The Light of the Christ Within

Inspired Talks by Reverend John Laurence
by Reverend John Laurence, edited by Elana Joan Cara

Introduction: The Life of John Laurence
John Laurence was born on January 6, 1908 on an Indian reservation in
Wyoming, at an Army post named Fort Washakie. His father was in the
Army Medical Corps, so the family, mother, father, and his older sister,
Marian, lived in a small adobe house on the reservation.

John’s mother was a short, slender, devout Roman Catholic, who was
born and raised in Ireland in County Carey near the Lakes of Kilarney.
She was a very sensible and positive woman who possessed courage and
an abiding faith. Altogether, she had five children, three of whom died
in infancy.

Because John’s father was in the military, the family traveled a great
deal. They left Wyoming when John was very young and moved to Fort
Terry, an island off the coast of New London, Connecticut, where they
stayed for four years. They moved again, this time to San Antonio, Texas,
where John entered school for the first time. He was only in class for
about three weeks before the family once again moved to another military
base. It was two and a half years before John saw a classroom again.

He was not a very good student and not the brightest in the class.
Besides that, he was always a little older than the other students. John
attended public schools in Washington, D.C., but his mother decided to
transfer him to a Catholic school—the Thomas Edward Shields Memorial
School: a fine example of Catholic education, affiliated with the Catholic
University of America. He remained there until he graduated.

John was deeply influenced by his mother’s devout religious nature.
He was also impressed by his family’s natural love of music. Both
religion and music played an important role throughout his life. John
loved opera, concerts, and song recitals. Eventually he developed a
deep love for orchestral works, particularly the piano concerti of Sergei
Rachmaninoff and other great composers.

There were many happy hours in the home as the family gathered
around the old wind-up record player, listening intently to the Red Seals
78 rpm recordings of the great opera singers and other artists of the day.
Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba, John McCormack, Amelita Galli-Curci,
Lucretia Bori, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Tito Ruffo, and others
became their joy. John loved to attend as many live performances as
he could, and he would always go backstage after the concerts so that
he could meet the artists and ask them to autograph their programs
and photos. Over the span of seventy years, John grew an impressive
collection of autographed programs and photographs.

In the midst of all his musical interests and activities, John intensified
his spiritual practices and religious studies. He read the lives of mystics
and saints wherever he could find them—Franciscan saints, Dominican
saints, and various other saints of the Catholic Church. He savored that
literary diet and couldn’t get enough of these wonderful people who
possessed such unusual powers.

While he was attending Thomas Edward Shields School, John began
spending his after-school hours showing people through a famous
Franciscan monastery that was only a few blocks from his home in
Washington, D.C. He would take people through the Holy Land of
America and Mount Saint Sepulcher shrines, which are to scale as they
appear in the Holy Land and the catacombs of Rome. As a schoolboy,
John enjoyed talking to people and explaining what the Latin inscriptions
meant. This also gave him his first taste of public speaking, which turned
out to be a lifelong pursuit.

The Holy Land of America was designed and built by Reverend Father
Godfrey Shilling, O.F.M. It is a fascinating and picturesque place with
a lovely summer rose garden. Father Shilling, a venerable and dear old
gentleman with a white beard, was John’s spiritual director and confessor
from about 1918. He had been a priest for over fifty years. Even though
his hands shook a good deal in the latter part of his life, Father Shilling
was strong and very clear of mind. He was a kind and wonderful man
with merry, twinkling blue eyes that reflected his great love for everyone.
People from every religion and no religion loved this fine old gentleman.
Even people who didn’t particularly like Catholics automatically loved
Father Shilling.

Now, he was something of a saint and seer, and he always kept a
candle burning, a small vigil light, in his cell at night because so many
souls from the spirit world would stop by to visit him. An endless stream
of beautiful souls would walk by his bed, and he would give them a
blessing. Then they would move on. Father Shilling was a visionary, and
in a certain sense, a holy man, and John was very grateful to have known
him well.

Another important influence from this part of John’s life was a simple
brother named Thomas Lee. Thomas had been a baseball player for
the Boston Red Sox before joining the Order. As he moved closer to
becoming fully vowed, Thomas took on more and more austerities. He
almost never spoke; and certainly if he could get out of it, he wouldn’t.
He was always in a highly contemplative state.

