“He longs to be in you; He wants His breath to be your breath, His heart in your heart, His soul in your soul.” – St. John Eudes
Throughout the year I find myself yearning for sacred silence. This is never more true than during the season of Lent. The Daily Mass readings, as well as those Matins and Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours, speak to my heart, compelling me to greater union with God. I long to spend hours conversing with Christ; adoring Him in the Blessed Sacrament, while contemplating the mysteries of our redemption. However, the whirlwind of daily duty takes precedence. The reality of potty-training the littlest one while coaxing the eldest to finish his Algebra, scrubbing floors, refereeing squabbling siblings (not to mention the 3 dogs) and sorting a bazillion socks relegates that much sought after sacred silence to an unrequited desire. In His Wisdom, God placed my contemplative soul in the body of a homeschooling Mom of eight. Our busy home is the hallowed ground upon which I seek my own sanctification, as well as that of my family. Thus, while my soul craves sacred solitude, the necessity of surrender to daily duty is an ever-present reality. As the incomparable St. Therese once stated, “Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender.” I am a work in progress.
I know God must love me a lot. Not only did He bless me with a terrific husband, and eight lovely children, He continues to provide the daily challenges essential for sanctification. If Our Lord is sculpting a masterpiece from the marble of my soul, then the hammer, chisel, and sandpaper of daily life are as necessary in His vast eternal plan as the caress of His loving gaze. Like most seekers, there are days I feel that sandpaper and chisel more acutely than others.
Thus, the need to balance an active family life – in the flux of the world – with a contemplative prayer life – within the shelter of my soul – is a perpetual challenge. I find it a daily struggle to juggle the demands and desires of both aspects of my being.
The trepidation that accompanies driving 8 kids to morning Mass at Holy Hill, amid snow and ice, via the bucket of bolts (my 96 Suburban) we affectionately termed “Mom’s Bus” is probably not what St. Paul had in mind when he penned the directive: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).” However, this admonition is one I take seriously. Without Holy Mass, daily Eucharist, and frequent Confession, the prospect of maintaining a placid, prayerful relationship with Christ, while living in the world would be an insurmountable task. Those moments of serenity are golden- the midnight rosary, a brief Adoration before Holy Mass, the joy of Holy Communion and a prolonged thanksgiving – all replenish my soul with supernatural grace. Armed with this treasure I am able to accomplish the tasks Our Lord has planned for me.
As I strive to achieve an appropriate balance between the demands of daily duty, and the desire for contemplative union with God, I seek the counsel of those who have successfully achieved this goal. Among my favorite spiritual writers is a little known French Carmelite Friar- a lay brother, who died on February 12, 1691. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection spent most of his religious life working in the kitchen of a busy Discalced Carmelite Monastery on the Rue de Vaugirard, in Paris. In this setting, he learned to balance the rigors of daily duty with an intense prayer life, and was rewarded with a profound union with God. His writings continue to guide spiritual seekers 300+ years after his death.
Brother Lawrence developed an ability to live each moment in the Presence of God. Early in his monastic life, Brother Lawrence was assailed with spiritual darkness, and intense suffering. Like other spiritual greats (St. John of the Cross, Blessed Mother Teresa, St. Therese, St. Padre Pio to name a few), this Carmelite lay brother was acutely aware of his sins, feared damnation, and perceived himself as radically unworthy of the tremendous graces Our Lord chose to lavish upon him. This “dark night of the soul” was a tremendous trial for Brother Lawrence- but one he eventually conquered by surrendering it all to God’s Grace. This dedicated Carmelite endured intense anguish for a decade, at which time he vowed to endure this suffering for not only the remainder of his earthly life, but for all eternity if that were pleasing to Almighty God. Instantly, his spiritual chains were loosened, and he resolved to forever remain in the presence of God.
From that moment on, Brother Lawrence strove to live each and every moment cognizant of Our Lord’s intimate Presence. While this task was difficult early on, with humility and dedication, he found it possible to enjoy God’s presence in every moment of the day.
“I possess God as tranquility in the bustle of my kitchen – where sometimes several people are asking me for different things at one time – as if I were on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament (Walking With the Father, Wisdom From Brother Lawrence, Patricia Mitchell Gen. Editor, 1999, p. 10).”
With ardent desire, and faithful endeavor, Brother Lawrence found the secret of intense union with God, while fulfilling the necessities of daily life. He called this way of life “practicing the presence of God.” He passed each hour in heart-to-heart conversation with God, merely glancing in His direction when that was all duty allowed.
In his Spiritual Maxims, Brother Lawrence states:
“Next, the soul’s eyes must be kept on God, particularly when something is being done in the outside world. Since time and effort are needed to perfect this practice, one should not be discouraged by failure. Although the habit is difficult to form, it is the source of divine pleasure once it is learned (The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, Whitaker House ed. 1944).”
Brother Lawrence lived each day in humility, enjoying a continuing conversation with a loving God. Other great Saints have also written about the sublime beauty of this path to intimacy with our Creator. In both her Interior Castle and Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila details a straightforward path to sanctity, via an intimate relationship with God. The simplicity and success of this time-tested approach to spiritual union cannot be argued. Yet, as these great contemplatives note, persistence and humility are required for spiritual success.
From the Spiritual Maxims gleaned from Brother Lawrence’s letters and conversations, comes the following insight:
“You must continually try to make all of your actions, without distinction, a sort of little conversation with God – not in a rehearsed way but just as they happen, with purity and simplicity of heart pleasure (Walking With the Father, Wisdom From Brother Lawrence, Patricia Mitchell Gen. Editor, 1999, p. 127).”
Over the years I have stumbled upon many translations of Brother Lawrence’s work (Cosimo Classics and Whitaker Press are among my favorites) – in each the clear beauty of his message is conveyed. While out of humility Brother Lawrence attempted to destroy all of the letters and recollections written during his lifetime, his Abbot, Abbe de Beaufort, recognized their spiritual worth, and compiled what he could rescue into Practicing the Presence of God. Perhaps you may find Brother Lawrence’s simple wisdom as beneficial to your spiritual life as have I.
As we continue to journey through the desert with Christ, may we always walk in the Presence of God.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mary Anne, this is so beautiful! Your gentle sharing of the story of your contemplative soul within your busy family life touches my heart and I can relate so well. I love the example of Brother Lawrence- that peaceful calm that he always maintained knowing that God was always with him in all things. Oh to maintain that peace of soul!
Lenten blessings to you and your family!
Thank you Anne-
We are kindred souls, my dear. Your family life is as chaotic as mine, and we share contemplative hearts. Brother Lawrence is on to something…. If it were only as easy as he makes it seem. Now that he is before the Throne of God, he will hopefully remember those of us who struggle her below, just as he did, and intercede for us.