Many years ago while in seminary I took a class called The Classics of Christian Devotion. It turned out to be one of my favorite classes of my entire graduate school experience. Over the course of the semester the professor, Glenn Hinson, introduced us to many of the true “classics” of Christian literature. We read and studied works by people like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas a’ Kempis, William Law, John Bunyan, Thomas Merton and Thomas Kelly. One of the books that inspired me the most was Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the presence of God. Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth century monk who earnestly desired an intimate relationship with God and developed a method whereby he disciplined himself to “practice” being aware of God’s presence every possible moment. He said this eventually enabled him to feel God’s presence just as keenly while he was washing dishes in the monastery as when he shared Holy Communion.
Earlier today I learned something I did not know about Brother Lawrence. My friend Michael Boone shared on his Facebook page “R120” a passage from the book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know that tells how a tree played an instrumental role in Brother Lawrence’s spiritual development: “In the deep of winter, Herman (his name before he was a monk) looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God’s grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree ‘first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,’ and a love for God that never after ceased to burn.”
I find this to be a fascinating story and also yet one more reminder of how Creation serves as God’s “other Book.” From the very beginning God has used the world of nature to speak to us. Creation has many divine lessons to teach us but in order for us to learn these lessons we have to be open to instruction and also careful observers of God’s handiwork.
It is interesting that Brother Lawrence’s experience occurred in “the deep of winter.” We are in that season now. As you look around you this time of year what do you see in the natural world that might be offering you divine lessons? The lesson Brother Lawrence received was a great one indeed but there are many others just as wonderful waiting to be discovered by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. We would all be wise to start paying more attention.
(I took the top image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and the bottom image at John James Audubon State Park.)