Books: Brother David Steindl-Rast’s “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer”, by Pranada Devi
Benedictine monk, writer and speaker Brother David Steindl-Rast has become known to many for his books “A Listening Heart” and “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer” over the two decades since they were published. His work on gratefulness has been so powerful that there is now a Network for Grateful Living, which “provides education and support for the practice of grateful living as a global ethic, inspired by the teachings of Br. David Steindl-Rast and colleagues.” The Network goes on to explain, “Gratefulness – the full response to a given moment and all it contains – is a universal practice that fosters personal transformation, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational respect, nonviolent conflict resolution, and ecological sustainability.”
In “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer”, Brother David expounds on the notion of gratefulness and how it informs awakened living. He writes from the perspective of a Christian monastic, but has spent time with a number of Zen teachers (and has recently shared a stage with the Dalai Lama). As such, his work is approachable even for those who normally might be uncomfortable with Christian discourse. It is fresh, profound, undogmatic and universally applicable.
Brother David’s premise is that when we see the world through the fresh eyes of a child, we understand that everything is a surprise and a gift, that nothing can be taken for granted.
“The child in us always remains alive, open for surprise, never ceasing to be amazed at something or other. It may be that I saw ‘this morning morning’s minion,’ Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘dapple-drawn falcon in his riding’, or simply it may be this morning’s inch of toothpaste on my brush. Both are equally amazing to the eyes of the heart, for the greatest surprise is that there is anything at all – that we are here.”
The word “prayer” in the book’s title may seem uncomfortable to some readers. But Brother David explains it in a universal context: “Every human being knows prayer from experience. Have we not all experienced moments in which our thirsting heart found itself with surprise drinking at a fountain of meaning? Much of our lives may be a wandering in desert lands, but we do find springs of water. If what is called ‘God’ means in the language of experience the ultimate Source of Meaning, then these moments that quench the thirst of the heart are moments of prayer.”
Brother David’s perspective is gentle and full of delight as he notes the importance of working playfully, or explains how watering the African violets may be a moment of more profound communion than chanting the Psalms, or notes the difference between faith and beliefs. He walks through the sometimes fraught concepts of hope, peace, beauty, glory and love, unpacking each from the baggage we attach to them to discuss them in fresh and vital terms.
Those who have done long and fruitful spiritual practice write with a simple and unpretentious power. As they are fully present with the concepts they share, free from the ego’s tendencies to try to impress or to hide, their words become potent and meaningful. This is the case with Brother David. It’s a privilege to spend time with his writing, and no accident that his works have become treasures for tens of thousands of people seeking to live awakened lives regardless of their spiritual denomination.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She first encountered the writing of Brother David Steindl-Rast in 2001 with “The Music of Silence”, a small but potent companion book to a CD of Gregorian chant. (Before that, she was in a choir that sometimes sang Gregorian chants.) She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects.