Brother Lawrence was a humble cook who experienced life in the kingdom of God to its fullest by learning to commune with God everyday—and every hour of the day—even during his ordinary work. In short, he learned the art of living in the presence of God throughout the day. He himself once said, “I am doing now what I will do for all eternity. I am blessing God, praising Him, adoring him, and loving Him with all my heart.”
Brother Lawrence, who was originally named Nicholas Herman, was born in Lorraine, France in the early 1600s. As a youth, he lived through the brutal Thirty Years War fought between the Catholic and Protestant countries of Europe.
At the age of eighteen, Nicholas had a strong conversion, which led him to seek a deep relationship with God. He worked for awhile as the footman or valet to the king’s treasurer. However, according to his own words, he was a “great awkward fellow who broke everything.” Thinking he was not good at anything, Nicholas entered a monastic brotherhood in Paris, France—somewhat as a form of self-punishment. Here, Nicholas eventually became a lay brother, and he took the name of brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence never advanced beyond being the cook at the monastic community, but he developed the unique gift of being able to pray incessantly with God throughout the entire day—even during his work. He referred to this continual communion with God as the “practice of the presence of God.” This practice produced such a spiritual change in brother Lawrence that various persons would come to visit him and try to learn how to practice the presence of God themselves. One such person was an abbot, Joseph de Beaufort, who collected together the letters and interviews with Brother Lawrence that comprise The Practice of the Presence of God. Beaufort published this work in 1692 under the title of Spiritual Maxims.