A simple conversation . . . with Brother David Steindl-Rast

Face to Face

Brother David Steindl-Rast gently directs me out of the chapel into the halls of the monastery. Passing the dining room he offers me “coffee, water, tea”? Continuing on, I offer him my condolences for his dying brother. We enter the library, where the floor to ceiling volumes would normally speak to me, but this day, they lay silent.

The words I chose to hear in this room will be from a different source and I am grateful.

Brother David has seen my video. Much like myself, he has prepared for our meeting as well. I share with him my story of reading Thomas Merton’s ‘The Seven Story Mountain. Merton was a friend and contemporary of Brother David’s: both active in the interfaith dialogue. I recount that in my 30’s after reading Merton’s the Seventh Story Mountain, my heart had been full of joy. I was inspired! I remember wanting to know more about Merton, where is he? what is he doing now? . . . only to discover Merton had died in Thailand by accidental electrocution. I had felt a great loss. I recount to Brother David that after beginning to read his words I had felt the same experience of being filled with joy, but this time, the author and inspiration to my heart, sat before me. I thank him for the great gift he has given me in meeting with him. He gathered my hand in his and smiled. He understands.

The foundation of Brother David’s view of gratitude is focused on gifts; a gift being something of value and freely given. I have heard his ted talk, and his explanation today is no different. He goes on to explain that since every moment is a gift, we should be grateful for every moment, for in every moment, is the opportunity to experience life. I tell him I understand and I do. This is where my practice of gratitude has led me as well.

But we both know in the simplicity of the idea rests many questions. He is clear to point out that we cannot be grateful for everything that happens in every moment “That would be absurd”, he says. How can someone be grateful for war, loss, and the inherent pain that accompanies life?’ No, he says, going back to the idea of opportunity, “it is the opportunity we have to experience life in all its fullness, is where our gratitude should lie. I understand gratitude on a deep and personal level, I have experienced what he is describing, but somehow the simplicity of it all seems challenging.

I share with him my struggles in living a grateful life. I speak of having to “get back” on track. “Back”? he questions me, thinking I am speaking of the past. I explain, my ‘back’ simply means going back to the practice, going back to gratitude when I veer off course, coming back to the present, whatever it contains, and to be grateful. His life has been steeped in this practice for decades – I am new at this, and our conversation continues talking about the process, the expansive experience, and the life that can be actualized through the simple practice of being grateful for every moment. I have come to this meeting with one primary question in my heart. How can I relay this truth? How can I get people to understand gratitude as we do. My answer will not come on this day. It will come much later, when I return to Germany.

Coming up . . . with no expectations.

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