A simple conversation . . . with Brother David Steindl-Rast
Questions for the teacher.
My encounter with Brother David Steindl-Rast occurred within the span of a week; the call to the monastery, his affirmative response, leaving a short amount of time to comb through his work; time to read and listen to as much as I could in the short time allowed.
Questions arose, what do I ask? what do I say? what do I do? He has agreed to meet with me for a “few minutes”, how is this going to work? Am I going to look like a hack, be thrown out of the monastery without a blessing?! (I am a practicing Catholic after all!). But in all seriousness, I wanted to do my very best, to be present, and to somehow have it be a wonderful encounter with a man I admired. And so, I turned, as I always do, to gratitude.
As I prepared to leave Germany for my meeting with Brother David outside Salzburg, Austria, in a car loaded with my husband Marcel, and his 90 year old mother, I put aside his words. “It was time for thought, reflection, and to allow everything to find its place”. Any nervousness I may have had, faded, and the physical journey to Austria was accompanied by a spiritual journey of sorts; one where you rest, savor, and know all is well, and will be well.
We were going at a slow pace, visiting our first home as newlyweds, and intentionally taking it slow. I had no desire to visit this esteemed expert in gratitude, arriving harried and disorientated from a long drive. My appreciation for the opportunity to meet with him, and the extreme gratitude that I felt, would only allow for a gracious entry into his world.
And so it was the afternoon of the meeting. The three of us gathered in the chapel; a beautiful space, intentionally designed. The chapel had become familiar to us, having attended mass and prayer. The anticipation was high. My mother-in-law was excited. I had told her I will only meet with him for a few minutes. “He’s going to want to talk to you”, she says. She has also come through the second world war, but somehow hasn’t escaped the continued burden of that time. I am happy to see her happy. The door opens. We are greeted by the facilitating priest Father Raphael; a warm, efficacious, and welcoming man in his 40’s. He says Brother David’s 88 year old brother is dying; is it possible to delay? My gentle answer is no.
I know that Brother David’s practice of gratitude was developed during WW II, when, as the rule of Benedictine dictates, he learned to live “looking death in the face”; but I understood if he couldn’t meet with me. This was his brother. The priest leaves and returns “Brother David will meet with you”. Minutes later a small wizened figure enters, with a lightness to his step contradicting his age; it is Brother David. “Come, we will talk in the library”, he says, as we enter the private halls of the monastery. I am in his world now. A world centered on work and prayer. My request for a simple conversation suddenly takes on a larger meaning. I am cautious, yet somehow free. I do not have a list of questions, I am not taking notes. We are two like-minded souls sharing their intense love and dedication to and for gratitude.
Coming up . . . face to face.