Celebrating Brother Lawrence:
Patron Saint of the Menial & Mundane
Born in 1611, Nicholas Herman of Lorraine entered the Carmelite Order in Paris as a lay brother at the age of 26. There, he learned the art of “practicing the presence of God”–even amidst the mundane chores of working first in the monastery’s kitchen and, later, its leather shop.
Peeling potatoes? God is there to be found and enjoined.
Mending a pair of broken sandals? God is there, ready for conversation.
No task too menial to not be a center of contemplation.
No place too obscure to not be a sanctuary.
No moment too common to not be a time of holy communion.
“The time of business,” he’d share in the collection of his letters which would become the classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”
Several poets come to mind and heart as I think of Lawrence:
There’s the powerful lines from Elizabeth Barrett Browning from her “Aurora Leigh”:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
Or again, there’s Gerald Manley Hopkins (“As Kingfishers Catch Fire”):
Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
Less refined are the words that I remember from one of my professors in Systematic Theology at seminary. “Even a mannequin in a shop window or a dead dog in the middle of the road has something to say to us about God and Grace and Life.”
When I have shared that quote with folks across the years, I have consistently been met by a mix of laughter and/or quizzical looks–so much so that I have wondered if I ought to keep it to myself.
But, then, Brother Lawrence, the patron saint of the menial and the mundane, enters the scene. He, who practiced God’s presence in all times and places and things: he encourages me to believe that, perhaps there is more to mannequins and all sorts of ordinary things (even, dare I add, dead dogs?!?) than most folks are able to see or willing to admit.
On second thought, I’m thinking that I still oughta keep the “dead dogs” stuff to myself.