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Book Review: the Practice of the Presence of God by Peter Menkin

by Peter Menkin  
1/18/2009 / Book Reviews

This is a lovely and well designed book that leads the reader into a special appreciation of what becomes of simple presence and prayer to God. Brother Lawrence is an uncomplicated man who performs work in the kitchen and finds a relationship with God through his constant prayer life. Like an unveiling of some mystery that once displayed is no mystery, "The Practice of the Presence of God" is both story and book of instruction for the seeker. The version of the book published by Paraclete Press of Brewster, Massachussets "...includes his Spiritual Maxims, biographical material, and the familiar letters and conversations."

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This book is a classic and the version here is part of a series called "Christian Classics." If in your lifetime, and that's a big statement, you have time for a lovely book that you can say "I read," and one which you will enjoy for its faith and simplicity of heart, read this book. It is a lovely set of writings--not so hard to read.

Under the section, towards the end of this well translated book (translated by Robert J. Edmonson) I found a good quote from the section, "The Means of Acquiring the Presence of God:" "As time and much labor are necessary to acquire this practice, we must not be discouraged when we fail in it, because the habit is formed only with difficulty; but when it is formed, everything we do we will do with pleasure." So this charming man from the past, who lived in the presence of God, tells us that living in God's presence is a pleasure.

Is this practice a matter of the mind and even the will. Apparently, it takes some discipline and mostly a kind of keen desire, a yearning for the Lord. It is within ones reach in this modern world. A word of advice from the "Fourth Conversation, November 25, 1667:" "He told me that its essence is renouncing once and for all everyting we recognize as not tending toward God, in order to accustom ourselves to the continual conversation with Him without a lot of head knowledge." The reader is instructed to recognize God's intimate presence "within us and speak to Him every moment..." One asks for God's help in this.

There is a Eulogy for Brother Lawrence in the book, and it quotes Brother Lawrence as having said in his lifetime, "O faith! O faith! O admirable virtue that illuminates the spirit of man..." One learns about faith in this book, and in its simplicity and directness of manner the reader can be mislead that Brother Lawrence act was no large feat, but it was in reality a great thing and gift from God that many would yearn to achieve, and most of us can build into our lives.

Should we, too, endeavor on this path for ongoing, continual conversation with God, we must be prepared to set aside many earthly conversations. "He told me that we must establish ourselves in the presence of God by continually conversing with him. It is a shameful thing to break off our conversation with Him in order to engage in trifling or foolish talk." Remember, Brother Lawrence was a monk, so this kind of advice and way of life is more common to him as a monk than it would be to a lay person in the world. I say again, though one may take this as a how-to book, I recommend it as a lovely and charming Christian Classic that helps in prayer life and in relationship to God. As a result of reading this book, I have tried to spend more time in my waking hours in conversation with God.

Let us profit from Brother Lawrence's views, as one correspondent of his has said to a colleague. Let us allow this monk from the past to bring us in our modern world to a closer and even better relationship because of conversation with God. This is more than talk, this is going on with a discussion with the Lord, an opening of the heart, a reaching out, a willingness to let God into our lives. There is an author's message here in the book. One of those messages is this note about the practice, that lends itself to encouragement: "He confessed nonetheless that he had difficulty with this way of life at first and that he used to go for considerable lengths of time without remembering the presence of God..." My thought about this is to perservere.

--Peter Menkin

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.

Copyright Peter Menkin

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