I’m not into post medieval writers. Really. I know that I have introduced this guy John Bunyan to y’all, and I’m about to talk about another person from the 17th Century. But I am not well versed in these things—I just like to know a little about the greats in our faith, great saints who have gone before us who contributed to who we are today as Christians. Brother Lawrence is one of those.
Brother Lawrence was a Catholic monk, born in 1614, who led a peasant life as a boy, and gave himself to an ascetic monastic life as an adult. He had a reputation of truly loving God and walking with God continuously. He never wrote a book (wasn’t particularly educated enough for one thing), never preached, and spent his life working in the kitchen and mending people’s sandals (he himself was left lame in the war). He was known for walking with God continuously, or as he put it, Practicing the Presence of God.
In a letter to a friend, he once wrote:
“We must always work at it (walking with God continuously-that’s my note), because not to persevere in the spiritual life is to go back. But those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep. If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the Lord who reposes in it. He will quickly calm the sea.”
“If the vessel of our soul is still tossed” not only is a picturesque way of describing how many of us have felt spiritually, it connects us to that wonderful story of Jesus calming a storm (Mark 4). Ever since I went to Israel and saw a 2000-year-old boat from the Sea of Galilee (it was a real big row boat), I have marveled at how Jesus could have been asleep in such a little boat in such rough seas. Brother Lawrence reminds us that the Jesus who slept completely unfettered by the storm that night so long ago, remains unrattled by the storms in our lives today. That Lord is in us, and while the “vessel of our souls” often is disquieted by the things of life, Jesus isn’t. And if we turn to Him, He is still the Word through whom all things were created (John 1:3), and will speak to Nature itself to quiet the storms of our lives.
The question Brother Lawrence would ask us is, “are you Practicing the Presence of God (I capitalize that because his writings and teachings were compiled into a book by that name) enough to where you can ask Jesus to do so?”
A boat is a great illustration of being in the world but not of the world (ref. John 17:14-16 or John 15:19). A boat is in the water but can’t be of the water. Too much water in the boat means it won’t be a boat anymore. We know the world serves up storms. We can’t avoid that. We are not satellites that hover over the Earth and get to watch it from afar. Sometimes we are more like the Hurricane Hunter planes that have to fly into the storms. Sometimes we’re the boats that get caught by the storms. But in either case, with Jesus in the boat, we can awaken Him “who reposes in it.” And He will “quickly calm the sea.” I love that language. And the idea.
God is good. And is with us. Hallelujah!
Checking the back of the boat,
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good purpose.