At one time Thomas was assigned to be the doorkeeper. When people
came and asked for someone, he would go and get them. But he was so
honest that he could not tell even a little white fib. One day, a man came
to the door and said, “I would like to speak to the Father Superior.”
Thomas replied, “All right, I’ll call him.” And he went in the back
room and called the Superior on the phone. The Superior instructed
him, “Tell him I’m not in.” So Thomas went back in and artlessly said,
“Father Superior tells me to tell you that he’s not in.”

If you happened to get up early in the morning, at two o’clock or so,
and walked into the chapel of that monastery, Thomas would be there.
He was in a state of continuous contemplation. As a little boy, when
John was coming home from school, he would go up to the monastery
and offer to help out in any way he could. He just loved the place and so
earnestly wanted to be a good Franciscan. One afternoon, John was in
the refectory where Brother Thomas, who was assigned at that time to
work there, was cutting bread. The afternoon sun was shining through
the window and the brother’s face gave off an almost celestial beauty.
As John looked at the old man, he sensed intuitively that Thomas was a
visionary, and so John asked him, “Brother Thomas, have you ever seen
any visions?” Thomas never looked up from the cutting board. He kept
right on cutting the bread. He didn’t answer the question directly. He
simply said: “John, there is more merit before God in one little act of
obedience than in all the visions you could see in ten years.”
Brother Thomas Lee—this simple, radiant, and pious man—
remained a powerful influence on John’s spiritual life. Thomas was sent
to Nazareth in the Holy Land, where he spent the last years of his life
making bread—hundreds of loaves, not only for the monks, but for
various uses by the convents and for the poor. When Brother Thomas
passed away, the brothers wanted to put a little picture of him on a
card to give to people, asking for prayers for his soul, but they had no
picture of him. John had the only picture that existed, so one of the
monks wrote to John and asked him if he would send it to them. John
did, and they made a little holy card showing Thomas’ face. And of
course, in the photograph Thomas’ eyes were downcast and he looked
very contemplative.

When Archbishop Daeger consecrated the monastery church, in a
vast and great ceremony, John was privileged to be one of the altar boys.
John loved Saint Francis of Assisi and wanted to become a Franciscan.
Even as a youngster, he gave away all his little possessions—his coins
and other little treasures that youngsters have—in order to be, like Saint
Francis, without worldly possessions. In 1924, when he was older, John
received a scholarship to St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York, which was
conducted by the Franciscan Order.

Afterwards, John transferred to the Franciscan monastery in
Washington. D.C. and became Friar Raymond. He was there for a year
or so; and then in 1928 he went into his novitiate in Paterson, New
Jersey. He was there a full year and took simple vows. (These are just as
binding as solemn vows, but they automatically expire in three years, at
which time one must decide whether or not to take the solemn vows.)
John’s last year as a friar at the Franciscan monastery was in 1931. At
that time, the Oxford Fellowship Ministerial Association at American
University was sponsoring a series of lectures by speakers of various
religious persuasions. Among them were Bishop Ryan, rector of the
Catholic University of America, and many other religious notables.

A good friend and former schoolmate invited John to be one of the
speakers. And so John went, wearing his Franciscan habit, his brown
robe and sandals, and gave a talk on Saint Francis of Assisi. His talk
was well received. During the question and answer session, people from
the psychology department joined in and it developed into a lively
discussion. Later, the directors of the fellowship decided that John had
given the best lecture of the year, and so they presented him with a
beautiful gold cross. John treasured that cross, especially because the
directors had chosen him from among so many notable speakers who
were much more educated than he was.

At that time, in 1931, John was prepared to take lifelong vows. But
there were pressing problems in his family on the occasion of his father’s
passing; and inasmuch as he was about to take a vow of poverty for
life, it was advised that he should instead re-enter secular life, get a
job, and help support his mother and sister. This was during the Great
Depression, so John got a job as a desk attendant at the old Carnegie
Library in Washington, D.C., where he earned the magnificent sum of
$15 a week. (In those days, that was a pretty good wage.)

