I’ve been drinking in the ideas in Brother David Steindl-Rast’s book gratefulness, the heart of prayer, reading and then rereading parts of it. I don’t know when I have been so moved and influenced by a book. I feel like the soil in my mind is being plowed under in order to incorporate his ideas. An Austrian-born, American Benedictine monk he weaves together gratefulness, faith, surprise, hope, courage, and many more concepts of the religious life into the spiritual response, the heart’s response, to the “gifted” world that God has given us. That our gratitude for our blessings—for every “word” of God which has been given to us, not just The Word, but every tree and hill and whatever else has issued forth from God—our gratitude in turn blesses God. I hope in this essay to do justice to Brother David’s ideas about gratefulness.
He joins gratefulness and courage in this way: gratefulness requires trust in the Giver; to accept what is given takes courage. At first we might be just looking for positive “gifts” from the Lord to feel gratefulness, but as we pursue gratitude, we also build courage and as we build courage, we are able to embrace a wider variety of challenges, until we can see the “gift” in anything that happens to us. This takes tremendous courage and faith in our Lord.
With gratefulness we also grow in faith and trust. We begin to know what trust really is: that God is a loving God, always offering us love. And we are more childlike in this way: a child is surprised by what it sees, delights in it and wants to know everything about what is before him—to taste, touch, and experience it. Gratefulness consists to a large extent of surprise; we are touched like a child by the wonder of the gift or blessing; our heart expands with each successive acknowledgement of blessings and gifts. So our heart is growing in capacity and courage as we steep ourselves in gratitude.
Gratefulness, courage, surprise and now hope. “The more the insight that life is surprising takes hold of us, the more our life will be a life of hope, a life of openness for Surprise.” [p. 123] Hope is the positive belief in the future, relative to God. Our faith in God, our trust, surprise, courage and hope all express trust in the coming moment, age, the future.
Brother David also writes of work and the role of leisure. He defines leisure as the proper way to work, without the anxiety and frustration that usually accompanies our work. In reality it’s a question of trust: trust in God that I am doing his work, trust that I can complete the work ahead of me well, that I will finish, that a relaxed, but focused way, is the most efficient way to work.
Perhaps, by now, you can see why I am so enthralled with his ideas. He goes on to talk about prayers and prayerfulness. He writes that prayers should arise out of prayerfulness. “But if we call it mindfulness or wholehearted living, it is easier to recognize prayer as an attitude that should characterize all our activities. The more we come alive and awake, the more everything we do becomes prayer.” [p. 48] Prayerfulness is more communion, aliveness in and being with God, than communicating to God.
Gratefulness, courage, surprise, hope, leisure, prayerfulness. I have only scratched the surface of the ideas in his book and yet I find it so engaging. As I incorporate—take into my whole being: heart, mind, soul and body—these ideas and, if they’ve fallen on good soil, then I’ll see where they take me both in my spiritual practices and in the way I think about God and the given, gifted life I lead.