During the holidays, however, life tends to get busy and expensive. Presence yields to presents.
When this happens, as it always seems to, I think of Brother Lawrence. Like the great mystic and reformer, St. John of the Cross, Lawrence (1605-91) was a Carmelite monk. But unlike St. John, Lawrence was a lay brother who spent his “unremarkable” life cooking and cleaning. In fact, all that remains are some recollected conversations and a few scattered letters posthumously compiled by another monk into a short, now classic, spiritual work called The Practice of the Presence of God. His conversion happened one winter after “seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear” (First Conversation)
We need Brother Lawrence to remind us that Christmas is all about presence. For Lawrence, this means having a sense of God’s love in the middle of our busy and distracted lives during the Christmas season, a way of “doing our common business purely for the love of God” (Fourth Conversation). He reminds us to be about God’s business during our busyness.
Three of Brother Lawrence’s key insights can help us practice the presence of God this Christmas.
Give Your Time
Christmas is more about being present than buying presents. The most precious gift we have to give someone is our time. As Christmas gets piled high with shopping, decorating, work, or final exams, the gift of time seems to have the highest price tag. Brother Lawrence reminds us that God is present to us in all times and places:
"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 before the Blessed Sacrament.” (Fourth Conversation)
The Nativity celebrates the presence of God on earth, a God who came as an unexpected, untimely, and therefore unwelcome stranger. I think we all know people like that! Being present to God may mean letting ourselves be interrupted or making time for a family member we’d rather ignore, and letting God speak.
Celebrate Small Things
When we think Christmas, we think miracles. But the great mystery of the Incarnation reveals that God also shows his human face in the smallest, most mundane aspects of life. Brother Lawrence says:
“We can do little things for God. I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him . . . who has given me grace to work . . . It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God" (The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims).
Brother Lawrence points to the presence of God hidden even among life’s most unpresentable circumstances by faithfully doing unglamorous things for God’s glory.
It’s tempting to scoff at the more trivialized or sanitized secular symbols of “the holidays.” Rather than spending Christmas railing against materialism, we can imitate the example of Brother Lawrence, who presents a more constructive, creative way to counteract the consumer culture without pointing out other’s shortcomings.
Brother Lawrence would turn everyday objects (like pots and pans) into an occasion to praise God. He did this by making them into little actionable reminders. For example, when you see Christmas lights, say, “Christ is my light.” Or pass a snowman and pray for a friend in need. In this way, we “re-symbolize” the world around us. There are a million possibilities. Come up with a few of your own and make it a habit.
Especially at Christmas, the whole world is a reminder of God’s love and presence. All of creation is a conversation starter with God, a conversation called prayer, or as Brother Lawrence would say, “the practice of the presence of God.”
For more ways to prepare for the coming of the Savior this Advent and Christmas, please visit our Advent Resources page.