Have you read The Practice of the Presence of God? Between the world wars, C.S. Lewis pondered this devotional collection written in the 1600s.
Lewis was rather disappointed during his initial reading, but he apparently grew in his respect for the slim volume. He read it in 1930, the year prior to his becoming a communing member of the local Anglican church. His body rests in its cemetery today.
In a letter to his closest friend, Arthur Greeves, Lewis describes his impression of the work. It is impressive to note how he acknowledges that his own “mood” may have influenced his reception.
In reading I have of course little to record, and never shall have much in term time. I read in two evenings a little book that came from Leeborough called The Practice of the Presence of God which I picked up & put in the study when I was there last because it seemed to me a promising title. It is by a seventeenth century monk.
It is full of truth but somehow I didn’t like it: it seemed to me a little unctuous. That sort of stuff, when it is not splendid beyond words, is terribly repulsive, or can be, can’t it?
No doubt it depends very largely on one’s mood. I had just finished the fourth Gospel in Greek (as I think you know) before you came, and after that most other things are a come down. Not that I liked that in all respects either.
It’s fascinating that Lewis acknowledges that his reading of the humble kitchen monk and sandal-maker followed in the wake of his reading of The Gospel according to John, in the Greek. This must rank near the top of Lewis’ greatest understatements: “and after that most other things are a come down.” (Who among us would ever desire for even our finest writing to be compared to John’s inspired Gospel?)
Lewis was not dismissive of the seventeenth century work. As late as 1956, the two friends discussed the volume in their correspondence. That year Lewis wrote “Yes, Bro. Lawrence is of course right” in response to an unpreserved observation made by Greeves.
Christianity Today offers a brief account of the Frenchman’s life here. It describes a pivotal point in the life of the man who would become a soldier, and then a monk.
Born Nicolas Herman in 1614 in a small village in Lorraine, France, he had a soul-altering experience at 18. That winter, while looking at a leafless tree, he marveled that its barrenness would soon turn green again, flower, and bear fruit. This insight made him intimately aware of God’s love from then on.
The Soul of C.S. Lewis describes one example of the similarities shared by the Oxford professor and the French monk whose work he described as “full of truth.”
One of Brother Lawrence’s secrets was in realizing what Lewis would one day also discover: that every activity can be either religious or irreligious. The difference is in our minds and hearts.
Obviously, The Practice of the Presence of God is now in the public domain (since its author died in 1691). There is no excuse to ignore this Christian devotional classic which has long been appreciated by many Protestants, as well as Lawrence’s fellow Roman Catholics. You can download it in several formats here or obtain a (currently) free kindle version from Amazon.
Lewis Quotes Brother Lawrence
Although the following excerpt lacks sufficient context to make a great deal of sense, it is worth noting the following from That Hideous Strength, the final volume in Lewis’ space trilogy. It reveals that the wisdom of the uneducated monk remained with Lewis, even as he wrote his own religious treasures.
In the book, Dr. Dimble is a good-willed academic who Lewis uses to interpose some of his personal thoughts.
Dr. Dimble drove out to St. Anne’s dissatisfied with himself, haunted with the suspicion that if he had been wiser, or more perfectly in charity with this very miserable young man, he might have done something for him. “Did I give way to my temper? Was I self-righteous? Did I tell him as much as I dared?” he thought.
Then came the deeper self-distrust that was habitual with him. “Did you fail to make things clear because you really wanted not to? Just wanted to hurt and humiliate? To enjoy your own self-righteousness . . ?” The sadness that came over him had novelty in it. “And thus,” he quoted from Brother Lawrence, “thus I shall always do, whenever You leave me to myself.”
This intriguing passage suggests that Brother Lawrence’s thoughts continued to inspire Lewis . . . long after his initial exposure to them. Here the fictional professor nearly succumbs to his self-doubt before he reminds himself that this is a common result of introspection that ignores the love and presence of God.
If you have not yet decided to read, or reread, The Practice of the Presence of God, perhaps one of these excerpts will inspire you to do so.
“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”
“That we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversation, to think of trifles and fooleries.”
“We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.”