Eighteen-year-old Nicholas Herman stood looking at a tree. In the middle of a bitter winter, he pondered how lifeless the barren, leafless tree appeared. Yet knowing this skeletal tree would soon flourish with new life in the spring, he wrote that he was overwhelmed by “a high view of the providence and power of God.” The image of that tree remained with the young man and led to his conversion.
Nicholas was born a peasant in 1611 in Eastern France. He fought in the Thirty Years War in order to have something to eat, but he was injured and forced to retire. The injury partially crippled Nicholas for the rest of his life. After his service, Nicholas Herman entered a monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Paris where he served as a lay brother – a monk with manual rather than clerical duties. Upon entering, he changed his name to Brother Lawrence, the name millions would come to know him by.
Brother Lawrence didn’t copy manuscripts or preach sermons. He worked in the kitchen. Every day, his superiors sent their directions and Brother Lawrence cooked, cleaned, washed dishes, and got ready for the next meal. It was an unpleasant, loud, dirty job that Brother Lawrence disliked. Yet He wrote, “In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I posses God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
How could Brother Lawrence claim to be as near to God in the kitchen as he was during a church service? Lawrence explained that he tried to live constantly aware of, and rejoicing in, God’s presence. His letters and maxims are collected in a small book, The Practice of the Presence of God. In it he describes how, whether he was washing pots and pans or kneeling before God, he continued a conversation with the Lord and meditated on God’s character. The monk in his kitchen reminded himself of God’s omnipresence – that He is everywhere at all times – and that he could devote the most menial task to Him. He was happy to “pick up a straw from the ground for love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.” He believed at any moment, in any circumstance, the soul seeking the companionship of God would find Him.
Brother Lawrence was a single-minded man. He was enamored with his God. According to a vicar who met Lawrence, he had “no bias; not a trace of self could one discover in his character.” The lay monk forgot himself as he focused on the Lord. He could thus rejoice in doing his tasks day after day, knowing that the Lord was near to him and accepted all things done out of love for Him.
Brother Lawrence admitted that he battled with his flesh as he had to practice God’s presence. He said that talking to God throughout the day and devoting all we do to Him takes much effort and diligence, but that “after a little care we should find His love inwardly excit[ing] us to it without any difficulty.” Seeing God’s love stirred the monk to devote his mind, affections, and actions to Him. However, Lawrence often prayed “Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me,” and when he failed, he confessed his sin. Brother Lawrence noted that one should approach God simply and frankly, casting every care upon Him and asking for help as each problem appears.
Brother Lawrence died at eighty years old. He died as he lived, recognizing and rejoicing in the presence of God. When a fellow monk asked him his thoughts as the old man lay on his deathbed, Lawrence answered:
“I am doing what I shall do, through all eternity – blessing God, praising God, adoring God, giving Him the love of my whole heart. It is our one business, my brethren, to worship Him, and love him, without thought of anything else.”
CJ Snyder grew up in Ingomar, MS. God brought her to Himself in 2009 and continues to show her His glory and His goodness. She is a senior at Blue Mountain College double majoring in English and Exercise Science. She runs cross country for the BMC Toppers. CJ enjoys spending time with her family and being outdoors, and loves to bike, fish, and be in the woods.