Someone's In the Kitchen

By: Brian Robertson

"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament."

-Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence Christian Mystics


Brother Lawrence (1611-1691) was to be found at the great Carmelite monastery in Paris, but not in a position of authority. He was a lay brother whose duty was kitchen work. It so happened that M. de Beaufort came to the monastery on behalf of the cardinal of Paris and chanced to strike up a conversation with Brother Lawrence.

What he heard astonished him.

Those conversations have astonished millions through the years, for they were captured in a classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, which continues to be read.

There is a tradition in Zen that one's everyday life is enlightenment, for with realization, things simply don't change. Only our perceptions change. The actions of "chopping wood, carrying water" are the very actions of an enlightened being, not sitting aloof atop a mountain somewhere.

In the same way, Brother Lawrence explained, "Our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing for God's sake that which we commonly do for our own."

An echo of this can be found in the idea of karma yoga in the Vedantist tradition. This has little to do directly with the common concept of karma. Instead, it means doing works, but not claiming the fruits of the action itself, giving all glory to God.

But for Brother Lawrence, as he worked in the kitchen with all the things that can happen -- people rushing through, guests to be served, pans to be cleaned -- God was there. Not in some abstract way, but a constant, loving and supporting presence.

We are all accustomed to saying that God is with us, yes, but for many people that's simply an intellectual understanding, not a constant, moment to moment reality. Brother Lawrence tried to live it as a continuing reality.

In the portion of the book that you see below, you'll notice that de Beaufort mentions that not even Brother Lawrence was successful at this each moment of each day. There is something very, very reassuring about that, at least for me. Some of us have the image of a saint or Saint as someone who just gets it right, a kind of superhuman ideal that we can never really reach in this life, but perhaps we can somehow be a crude copy with its intrinsic faults.

None of this is present in Brother Lawrence's life or thoughts -- he is realistic and tender in his failings, knowing God "would not forsake him utterly, and that He would give him strength to bear whatever evil He permitted to happen to him; and therefore he feared nothing..."

Perfect love, it is said, casts out all fear - and the mystic knows that perfect love and God are one and the same. The mystic also is all too keenly aware that God is always present, and should we feel somehow separate or lost, it is we who have misplaced God - God cannot and does not misplace us.

Knowing that gives courage and the will to deepen our contemplation, to more freely give our love that we may then, clearly, feel the Divine Presence in ourselves, in others and, as Brother Lawrence says, in the very normal everyday things we do.

From The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Faith working by love. Outward business no detriment. Perfect resignation the sure way.

He told me, that the foundation of the spiritual life in him had been a high notion and esteem of GOD in faith; which when he had once well conceived, he had no other care at first, but faithfully to reject every other thought, that he might perform all his actions for the love of GOD. That when sometimes he had not thought of GOD for a good while, he did not disquiet himself for it; but after having acknowledged his wretchedness to GOD, he returned to Him with so much the greater trust in Him, by how much he found himself more wretched to have forgot Him.

That the trust we put in GOD honors Him much, and draws down great graces.

That it was impossible, not only that GOD should deceive, but also that He should long let a soul suffer which is perfectly resigned to Him, and resolved to endure everything for His sake.

That he had so often experienced the ready succors of Divine Grace upon all occasions, that from the same experience, when he had business to do, he did not think of it beforehand; but when it was time to do it, he found in GOD, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do. That of late he had acted thus, without anticipating care; but before the experience above mentioned, he had used it in his affairs.

When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of GOD, a fresh remembrance coming from GOD invested his soul, and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself.

That he was more united to GOD in his outward employments, than when he left them for devotion in retirement.

That he expected hereafter some great pain of body or mind; that the worst that could happen to him was, to lose that sense of GOD, which he had enjoyed so long; but that the goodness of GOD assured him He would not forsake him utterly, and that He would give him strength to bear whatever evil He permitted to happen to him; and therefore that he feared nothing, and had no occasion to consult with anybody about his state. That when he had attempted to do it, he had always come away more perplexed; and that as he was conscious of his readiness to lay down his life for the love of GOD, he had no apprehension of danger. That perfect resignation to GOD was a sure way to heaven, a way in which we had always sufficient light for our conduct.

That in the beginning of the spiritual life, we ought to be faithful in doing our duty and denying ourselves; but after that unspeakable pleasures followed: that in difficulties we need only have recourse to JESUS CHRIST, and beg His grace, with which everything became easy.

That many do not advance in the Christian progress, because they stick in penances, and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of GOD, which is the end. That this appeared plainly by their works, and was the reason why we see so little solid virtue.

That there needed neither art nor science for going to GOD, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for His sake, and to love Him only.