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Book reviews

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

The practice of the presence of God

By Brother Lawrence.

I know someone who said he saw God. His vision was everything you would expect of such a thing: being absorbed into God’s total strangeness and stunning complexity, feeling infused with stupendous power, unspeakable intelligence and heart-breaking sensitivity, knowing that God’s love was much more magnificent and responsible than the loves we know on earth. After his experience, he felt completely changed, but he stopped praying as he had before. Somehow, he couldn’t, because God was far too magnificent to speak to. He told himself that he didn’t need to pray anyway: he understood now. And he drifted slowly away, maybe not from God, but from people who were firmly grounded. These people, he told himself, exercised themselves in “petty mechanical prayers” as Brother Lawrence would have said.

But those of you who have heard about Brother Lawrence know that the medieval monk’s experience of practising the presence of God was neither petty mechanical prayer nor looking for God at the limits of his imagination. Instead, this humble monk looked for God in the things and day-to-day activities of everyday life. Rather than seeking one blockbuster experience of the entire being of God, or sweating through a struggle to be “religious” enough, Brother Lawrence sought to have a continuous and gentle conversation with God on a daily basis throughout his entire life.

Brother Lawrence’s meditations began with deep embarrassment. As a young monk, he was exceptionally clumsy. He broke things. He dropped things. Shame propelled him into a commitment to God, a promise to sacrifice everything (and especially all pleasure in life) in exchange for a minimum of competence. His shame was traded in for humility. To Brother Lawrence’s surprise (and at first to his dismay) instead of feeling punished for his shortcomings as he carried out his duties in prayer to God, he began to experience life as an immense pleasure. Committed to live in conversation with God, he found that this new life delighted him and brought him peace.

That’s the basic story of The Practice of the Presence of God. But there is no way I can do justice to this beautiful little book. I hope you take the time to discover the simple beauty of this very slim volume (less than 100 pages) that can be tucked into your jacket pocket and read discretely throughout the day, on the metro, at lunch...

The practice of the presence of God, By Brother Lawrence, Translated from the French. Whitaker House: New Kensington Pennsylvania, 1982

Finding The Practice of the Presence…

We have one copy in the English Library, in English of course.

There are lots of debates surrounding the best translations of this superficially simple and yet profound book. It’s the sort of thing that can thrill a literary translator or make their hair stand on end. It’s like translating from ancient Chinese. So, here are two reputable translations:



This was originally in French, so why not humbly buy a used copy of the SEUIL edition? En français...

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