Monday, September 21, 2009


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 at the blessed sacrament. ~Brother Lawrence [i]

I’ve worked a fair share of kitchen odd jobs. My first paid employment as a teenager was in a kitchen at Grace and Eddy’s CafĂ© along Highway 18, on the way up to Mount Rainier National Park. Grace the waitress wore her hair on top of her head in a beehive. Eddy the cook was a chain smoker. I refilled mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles, restocked the freezer when deliveries arrived, broke apart boxes and cans for recycling, and washed pots and pans.

I worked several college summers as a dishwasher at a Steak & Ale restaurant. During those summers I discovered the joy of abandonment to an unpleasant task as God gave me the attitude of delight in doing small things well, including washing dishes. My final two years of undergraduate studies, I lived and worked as a house boy at a sorority house at the University of Washington in Seattle. Once again, I was a dishwasher and kitchen helper. During those years, I first began to learn the lessons of everyday spirituality with mop in hand. How can a person pray while at work? Is it possible to transform our work into a way of prayer?

One Sunday night after a full day of prayer and fasting, I was going through the motions of mopping the kitchen, not really caring how well the work was being done. An inner voice, that true voice of conviction, asked me who I was working for. The cook, of course, I replied, who did you think? Think again. Peeved at this voice, I confessed aloud that I was doing a sloppy job of my kitchen duties and would attempt to improve for the sake of Christ, my true Boss. A Bible verse rang in my mind as I set down the mop, picked up a broom to first sweep the kitchen floor, making sure the job was excellently:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. [ii]

It was during those same college years that I first read a small paperback book titled “The Practice of the Presence of God”, by Brother Lawrence, the patron saint of the kitchen. This humble lay brother of a monastery in Paris taught that prayer is simply practicing the presence of God, especially within the everyday world.

Brother Lawrence, named Nicholas Herman at birth in 1611 in Lorraine, France, came from humble origins and had little if any formal education. He served in the French army during the Hundred Years War, until, in his thirties, he was wounded in battle. After his recovery, he was discharge from the army and decided to work in a monastery in Paris, serving the next forty years of his life as a lay brother, working mostly in the kitchen, washing pots and pans. Once in this monastery he took up the name by which we know him today, Brother Lawrence. Though he never wrote any books and left behind no great deeds, he is widely regarded today as one of the greatest voices of the Christian spiritual life, largely by the widespread popularity of the little volume published after his death, “The Practice of the Presence of God”. This thin book offers a collection of conversations and letters, inviting us into the kitchen of the soul where we can discover the secret of the spiritual life,

What is Brother Lawrence’s secret? Do everything you do, especially the little things, for the love of God. Expect to encounter God everyday, in the midst of daily chores such as washing pots and pans in the kitchen. Practice the presence of God daily, delighting in God’s presence throughout the day.

As Lawrence put it, “Lift up your heart to Him even at your meals, or when you are in company, the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud: He is nearer to us than we think. To be with God there is no need to be continually in church. Of our heart we may make a prayer chapel, wherein to retire from time to time and with Him hold meek, humble loving converse. Everyone can converse closely with God, some more, others less: He knows what we can do. Let us begin then”.[iii]

The next time the dishes pile up in the sink and begin to overflow onto the counters, return to that prayer chapel of the heart right there in the kitchen. As you scrub pots and pans, soak in the presence of God, enjoying ‘meek, humble converse’ with God, as Brother Lawrence reminds us, the God whose ‘treasure is like an infinite ocean’.

[i] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1950), 24.

[ii] Colossians 3:23-24.

[iii] Brother Lawrence, 32.

Monday, September 14, 2009


The Present is the point at which time touches eternity. The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time--for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. ~C.S.Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

We are heliotropic. We were made for the light and naturally turn our lives into the path of the sun to receive the kiss of the first rays of dawn. Several years ago, I watched the marvel of sunrise as the rays of the sun broke across the 12,000 foot eastern rim of the Swiss Alps. A maiden, a monk and an ogre, known as Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger, stand guard over a wonderland of beauty in the Bernase-Oberland region of Switzerland.

From my vantage on the balcony of a Swiss chalet in Gimmelwald, at elevation of 4600 feet, dawn broke over the icy tips of the highest peaks. I turned that early morning from making coffee and enjoying morning mediation within the chalet to witness the return of the light into the valley. Heliotropism: our soul’s turning and returning toward the sun.