John was doing a good deal of reading and having some doubts about
whether he should return to the monastery. He had received a letter
from Father Theophilis Bellerini, O.F.M., who was Custos (a Franciscan
official) of the Holy Land at that time. He told John that the papers
for his vows had been forwarded from Jerusalem to Washington. Father
Leonard Walsh, who at that time was Superior of the monastery, came
to visit John. He asked John if he would like to come back and do
his novitiate over again, repeating the entire program to become a fullfledged
friar, and then taking his vows. John courteously told Father
Leonard, whom he had known since he was first admitted to the
monastery, that he didn’t feel he would fit in very well. So many changes
had taken place in his life that he didn’t really feel he would be a good

You see, John had been attending lectures on Vedanta, reading about
Eastern religions, and learning a bit about yoga. Once again, the lines
of religion and music crossed. Madame Amelita Galli-Curci, a famous
Italian coloratura soprano, had become a devotee of the great mystic
known as Swami Yogananda. She wrote the preface to Yogananda’s book,
Whispers from Eternity, and because John had literally worshipped Galli-
Curci as a great musical artist, he was very interested in this holy man
from India.

Curiously enough, as fate would have it, John was walking down
16th Street in Washington, D.C. on the evening of November 2, 1933,
just opposite the Mayflower Hotel (where, coincidentally, he had sung
a number of times), when he saw a man in a dark suit coming down
the walkway. John noticed the man’s hat and cane, and also the dark
hair tucked inside his coat collar, and said to himself, “Oh, that’s Swami
Yogananda.” John thought it would be rude to accost him on the
street, and he knew that the Swami had a small center in a downtown
Washington hotel, so John ran ahead a short distance and went into the
lobby and awaited the great teacher from the East. It wasn’t long before
Yogananda came in. John had a little autograph book with him, and he
stepped up and asked for the swami’s autograph. Yogananda smiled. He
gazed at John intently. And, standing there, he wrote:

The spiritual blessing that comes from seeing a holy man or woman.
With unceasing blessings.
There is no East nor West, nor North nor South
But pervaded by my one Father
Whose children we all races are.

Swami Yogananda
November 2, 1933
They exchanged a few words; and of course, John asked about Galli-
Curci. “Yes,” Yogananda said modestly, “She is interested in my work.”
At that time, Yogananda was probably the only mystic from India
who had ever been a guest at the White House. He had met President
Calvin Coolidge, and was enormously popular in Washington—more
than a thousand students attended one of the swami’s many classes in
that city.

Having been out of the monastery for only two years, John was not
altogether ready to accept this incredible man and his teachings, but he
was profoundly impressed by him. John was not quick to make changes,
and it took him another ten years or so before he received initiation
into Yogananda’s exalted meditation technique of Kriya Yoga from the
beautiful and saintly disciple of Yogananda, Kamala Silva.

Kamala was indeed a radiant example of what the philosophy and
practice of Yogananda’s teachings can bring about. Her wonderful book,
The Flawless Mirror, tells of her experiences from the time she met
Yogananda as a teenager, up to the time she wrote the book, shortly after
Yogananda’s passing from this earth plane.

Another meeting that John found particularly notable was with the
Parsee mystic, Meher Baba. John had darshan with him, and it was a
remarkable experience. In the last forty years or so of Meher Baba’s life,
he never spoke. He communicated with sign language to his brothers,
who took care of him. He was on a tour throughout the United States,
and it was during this time that John had the opportunity of meeting
him. All one had to do, John said, was be in Meher Baba’s presence, or
just look at him, to receive a wonderful blessing. This experience was
so intriguing that it spurred John to research the whole of Meher Baba’s
beautiful life story.

Influences from the East continued, and John met Swami
Satchidananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda. Some individuals
had invited John to hear this teacher from India, saying that he was
wonderful and that people were very excited about him. John said, “I’m
really not interested. I’ve met a lot of holy men, and some less than that
from the Far East, and I don’t think I need to look further.” However,
in the end John was persuaded to go to the lecture at the local Unitarian
Church. One of the young men who went along with them that evening
was a very bright, intelligent chap, and John tried very hard to get
him interested in Yogananda and his teachings, but somehow it never
happened. But the young man went along, as John did, “for the ride.”
The church was filled to capacity when Swami Satchidananda came
in. He was tall and thin, with long hair and a gray beard, and there
was certainly a most distinct spiritual personality that emerged as he
approached the platform. After his talk, the swami said, “I would like
to have the lights lowered, and we’ll have a meditation.” The lights were
lowered and eighteen candles were lit against the stone wall behind him.
(That’s not much light in a big church.) As people started to meditate,
John glanced up at the swami and saw the biggest, most vivid and
wonderfully colorful human aura he had ever witnessed. It extended
from the swami’s person to the very edge of the vast hall, all the way
to the windows on each side of the church. John was very glad after all
that he had gone to that lecture, because he felt that he was indeed in
the presence of a truly holy man. John attended a number of Swami
Satchidananda’s subsequent lectures, and he remained impressed by the
yogi’s extraordinary auric emanations.

