.

That it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times; that we are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer.

That his view of prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but divine love; and that 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, so that he passed his life in continual joy; yet hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer when he should have grown stronger.

That we ought, once for all, heartily to put our whole trust in God, and make a full surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us.

That 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.  That we should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit, which will naturally produce its acts in us, without our care and to our exceeding great delight.

That the whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and love, by the practice of which we become united to the will of God; that all besides is indifferent, and to be used only as a means that we may arrive at our end, and be swallowed up therein, by faith and love.

That all things are possible to one who believes; that they are less difficult to one who hopes; that they are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues.

That the end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.

That, when we enter upon the spiritual life, we should consider and examine to the bottom what we are.  And then we should find ourselves worthy of all contempt and not deserving indeed the name of Christians; subject to all kinds of misery and numberless accidents, which trouble us and cause perpetual vicissitudes in our health, in our humors, in our internal and external dispositions; in short, people whom God would humble by many pains and labors, within as well as without.  After this we should not wonder that troubles, temptations, oppositions, and contradictions happen to us from men.  We ought, on the contrary, to submit ourselves to them, and bear them as long as God pleases, as things highly beneficial to us.

That, the greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon divine grace.

MORE ON BROTHER LAWRENCE

The particulars which follow are collected from other accounts of Brother Lawrence.

Being questioned by one of his own Society (to whom he was obliged to open himself) by what means he had attained such an habitual sense of God, he told him that, since his first coming to the monastery, he had considered God as the end of all his thoughts and desires, as the mark to which they should tend and in which they should terminate.

That, in the beginning of his novitiate, he spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of God, so as to convince his mind of, and to impress deeply upon his heart, the divine existence, rather by devout sentiments and submission to the lights of faith than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations.  That, by this short and sure method, he exercised himself in the knowledge and love of God, resolving to use his utmost endeavor to live in a continual sense of His presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more.

That, when he had thus in prayer filled his mind with great sentiments of that infinite being, he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for he was cook to the Society).  There, having first considered severally the things his office required and when and how each thing was to be done, he spent all the intervals of his time, as well before as after his work, in prayer.

That, when he began his business, he said to God, with a filial trust in Him: O, my God, since thou art with me and I must now, in obedience to thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech thee to grant me the grace to continue in thy presence; and to this end do thou prosper me with thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.

[“We can do little things for God.  I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king.  It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”]

As her proceeded in his work he continued his familiar conversation with his Maker, imploring His grace and offering to Him all his actions.

When he had finished, he examined himself how he had discharged his duty; if he found well, he returned thanks to God; if otherwise, he asked pardon; and, without being discouraged, he set his mind right again and continued his exercise of the presence of God as if he had never deviated from it.  “Thus,” said he, “by rising after my falls, and by frequently-renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to it.”

As Brother Lawrence had found such comfort and blessing in walking in the presence of God, it was natural for him to recommend it earnestly to others; but his example was a stronger inducement than any arguments he could propose.  His very countenance was edifying; such a sweet and calm devotion appearing in it as could not but affect all beholders.  And it was observed that, in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen, he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness.  He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit.  “The time of business,” he said, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several people 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.”

[Continue to the letters.]

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