Brother Lawrence


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Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, OCD (c. 1614 – 12 February 1691) served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. Christians commonly remember him for the intimacy he expressed concerning his relationship to God as recorded in a book compiled after his death, the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God.

Brother Lawrence was born Nicolas Herman in Hériménil, near Lunéville in the Lorraine region, in modern-day eastern France. His parents were peasants, so his schooling was limited at best. Young Nicholas Herman grew up during the calamitous Thirty Years' War, which devastated central Europe between 1618 and 1648. Herman's poverty forced him into joining the army as a young man, which guaranteed him meals and a small stipend. 

Herman claimed an experience that set him on a unique spiritual journey during this period. At the age of 16, he saw a leafless tree in the middle of a battlefield. Realizing that the tree would be in full leaf and flower in a few months, he saw the tree as a symbol of God's ability to transform the human heart.

Following an injury, he fought in the Thirty Years' War, left the army, and served as a valet. In 1635, Nicholas fought against Swedish infantry and French cavalry at Rambervillers, near his home village. He was taken prisoner by German troops on the march and was treated like a spy. They even threatened to hang him. He fearlessly answered that he was not what they suspected. When the soldiers saw his courage, they released him. 

The Swedes entered Lorraine and, while passing through the area, attacked the little town of Rambervillers, where he became wounded, leaving him permanently lame (Rambervillers had 2660 inhabitants at the time; eight years later, there were only 400 survivors). The ghastly experience of battle seared his mind to such a degree that he fell back on his religious upbringing and never looked back. 

He never spoke of the horrors he had experienced, but the effects remained with him for the rest of his life. After a period of convalescence in his parent's home, he entered the employment of William de Fuibert, treasurer to the king of France. Serving as a footman, Lawrence describes himself as "a great awkward fellow who broke everything."

Thus, when his service as a footman ended, Nicholas sought spiritual fulfillment in the solitude of a hermit's life; he firmly resolved to follow in his uncle's footsteps, a holy Discalced Carmelite. In mid-June, at the age of twenty-six, he entered the Order of Discalced Carmelites on the Rue Vaugirard in Paris as a lay brother. In June 1640, Nicolas joined the Discalced Carmelite Priory in Paris. 

He entered the priory as a lay brother and took the religious name "Lawrence of the Resurrection." He made his solemn profession of vows on August 14, 1642. He spent the rest of his life with the Parisian community, where his primary assignments were working in the kitchen and repairing sandals in his later years. He entered fearing 'they would skin him alive' for his awkwardness and faults—as he said in his own unpolished language, often seasoned with humor—but fortunately for himself and his brothers, 'he experienced only satisfaction.' 

He carried out this office of a cook until his leg became ulcerated, at which point his superiors assigned him an easier task as a sandal maker. Lawrence suffered from a kind of sciatic gout that made him limp' and worsened over the years. Gradually, the influence of the humble sandal-maker grew, not only among the poor. Many learned people, religious and ecclesiastics, also had esteem for him.

Despite his lowly position in life and the priory, his character attracted many to him. He had a reputation for experiencing profound peace, and visitors came to seek his spiritual guidance. The wisdom he passed on to them in conversations and letters would later become the basis for the book The Practice of the Presence of God. The conversations had been conducted and recorded by a notable cleric, Abbé Joseph de Beaufort, who compiled this work after Brother Lawrence died.

 This little book was approved by the Archbishop of Paris, Louis Antoine de Noailles. When the Archbishop of Paris approved the life of Brother Lawrence made by his Grand Vicar and in his own organization, he approved that it is said that this brother "forgot himself and was willing to lose himself for God, That he no longer thought of virtue or his salvation ... that he had always governed himself by love without interest. 

The book consists of sixteen short Letters by himself, a short collection of Spiritual Maxims embodying his views, four Conversations, probably written down by M. Beaufort, and a brief Life, apparently from the same hand. It became popular among Catholics and Protestants alike, with John Wesley, Willard L Sperry, A. W. Tozer, and Hannah Whitall Smith recommending it to others. Hannah Whitall Smith writes, "This little book seems to me one of the most helpful I know."

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