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Dave Brisbin

Undivided Presence

Nicolas Herman was an uneducated peasant in seventeenth century France, impressed into the military where he was assigned the most menial tasks. When he was released, he decided to enter a Carmelite monastery and there became Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, and was assigned the most menial tasks. But after years of practice, even working in a noisy kitchen, he found a presence of God that sustained and transformed any task, no matter how small, into a sacred act.

A friend of his wrote down everything he remembered of his conversations with Br. Lawrence—recorded him saying that all the thoughts that crowd in on us spoil everything, so we must be careful to reject them as soon as we become aware that they are not essential to our present duties. When he was assigned a task, he didn’t think or worry about it at all beforehand, because when the time came for action, in God’s presence he knew clearly what he must do. He didn’t remember the things he did afterward and was almost unaware even when he was doing them. On leaving the table, he couldn’t tell you what he had eaten.

With no worrying beforehand, no remembrance after, completely immersed wherever he was, whatever he was doing, he had learned to integrate mind, body, soul—thought, action, intent. Aware without judging, thoughts and choices flowed through an undivided presence.

When Jesus was twelve, he came of age in a family pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Separated from his parents for nine days, they found him in the temple immersed in his sh’eilot u’teshuvot, a formal QA, testing with the elders. When his mother scolds him for scaring the gehenna out of them, he responds almost casually that of course he would be in his Father’s house, undivided in his Father’s presence—until the moment he leaves with them, just as undivided in their presence on the way home.

Jesus’ concept of Kingdom is the rosetta stone, the decoder key to all his teaching. Get kingdom, get it all. But until we understand kingdom as the undivided presence of a poor Carmelite monk and equally poor Jew during his bar mitzvah, we’ll always be waiting for the next bus.


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