Throughout much of his life, John had wanted to go to India and
Tibet, but he never did. It is interesting, therefore, to note that the
best of these distant places came to him, and John was always deeply
grateful for those meetings. One of the more interesting holy men he
met was the sixteenth Gupela Karmapa, presumed to be very close to
the Dalai Lama. The Gupela Karmapa is the only one who can give the
sacred Black Hat initiation. When John attended, about three thousand
people came for darshan. When the Karmapa ascended the throne, he
was wearing a miter and chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” in a very
light voice. He gave a talk in his own language, which was translated
into English, and he said, “I am not the sixteenth incarnation of the
Karmapa. I am the same Karmapa back for the sixteenth time.” John
found this most interesting. Later on in the service, the many monks
who were with the Karmapa burned incense, blew on conch shells, and
shook sacred rattles. At the end the attendees were allowed to go before
the Karmapa, who sat on the edge of a throne several feet above the
people. He reached over and touched each one as they went by. The
administrative staff instructed everyone, “Don’t look at the Karmapa.”
And, of course, John ignored them. When the Karmapa touched him,
John glanced up at him. The holy man leaned over to John and said
“hello” in a high-pitched voice. Then John left the stage and one of the
monks draped a simple cord around his neck, which indicated that he
had received the spiritual blessing of the Black Hat initiation. It was
wonderful, and John had the joy of participating in the same ceremony
again at another location. When he left the hall that night, he felt like he
was walking six inches off the floor.

John had the blessing of spending time in the presence of several
other holy men from the East, including the Dalai Lama. One of the
most exciting meetings was with His Holiness Sri Swami Chidananda—
the successor to Swami Sivananda, who founded the Divine Life Society
in India (now a worldwide mission). John was very interested to meet
this man, who was quite thin and frail and looked a bit like Mahatma

Now, John was not much for sitting on the floor, and he never could
sit in the lotus posture, so Swami Chidananda’s staff was kind enough
to put out a chair for him. They let him sit on the left side of this great
teacher for the whole afternoon. Chidananda asked John a question
or two, and John answered as quickly as he could, because there were
seventy-five other people there for the swami’s darshan and John didn’t
want to take a minute away from that. John said the experience was
electrifying. There was a subtle, soft, beautiful, and uplifting current
pervading the atmosphere around this holy man.

After the event was over, Chidananda graciously gave John a little
private time. As John sat with him, he asked for Chidananda’s blessing.
Chidananda put both his hands on the top of John’s head and, speaking
their names aloud, called on the blessings of all the gurus of Yogananda’s
lineage. John thought that was so thoughtful of Chidananda, and
so typical of the people in the Divine Life Society. It demonstrated
their broadness of mind and their ecumenical quality. At one point,
Chidananda began to recite a beautiful poem that Yogananda had
written, and, knowing the poem very well, John joined him. John
certainly appreciated the blessing he received meeting this great swami.
In 1959, John was ordained a minister in the Universal Church of the
Master, a Spiritualist Church in the Bay Area. He had become especially
interested in metaphysics, and so he founded the Metaphysical Design
for Living Church in San Francisco, and pastored a congregation there
for twenty-five years. He was also a highly sought-after speaker, and on
some Sundays he would speak in as many as three churches. He had his
own church service at eleven AM, and in the afternoon at two o’clock
he would give a short talk in one of the many churches in San Francisco,
and in the evening he would speak again for another group. He was
chaplain at the Presbyterian Heritage House for ten years, and also a
regular guest speaker at the San Francisco Unity Temple, where some of
the lectures contained in this book were given. His deep love for God
fueled him with endless energy and a passion for the subjects he taught.

