Brother David Steindl-Rast has written several books on the contemplative life and has given lectures and workshops in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Born in Vienna, he studied art, anthropology, and psychology, and holds degrees from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Vienna. In 1953, he joined the Benedictine monastery of Mount Saviour in Elmira, New York. He has been involved in monastic renewal in the United States and in the dialogue of Oriental and Western spirituality.

In this lively and playful volume, Steindl-Rast conveys the multiple meanings of the spiritual practice of gratefulness, which he defines as "the inner gesture of giving meaning to our life by receiving life as a gift." It is a basic attitude that begins with surprise — the sight of a rainbow or a narrow escape from death — and opens the door to joy. Being thankful to God involves waking up to the blessings all around us. Steindl-Rast sees gratefulness as the linchpin of a devotional life that is animated by faith, lifted by hope, and nurtured by love.

There is a playfulness in the author's perspective that gives this paperback a lightness of being. Steindl-Rast revels in surprise and in several chapters, he zips right by our foregone conclusions with flourishes of delight that dazzle us. Here is an example:

"Surprise leads us on the path of gratefulness. This is true not only for our intellect, but also for our will. No matter how tenaciously our will clings to self-sufficiency, life provides the help we need to get out of that trap. Self-sufficiency is an illusion. And, sooner or later, life shatters every illusion. None of us would be what we are if it were not for our parents, teachers, and friends. Even our enemies help make us what we are. There never was a self-made person. Every one of us needs others. Sooner or later life brings this truth home to us. By a sudden bereavement, by a long lingering sickness, or in some other way, life catches us by surprise. Catches us? Frees us by surprise, I should say. Painful it may be, but pain is a small price to pay for freedom from self-deception."

The author would have us get up and be open to what the Holy One has cooked up for us. Imagine being freed each day by surprises. Not a bad way to live. Certainly better than desperately trying to have fun and always missing the mark because we don't get out of the way.

We love the alphabet of key concepts for a life of praise included at the end of the book. Here you will find delicious definitions of belonging, divine life, faith, fear, giving, leisure, meaning, openness, paradox and many more. Our favorite, which definitely catches the flavor of Steindl-Rast's lightness of being is on Questions: "To prevent questions from weighing us down, we must raise them. The longer we wait, the heavier they get, like a thatched roof in the rain. People who are afraid of raising questions run the risk of getting crushed under them. When we raise a question all the way, we find that the answer to every 'Why?' is ' Yes!' This sets us free."