Saturday, March 28, 2020

Practicing the Presence of God In The Midst of "Pandemic Panic" (Spiritual Maxims by Brother Lawrence)

It is a frightful time that we find ourselves in as I write this in March, 2020. Just a few weeks ago the stock market was riding high, we here in the United States had the best economy in recent memory with full employment, and the world by and large was at peace. Then came the coronavirus, properly known as Covid-19. We have just in the last few weeks seen our entire society upended. The stock market has plunged 10,000 points or more. Millions of people have lost their jobs as the government has been forced to close many businesses (in my state, all non-essential businesses are currently closed), our houses of worship are empty as we all are being asked (essentially ordered) to practice "social distancing", a phrase virtually no one had heard of only a few weeks ago but is now on everyone's lips. As I write this, over 600,000 worldwide have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and here in the States we have the dubious distinction of having the most infections of any country in the world. We just passed 100,000 infected and 1,700 deaths.  The really frightening thing about this is that we are by all accounts still in the early stages of this pandemic. We seem to be "holding it all together" but not by much.

Rather than seeing this as "gloom and doom" however, I see this as a call from God to turn to Him. In times of prosperity, it is our natural tendency to turn away from God. From time to time, in His mercy, He afflicts us in the hope that we will turn to Him. This, I believe, is one of those times.

I was drawn earlier to read from the writings of a lowly French monk of the 17th century by the simple name of Brother Lawrence. This man of little education worked in a small monastery preparing meals for other monks. While doing his lowly kitchen duties, he developed the practice of living always in conscious awareness of God. "Despite his humble position in the community, his reputation attracted many visitors from the outside who sought spiritual guidance from him. The practical wisdom that he shared became the basis of his book, 'Practicing the Presence of God'" (From the Forward to the book). This book has been a source of great spiritual wisdom for many for over three centuries.

I read this morning Brother Lawrence's "Spiritual Maxims" from that book. I believe in this time of "pandemic panic", his words are exactly what we need. I share a portion of these with you here. (Italics and bold print are mine)



1. We are to practice honoring God and His Glory in everything that we do and say. This is our goal: to offer to God a sacrifice of perfect worship in this life and throughout eternity. We should firmly resolve to overcome every difficulty that we encounter in reaching this goal by the grace of God. 
2. When we begin the spiritual life, we should do a thorough inquiry into our human nature, probing to its deepest depths. We will find that we are unworthy of the name of Christ. We are subject to all sorts of difficulties and weaknesses. These trouble us and damage our spiritual health. They cause us to waver and be unstable in our emotions and attitudes. We are creatures chastened and humbled by God through countless sufferings and adversities, inside and outside. 
3. We must steadfastly believe, and never doubt, that all suffering is for our good. God is disciplining us. His Divine Providence permits our souls to pass through many difficult experiences and times of trial. We are to endure various sorrows and sufferings for the love of God, for as long as He deems it necessary. Without submission of the heart and spirit to the will of God, devotion and perfection cannot exist. 
4. The higher the spiritual state to which a soul aspires, the more it is dependent on grace. The grace of God is necessary every moment, for without it the soul can do nothing. The world, the flesh, and the devil join forces and assault the soul directly and relentlessly. Without humble reliance on the ever-present assistance of God, they drag the soul down in spite of all resistance. To rely on God’s help seems difficult, but grace makes it easy, and it brings joy.


1. The practice of the Presence of God is the most holy, the most all-encompassing, and the most necessary practice of the spiritual life. It trains the soul to find its joy in His Divine Companionship. At all times and at every moment, it engages the soul in humble and loving communion with Him, without rules or methods. This is practiced in all circumstances, in times of temptation and tribulation, spiritual dryness and apathy, and even when we fall into unfaithfulness and sin. 

2. We should commit ourselves unceasingly to this one goal: that everything we do be little acts of communion with God. This must be natural and not artificial, coming from the purity and simplicity of the heart. 

3. We must do everything thoughtfully and mindfully, without impulsiveness or rashness, which indicate an undisciplined mind. We must go about our daily activities quietly, calmly, and lovingly, asking Him to bless the work of our hands. By keeping our heart and mind fixed on God, we shall bruise the head of the evil one, and cast his weapons to the ground. 

4. When we are busy meditating on spiritual things, or doing our daily devotions, or even raising our voice in prayer, we ought to stop every once in a while to worship God in the depth of our being. Taste Him as if in passing. Touch Him, as it were, by stealth. Know that God is with you in everything you do. He is at the very depth and center of your soul. Why not pause for a moment from time to time in the midst of your busyness, even during the act of prayer, to worship Him within your soul? Why not praise Him, ask for His help, offer Him the service of your heart, and give Him thanks for all His loving-kindnesses and tender mercies? 

What offering is more acceptable to God than to, periodically throughout the day, leave behind the things of our outward senses and withdraw within to worship Him in the secret place of the soul? By doing this we destroy the love of self, which can survive only among the things of sense. These times of quiet retirement with God rid us unconsciously of self-love. 

Truly we could give God no greater evidence of our trust and faithfulness than by turning from the creation to find our joy in the present moment in the Creator. I am not suggesting that we completely disregard forever the outward things that are around us. That is impossible. Prudence (wisdom), the mother of the virtues, must be your guide. Yet it is a common error of religious persons to neglect this practice of stopping for a moment in order to worship God in the depth of their soul and enjoy briefly the peace of communion with Him...

5. Our acts of worship are to be prompted and guided by faith. We must honestly believe that God is really within our souls. We must believe that we should worship Him, love Him, and serve Him in spirit and in truth. We must believe that He sees all and that all hearts are open to Him, both our own and those of all His creatures. We must believe that He is self-existent and that all His creatures live and move and have their being in him. We believe that His Perfection is infinite and sovereign, and demands the full surrender of our whole selves, body and soul. It is only right that we owe Him all our thoughts, words and actions. Let us pay our debt. 

6. It is necessary to examine ourselves carefully to find out which virtues we lack most, and which are the hardest for us to acquire. We should seek to discover which sins most easily ensnare us, and at what times and on what occasions we usually fall. In time of struggle we ought to turn to God with perfect confidence, abiding steadfastly in the Presence of His Divine Majesty. In lowly adoration we can tell Him our sorrows and our failures, asking Him lovingly for the assistance of His grace. In our weakness we shall find strength in Him.

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