There is one more person who deeply influenced John Laurence. She
was an American, but the mendicant life she lived and the way in which
she taught can hardly be imagined in any other place but India. She
was, like Yogananda, truly a bridge between East and West in terms
of her spirituality and dedicated life. She was a college graduate with
all the niceties of an abundant life, but one day she had a spiritual
awakening. She was told that she must leave her home and just walk,
forsaking all possessions. So she left her home and set out on pilgrimage,
walking without any money or even a coat, in fulfillment of the gospel
injunctions issued to the apostles. She sold all her things and even
dropped her name, simply calling herself “Peace Pilgrim.” She traversed
the United Stated on foot so many times that at the time John met her,
she had walked 25,000 miles without a nickel in her pocket. She met
thousands of people, but she never told anybody her real name. Peace
Pilgrim spoke on two occasions at John’s church in San Francisco, and
she ultimately became a radiant and wonderful saint. There is a book
about her called Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. It
is a magnificent and inspiring book about the life and work of a modern
woman who followed without hesitation the injunctions of the Bible.

As Reverend John Laurence has identified with his spiritual teachers,
so has he become like them. His blazing devotion to Yogananda, his
adoration of Saint Francis, his enormous respect for Mahatma Gandhi
(on whose life and work John lectured all over the United States), were
woven into the fabric of John’s consciousness. His childlike sweetness
and acceptance of God’s life and laws made him one with those who
walked before him, calling him to follow. John lived his teachings and
indeed reflected the truth of them in his own life. Even when he was in
his eighties and nineties, Reverend Laurence bounced through his days
with the joyous energy that comes from being in love, and he could never
do enough for his divine Beloved. He always taught that every one of us
has the same spark of the Infinite within us, and that the only difference
between Jesus and us, between Yogananda and us, is that they know
who they are. Reverend Laurence had a deep devotion and connection
to Padre Pio, and as the years moved forward, he began demonstrating
many of the profound spirit gifts of that saint. John was often seen
in more than one place at the same time, exhibiting what is known
as “bilocation.” His clairvoyance was a vehicle of healing for countless
people, and his prayers were a powerful intercession for those who were
in great need. In his last years, people reported that after praying to
Reverend Laurence, their prayers were answered. His words and prayers
transformed lives and gave people hope and new beginnings.

Through these inspired talks, Reverend Laurence leads us from doubt
and uncertainty to a true knowing that if we turn our gaze toward the
Light, we too can eventually become spiritual giants like the saints and
sages who are our older brothers and sisters.

Of all the things I treasure about my twenty-five-year friendship
with Reverend John Laurence, what touched me most was his great
and simple joy and his commitment to awakening and elevating every
person he met. By his words, his joyful spirit, his daily prayers, and most
especially with his deep love and compassion, Reverend Laurence lifted
us into an atmosphere of divine light-heartedness. Many people came to
him with sorrows and heavy burdens, and in an instant, with a twinkle
of his shining eyes and an oceanic smile that drowned all sorrows, those
troubles simply evaporated. In the presence of John’s total love and
unconditional acceptance, countless people were brought to God, and
to an understanding of the divine nature of their true being.
These wonderful, simple talks speak in the language of all religions.
The truths expressed in them cross all boundaries of time and religious
expression. From the depths of his soul realization, he reiterates what
the great world teacher Paramhansa Yogananda wrote to him in 1933,
“There is no East nor West, nor North nor South but pervaded by my one
Father whose children we all races are.” Every page of this wonderful book
contains universal wisdom and transforming messages of hope, courage,
joy, and love that literally awaken and lift the reader into a higher, freer,
and more beautiful awareness of the omnipresence of Good.

At the time these talks were delivered, in 1981 and 1982, Reverend
John Laurence was teaching on the Psalms. It is for this reason that many
of the texts chosen in these talks are based on the Psalms. In a broad and
all-inclusive ecumenical spirit of oneness, Reverend Laurence brings to
life the deeper meaning of the Psalms and other biblical passages he
often quoted at the opening of his talks.

Within these pages you will find a true friend and knower of God,
whose sole desire is to serve. With humor and an occasional bit of
irreverence, “JL” places before us a picture of ourselves, and holds a
divine mirror in which we may see ourselves as God sees us. His
encouragement and positive belief in us stirs our own imagination of
what great spiritual strides are possible for us in this very life.
Indeed, every moment of his life was dedicated to service and to living
the prayer of his beloved Paramhansa Yogananda, “May Thy love shine
forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken
Thy love in all hearts.”

Elana Joan Cara, Santa Fe, New Mexico

See Also: Contents  Sample Chapter  

Return to The Light of the Christ Within