Hi @cathi, @blake, @carson, @alison,
Thanks so much for all your thoughtful insights! You have given me much to think about. I find myself in agreement with you that Bro. Lawrence had a biblical faith in Jesus Christ despite the concerns raised.
Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Herman) was poor, uneducated and could not even count on regular meals which made him join the army. Considering God reveals Himself through creation (Rom 1:20), it is not surprising to hear his story of spiritual awakening that set him on a spiritual journey -
One cold winter day, while carefully observing a desolate tree deprived of its leaves and fruit, Herman imagined it waiting soundlessly and patiently for the hopeful return of summer’s bounty. In that seemingly lifeless tree, Herman saw himself. All at once, he glimpsed for the first time the magnitude of God’s grace, the faithfulness of his love, the perfection of his sovereignty, and the dependability of his providence.
The beginning of his spiritual journey is interesting, and its noteworthy that it did not happen by his own efforts. It was an understanding given to him, and he recognized it as God’s favor and developed new desires to live life for the love of God. This is reflected in the statement below:
Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him.
His initial response to spiritual awakening was one of faith just as described in Rom 4:20-21. He then desired to walk in the newness of life for the love of God, once again consistent with scripture (Rom 6:5, Rom 6:13). I appreciate Beaufort’s words that @alison shared. They clearly express Bro. Lawrence’s belief in sins being pardoned only by the blood of Christ.
@blake’s observations that Bro. Lawrence didn’t mention ‘Mary’ in his writings but ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Lord’s prayer’ and his name as “Lawrence of Resurrection” as @carson mentioned, and having read Bro. Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God” (CCEL), I feel pretty confident of Bro. Lawrence’s understanding of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Here’s how he put it in the CCEL version:
That all possible kinds of mortification, if they were void of the love of GOD, could not efface a single sin. That we ought, without anxiety, to expect the pardon of our sins from the Blood of JESUS CHRIST, only endeavouring to love Him with all our hearts (Second Conversation).
….that in difficulties we need only have recourse to JESUS CHRIST, and beg His grace, with which everything became easy. That many do not advance in the Christian progress, because they stick in penances, and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of GOD (Third Conversation).
Why then did he go to a Carmelite monastery that holds other extra-biblical beliefs too? As @cathi mentioned, it may have to do with available options. In CCEL version, we can read more of his intentions -
That he had desired to be received into a monastery, thinking that he would there be made to smart for his awkwardness and the faults he should commit, and so he should sacrifice to GOD his life, with its pleasures.(First conversation)
These motives are honorable and demonstrate a love for God that Bro. Lawrence felt he received at age 18.
Beaufort’s translation that mentions Bro. Lawrence being devoted to Mary as @Carson mentioned is completely absent in the CCEL version I read. But there is something similar:
That in the beginning of his novitiate he spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of GOD, so as to convince his mind of, and to impress deeply upon his heart, the Divine existence, rather by devout sentiments, and submission to the lights of faith, than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations. That by this short and sure method, he exercised himself in the knowledge and love of GOD, resolving to use his utmost endeavor to live in a continual sense of His Presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more.
After reading Bro. Lawrence’s book twice recently, I have no concern about its teachings being inconsistent with biblical beliefs.
However, I think some of his words may have been misinterpreted and misapplied in some contemplative prayer circles.
As an example, consider the following erroneous unbiblical statements from articles on Center for Action and Contemplation.
A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else ~ Richard Rohr in The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe
Richard Rohr who endorsed Carmen Butcher’s translation of “Practicing the presence of God” seems to have a different understanding of devotion to Jesus Christ than Brother Lawrence or the bible.
I quite agree with writer Ellyn Sanna who observes, “At its heart, Brother Lawrence’s practice was simply Zen—a focus on the present moment in order to wake up, to be able to see the Light.”
I am not sure how someone can say that. Brother Lawrence had a deep devotion for Christ and his sacrifice.
Examples of Brother Lawrence’s quotes from Practicing the Presence of God that could possibly be misunderstood-
Are we not rude and deserve blame, if we leave Him alone, to busy ourselves about trifles, which do not please Him and perhaps offend Him? ‘Tis to be feared these trifles will one day cost us dear. Let us begin to be devoted to Him in good earnest. Let us cast everything besides out of our hearts; He would possess them alone. (Fifteenth Letter).
A misinterpretation here is to empty our minds rather than emptying idols of our heart.
silent, and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others. (second letter)
Misinterpretations here would be to practice complete silence (Zen?), seeking to listen for new revelations from God daily or depending on feelings/experiences.
But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favours plentifully; there they flow like a torrent, which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance. Yes, we often stop this torrent, by the little value we set upon it. But let us stop it no more: let us enter into ourselves and break down the bank which hinders it. (Fourth Letter)
A misapplication here is to view ‘entering into ourselves to gain union with God’ as eastern religions practice.
To conclude then, the problem for me is not Bro. Lawrence’s words but how they have been applied in some circles and people following figures like Richard Rohr who promote Bro. Lawrence’s book but hold unbiblical ideas like universalism. It would be dangerous if our motivation is to seek spiritual experiences and altered states of mind to gain new revelations. We don’t have to empty our minds to depend on the Holy Spirit. Apostle Paul in the New Testament exhorts us to pray with both our mind and spirit (1Cor 14:15).
This is a long reply but hopefully helpful. Thanks again for your replies.