Rev. Dr. Stephen DeWit
In my sermon on Trinity Sunday, I mentioned how life in the Trinity means that even the most ordinary moments are sacred. If I would have had time, I would have loved to tell the story of one of my spiritual heroes: Brother Lawrence. People rarely become famous for their humility and simplicity. The Holy Spirit made it so that Brother Lawrence did.
He wasn’t ordained, he wasn’t smart, he never taught courses, never wrote books, never got promoted, and even died in obscurity. But today, any list of believers to emulate--any discussion of history’s most intense lovers of God, includes Brother Lawrence.
Born in 1614, Nicolas Herman took the name “Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection” when he joined a Carmelite Priory in Paris, France. He didn’t have much of an education, so becoming a Priest was out of the question. Instead, he spent nearly his entire life working in the kitchen. He had no choice but to be simple. His job was simple. His expectations were simple. His resources were simple. But as Brother Lawrence proved with his life, simple doesn’t have to be meaningless.
His love of God began simply as well. One day in the dead of winter he was staring at a tree—no leaves, no fruit, nothing beautiful about it—but he delighted at God’s providential love for that tree. It looked dead, but it wasn’t; and God was going to bring that tree to fullness. Somehow, after seeing this tree his heart was never the same. No miraculous signs, no great visions, just a simple thought of God’s perfect care.
Even in the monastery kitchen, doing the same chores and enduring the same complaints day after day, year after year, he found the greatest intimacy with God in the simplest things. There was nothing in his life that was mundane, because each movement, each chore, each thought was an opportunity to explode with love for God. He famously, confidentially told a friend, “It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
How did he do this? Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God—in everything, all the time. The more monotonous, rote, simple, and miniscule the event, the better. More than any other reality, Brother Lawrence sensed the presence of God at every moment. Mark Galli writes, “Together, God and brother Lawrence cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world.”
After his obscure death, a curious church leader collected everything Brother Lawrence had left the world: twelve letters to his friends and about five short pages of maxims on practicing the presence of God. Those combined with four journal entries written by a friend after having conversations with Brother Lawrence is all we have. But that’s all we need to understand that Brother Lawrence lived a life beyond the ordinary.