On our alpine hikes later that day above Gimmelwald, we noticed a wide variety of wildflowers with faces turned sunward. Paradise Lilies, Alpenroses, Anemones, Silver Thistle, Eidelweiss, Wild Raspberry, all welcoming the light, opening their petals to the life-giving radiance of the morning sun. One of the most democratic of movements on plant earth, the sunrise splashes warmth and new life on the grateful an ungrateful. As Jesus was known to say, [God] causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).

The slight movement towards the light of day, heliotropism, opens our lives to receive a gift, the gift of radiance. I seldom arise before dawn. Every time that miracle takes place I am filled with a sense of wonder and delight at the awakening of a new day. Every year, I carry with me a single sentence of the Bible, mulling over this verse for a whole year. A few years ago, I spent a whole year reflecting upon a Scripture passage in Luke describing the coming of Christ, as “the Dawn from on high”, shining upon a darkened world. By the tender mercy of our God, by which the Dawn will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace (Luke 1:78-79).

Every year, early on Easter morning, I awaken in the night, an hour or two before dawn, and head up Ecola Park Road to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ at our annual Community Sunrise Service at 6:30 in the morning. This service takes place on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, at the time when the sun breaks over the eastern rim of the coastal range. A hundred or more of us of us gather to welcome the new day and to celebrate the new hope found in the "Dawn come to us from heaven to shine upon us living in darkness". Normally, we awaken the dawn in April on the Oregon coast with grey skies, slanting rain and stiff wind. One Easter morning, at the end of Easter sunrise service, as we shouted Easter praise to the Risen Lord, the dawning sunlight broke over the eastern rim of the coastal range and splashed Haystack Rock with sunlight. A great gift for the soul to see such wonders together on an Easter morning!

Our main soul work is simply to turn to receive a gift. We become like yellow mountain daisies, with faces turned toward the radiance, allowing our lives to be filled and renewed by the light at dawn. With the ancient Psalmist, we too awaken the dawn to sing of this sacred turning toward the Light, the Light of the risen Christ, bringing new life and hope to the world at Easter or at any other time of the year.

We feast on the abundance of your house, You give us drink from your river of delights; for with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light (Psalm 36:8-9).

Friday, September 4, 2009


People love to stroll along the edge of the North American continent, lazily beachcombing among the driftwood for treasures washed in by the latest high tide. As we walk, our eyes gaze long and far out across the silver-blue Pacific. With pink and orange cirrus clouds flying high overhead, we stand as statutes at sunset, looking for the ever elusive green flash, gazing as if we were expecting the arrival of some flotilla, or some sea-farer coming to make land before nightfall.

As Jonah once looked westward, considering his options, so we stand at the shore to ponder our life’s direction. Do we head east into the heat of the desert to confront our fears in the face of enemies? Or do we head west into the heart of the sea to face the fierce gale force power of God’s breath upon the open sea? Our choice. By God’s grace, Jonah got a second chance, allowed to taste both saltwater and the stinging taste of Assyrian sand. Neither tasted as sweet as the ‘grace upon grace’ Jonah received from the deep, compassionate heart of God.

In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. from the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas. [1]

Jonah’s deliverance offers what I consider one of the funniest and most profound sentences in the entire Bible: “And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”[2] By God’s grace, Jonah himself became piece of driftwood, an event Jesus describes as “the sign of Jonah”, the only heavenly sign his generation would receive. What exactly is the ‘sign of Jonah’? Nothing less than God’s grace revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, prefigured in Jonah being swallowed and spit out three days later.

Daily, the sea spits out new treasures, unveiling wonders to the human eye and human heart. Whenever I walk the beach, my eye looks for these gifts from the sea. It’s what I’ve come to call ‘grace-hunting’, or looking for tangible signs of God’s gifts in the ordinary places of daily life. Beachcombing spirituality. And sweetest of all, we don’t need our toes in the sand to discover the gifts from God’s ocean of generosity. We need only have the eyes to see the gift of life lying all around us. It is what Gerard Manley Hopkins described in his ‘kingfisher’ sonnet:

For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.[3]

1. Jonah 2:2-3
2. Jonah 2:10
3. Gerard Manley Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, from Poems and Prose, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1963), 51. In Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Peterson explores the spirituality of attentive wonder before the grace of Christ, drawing upon the poetry of Hopkins, including the poem quoted here.