By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the tradition of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.
One of my favorite cookbooks is From a Monastery Kitchen by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, a modern-day version of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Brother Victor’s cookbooks contain inspirational quotes from Brother Lawrence and others, which I ponder while making things like “Saint Scholastica Soup.” Unwittingly, I have been praying in the tradition of Brother Lawrence!
Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1614 and was raised by working-class parents in modern-day eastern France. He developed what we would now call post-traumatic stress syndrome after enlisting as a soldier in the brutal Thirty Year’s War between Catholics and Protestants in Germany. He also sustained a serious physical injury which left him with a limp and caused him to be discharged from his regiment.
While we have no way of knowing whether Nicholas actively participated in the killing, looting and pillaging or just witnessed it, we do know that he became obsessed with a quest for redemption. After failed careers as a hermit and a footman, at age twenty-six Nicholas followed in his uncle’s footsteps and became a Discalced Carmelite brother in Paris. He took the religious name of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection and remained there fifty years working mostly as a cook.
Brother Lawrence’s first ten years in the monastery were difficult. He continued to feel that he had no hope of salvation and prayed frequently in a private nook near his pantry. There he kept a small picture of Jesus which reminded him that he was not the only one who suffered. Gradually, Brother Lawrence discovered that he did not need to go to the nook, but was able to pray at all times, even if it was simply repeating the Lord’s Prayer while he worked.
Using his “methodless method,” Brother Lawrence carried on a running exchange with God as he peeled potatoes, seasoned soup, scrubbed kettles, etc. He made his tasks an integral part of his prayer life and is quoted as saying, “. . . 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 a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” (364)
Brother Lawrence’s kitchen became a chapel of sorts where cart drivers, grocers, or fishmongers could hear practical advice on how God cared for them. A priest friend was able to capture Brother Lawrence’s clear, no-nonsense way of speaking in notes he took of their conversations. These notes were published as a small book called The Practice of the Presence of God, which is still so popular that there are fourteen different versions on Amazon!
A few weeks ago, the book was recommended by Dr. Greer Gordon at the Religious Education Congress. According to Dr. Gordon, we should “strive to remain in the gaze of God” and Brother Lawrence’s style of prayer is a simple and effective way to do that.
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