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Book Review, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: an Approach to Life in Fullness by David Steindl-rast

by Peter Menkin  
1/18/2009 / Book Reviews

With gentle humor, Brother David teaches us gratefulness:

One of the things I first noticed about this book on being grateful is that it has sold many thousands of copies. Mine says, on the cover, "65,000 in print." That's a kind of best seller on a subject by a monk, a contemplative, and promises along the way by its subtitle the inviting phrase, "An Approach to Life in Fullness." There is a demand for living a good life, and one way is living a life of being grateful to God and having a heart of prayer, the book's main theme.

There are probably many reasons for the numerous readers of this work, including the fact that Brother David Steindl-Rast is a kind of hero in the retreat and talking world, a feat not to be belittled, for I came to know him by a tape I found meaningful: "We Dare to Say Our Father." Brother David is a Benedictine, and I have a reading list and a source for Benedictine books from the monastery New Camaldoli, Big Sur, California which I follow religiously. So you can say, I am reading required material. This is a good thing, for this book is a required text for Christians interested in the ideas of blessing and giving thanks to God, and in coming to some understandings about prayer which Brother David says, as quoted on the back cover, "God's will be done" I agree with the back cover statement, we are dependent on God's mercy. That is a religious thing to say, and this is a book for people interested in religious topics and understandings.

I think that you will find this a book on prayerfulness, too; that is one chapter title, "Prayers and Prayerfulness." I can think about this quote for a while, good advice from a man with a sense of proportion and humor: "Are my prayers a genuine expression of my prayerfulness? Do they make me more prayerful?"

The danger with reviewing this book is one is taken with the author, and wants to know more. He is a monk, and that is a mysterious thing, somewhat special to many people. The reader does meet the monk and the man in this book, his personality. Though at times a seemingly surface book of suggestions, like this one, "Most of us need a good deal of encouragement for giving. The way we are built (or, rather, forced into a warped shape by our society) the taking takes care of itself. It might be a good test if you checked for half an hour how often you say 'I take' and how often 'I give.'" He writes this in the chapter "Contemplation and Leisure." But the message, by its context, becomes enlarged. One is to pay attention to living the Christian life in the ordinary, during the day and in doing so be grateful for the things of your day and the life that has been granted. He believes, convincingly, "Thanksgiving, blessing, praise, all three belong to gratefulness."

Gratefulness is an acquired taste, so he says. "The banquet of life is the challenge to cultivate and broaden our taste." Because I have heard Brother David talk on the tape I suggest, his style and his "voice" come through all the more. This is a book written in a voice, a genuine voice of the writer. You will find this a palatable book.

There is another message to the book. It is within our reach to live a grateful life, and know something of gratefulness. Brother David says this is fun, and we can become more grateful, certainly better than complaining and cursing, by finding the play in the joyful mysteries of Living by the Word. He says, also in his words, they "teach us this playfulness." I like the light way he approaches things, many profound. Maybe there is a secret here "...The point of everything? Well, that's the point at the heart of each thing where the kernel for faithfulness is playfully hidden." So he writes in the chapter "Faith and Belief."

Another chapter title, "Love A "Yes" to Belonging." In "Fullness and Emptiness", another chapter towards the end of the book, he says in a mysterious way that we are becoming, by being alive, being grateful, which means becoming alive, becoming grateful. Being grateful is then a way of life, a joy. To get there, he quotes T.S. Eliot: "In order to arrive at what you are not/You must go through the way in which you are not."

Is this a book about a pathway. I say it is. Henri Nouwen writes the introduction in my copy published by Paulist Press. Hopefully, my concurrence with the opening sentences interests the reader of this review, and I find that the introduction makes a good end for what I have said. "This book is a true delight! It delights by its surprising insights, its unexpected perspectives and its gentle humor."

--Peter Menkin, Obl Cam OSB

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.

Copyright Peter Menkin

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