Brother Lawrence (1614-91) spent a lifetime opening to God’s presence in the ordinary and transitory moments of life. This seventeenth century French mystic encountered God at eighteen years of age while gazing at a barren tree on a winter day. Young Nicholas Herman, who changed his name to Brother Lawrence upon entering the Carmelite Order as a lay-brother, noticed that while the tree’s leaves had fallen, eventually they would reappear, followed by blossoms and fruit. From this observation, Nicholas experienced the power and providence of God and began a spiritual journey of practicing the presence of God amid the most ordinary and unremarkable moments of daily life. He asserted that if God is omnipresent, then every moment can reveal God every workplace, holy ground.
From her early life, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was sensitive to God’s illuminating presence. Before she turned five years old, she began to experience God’s presence enlivening and enlightening her. She experienced divine energy permeating her mind, body, and spirit, and revelations coming to her through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. In her forties, Hildegard experienced a profound vision that joined theology and spirituality with God’s command to write down what she experienced. Hildegard heard God tell her to “transmit for the benefit of humanity an accurate account of what you see with your inner eye and what you hear with the inner ear of your soul…” For the rest of her life, Hildegard inscribed her experiences in texts such as Scivias, “know the way,” and De operatione Dei, “the book of divine works.” Hildegard’s multifaceted spirituality speaks to twenty-first-century seekers in her affirmation of God’s intimate and enlivening presence in our lives and the world.
Although he sought the solitude of monasticism, Benedict of Nursia (480-543) was inspired to pen what has become the most significant Western spiritual text on communal faith formation. Writing in a time of cultural and religious uncertainty, in which Christianity rose as the Roman empire disintegrated, Benedict saw the need for fiery spiritual lifestyle at the heart of Christianity. Benedict saw communal living as the crucible for Christian maturity. He envisioned a holistic spirituality that joins work and prayer, activism and contemplation, and grounds itself in the experience of God’s ever-present activity and guidance.
Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) exemplified mystical life committed to care for God’s creation. One day as Francis passed by a dilapidated church, he was drawn to enter the ruins. Confronted by a crucifix mounted above the altar, he fell to his knees, begging God to tell him what he was to do with his life and what kind of person he was to become. A voice spoke from the crucifix, “Francis, repair my church, which is falling down.” So he rebuilt churches, brick by brick. Later, he realized that God had a bigger vision than he could ever imagine: spiritually and morally repairing the Western church and ultimately healing the world. Francis’s vision led to a journey of personal and ecclesiastical transformation.