In his first book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer (1984), Brother David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian-born Benedictine monk, wrote: "This book is about life in fullness. It is about coming alive." Here is a spiritual perspective which takes into its warm and thankful embrace every aspect of our existence. Before Oprah had popularized writing daily in our gratitude journals, this monk had given us many ways to practice gratefulness as a vital response to the blessings that have been showered upon us. Steindl-Rast has written six more books and become a leader in the contemplative movement. He is also a cofounder/advisor for Gratefulness.org, which we are honored to call a sister site of Spirituality & Practice. The goal of the website is "to provide resources for living in the gentle power of the gratefulness that restores courage, reconciles relationships, and heals our Earth."
Clare Hallward, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Thomas More Institute, has selected the excerpts for this volume in the Orbis Books Modern Spiritual Masters Series. She has written a lively and authoritative introduction to the life and work of Brother David-Steindl-Rast. He was born in Austria in 1926 and developed an interest in art during his youth. After serving in the army, Steindl-Rast worked with refugees. In 1953, he received his Ph.D. in psychology with a minor in anthropology from the University of Vienna. In America, he joined the Benedictine community in Elmira, New York — Mount Savior Monastery — where today he is a senior member.
Hallward does a good job conveying Steindl-Rast's ministry as a spiritual adventure. She covers his interests in the interface between science and religion, music, Buddhist-Christian dialogue, the House of Prayer movement, poetry, peace activism, new paradigms for society, and the art of prayer. How can one monk have so many passions? Because he is animated by the Spirit and the central message of his life: "Spirituality is aliveness — super-aliveness."
Essential Writings is divided into six sections:
• Grateful Living
• Unveiling Language
• Time — The Perfection of the Moment
• The Living Voice of Poetry
• Love — A "Yes" to Belonging
Steindl-Rast has a deep appreciation for the body: "Every sensuous experience is at heart a spiritual one, a divine revelation. God's Good News comes to us humans first and foremost through our senses." No wonder he enjoys poetry, music, art, and film so much! Our senses keep us alert what is going on inside and around us. Steindl-Rast suggests: "Why not start spiritual training with a foot bath? In their own way, your toes will start to sing gratefully. Can anyone deny that this is a step in the direction of 'life abundant'? "
Steindl-Rast is a lover of words and in a section on "Unveiling Language," he shares his thoughts on the important virtues of faith, hope, and love. The monk confesses: "When it comes to proverbs, I am a passionate fisherman." We're with him on that; we have found that this medium is perfect for using on our Twitter sites.
And speaking of short quotes, there is no shortage of gems in this collection of pieces from the writings of Steindl-Rast. Here are a few examples:
"Prayer is attuning yourself to the life of the world, to love, the force that moves the sun and the moon and the stars."
"At any moment the fully present mind can shatter time and burst into Now."
"Leisure is the virtue of those who take their time in order to give to each task as much time as it deserves to take."
"A haiku does not talk about an experience: a haiku triggers an experience — your own."