When Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived in the 17th-century, left his stressful job and entered the monastery, he thought he’d find peace and tranquility, a sacred space where he could pray and meditate all day, away from the busyness and demands of ordinary life.
Upon arrival at the abbey, however, he was assigned to daily kitchen duty, requiring him to cook all three meals and cleanup afterwards. Instead of spending his days in the chapel in blissful contemplative prayer, Lawrence quickly found himself burdened with long hours of manual labor in the stainless steel commissary peeling potatoes, cooking chicken, serving his fellow monks, and washing pots and pans, silverware, and dirty dishes.
The busyness distracted and irritated him. The peace he thought he would find soon soured into frustration. How could he focus on the Divine, he wondered, when his everyday chores consumed him, demanding his full attention?
Determined to find a way to stay connected with God and his own soul amidst the constant commotion in the kitchen, Lawrence decided to begin a silent two-way conversation with God.
As he sliced the potatoes he talked with the Creator, thanking him for giving him hands that were able to cut and dice. He praised him for the farmers who tilled the soil and for the rain that nourished the fields so the potatoes could grow. And when he became tired and frustrated over the long hours he spent cooking and preparing food, he shifted his grumbling into a chant of praise for the privilege of feeding and nourishing his fellow monks.
Lawrence called this method, practicing the Presence of God. It helped him remain focused, calm, and peaceful as he went about his ordinary tasks. It gave him the connection he’d been looking for and thought he could only find during structured times of morning and evening prayer.
When he became perplexed, Lawrence asked God questions and waited for the answers, which often came to him as a quiet whisper in his heart. When he ran into a problem, he’d silently ask God, what should I do? And often he’d then experience an inner nudge that gave him the answer. When he became angry or anxious, he’d reach out to God quietly and ask him to take away his fear and frustration and fill him with gratitude. And when he felt self-doubt, he’d ask God if he loved him, and a gentle whisper would resonate in his heart…more than you’ll ever know.
Perhaps we’re like Lawrence in many ways. Although we don’t live in a monastery, we do have daily to-do lists chock full of ordinary work responsibilities and family activities we have to attend to. And the constant bombardment of work can fill us with the same frustration, anxiety, and sense of feeling overwhelmed that Lawrence experienced.
Like Lawrence maybe the invitation for us is to find God in the midst of our active life. Perhaps bringing God into our day through an on-going conversation with him is a pathway to peace, a tool in our toolbox to help us discover our true self in the Divine, there in the middle of life, in the midst of our often-chaotic day.
A simple pause when we feel overwhelmed by the barrage of tasks thrown at us, to ask God—how do I deal with all the demands being thrown at me? —Might recenter and refocus our attention, give us a lifeline to the Wisdom we need to figure out the next best thing to do.
When we feel insecure, inadequate, afraid we can’t do all the chores we’ve been tasked with in a busy day, a simple shout out to God —Help! —Might open the conversation with the Divine Coach to regain focus and self-respect so we can get the job done.
By practicing the Presence of God, developing a habit of conversing with him continually, we bring on-board a mentor, a coach, a spiritual life force of Wisdom and encouragement. And with a little practice, we may find we have a new friend, a constant companion who provides Divine Guidance and inspiration as we practice his Presence while moving about our daily lives.
—brian j plachta
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.