Brother Lawrence, a Catholic monk who came to the priory without enough education to become a cleric, spent most of his 76 years working in a kitchen and sowing sandals together. He never preached a sermon in front of thousands or shaped the theology of his day, but by all accounts still led an incredibly fulfilling, resonant spiritual life. After Brother Lawrence died, Joseph de Beaufort, a priest, compiled a book based on Brother Lawrence’s correspondence and conversations titled The Practice of the Presence of God. In the book, Brother Lawrence details how the monotony of his work became a sanctuary for him, a time and place for him to engage in almost constant prayer and meditation, a chance to offer up the mundane tasks of his day as a form of worship.
None of this sits well with me. It’s easy to see from reading The Practice of the Presence of God that Brother Lawrence was a bright guy. “What are you doing?” I want to scream at him. “Get out of the Kitchen! Go lead! You’re better than that!” I want to scream these things because they represent how I would feel about myself if I was working in a kitchen, receiving no recognition or attention for my intellect or the gifts I feel I have to offer the world. I would feel slighted, cheated, and bitter about my position. I would whine and complain constantly about how unfair it all was. I would pray to be released from such a menial station, to be given an opportunity to serve in some way that I thought had meaning. I would crank up Rage Against the Machine’s first album and exorcise my frustrations through a Dwight Schrute-esque dance-fight. Brother Lawrence – to his immense credit – did none of those things. Instead, he saw the “common business” of his day-to-day routine as a space to be filled with his careful attention to service in God’s name. Every pot scrubbed, every plate rinsed, and every bowl dried represented another small building block in the enormous alter Brother Lawrence was building, through his faithfulness and his humility, for the God he loved. The ‘what’ never mattered to Brother Lawrence, only the ‘why.’
I could learn a thing or twelve from Brother Lawrence. How easy would it have been to look upon his life as a long series of short straws? Poor, uneducated, laboring on the lowest rung of the ladder. Brother Lawrence had every excuse to remove his focus from his own growth and improvement and place it fully upon the thousand little things we would call injustices. I spend an inordinate amount of my time worrying about personal glory and recognition and almost no time worrying about how I might better serve others or make the best out of the present moment.
We could probably all take a page from Brother Lawrence’s book (please do not go ripping out pages of The Practice of the Presence of God at Barnes and Noble) and try to see each moment, whether we’re working a job we don’t like or washing the dishes or mowing the lawn or waiting in line at the grocery, as a space to be filled with thankfulness and surrender.
Read more about Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (How cool is that name, by the way?) by following the links below.