Grateful living

The bombing stopped, the sirens sounded the “all clear”, and David Steindl-Rast crawled out from under a church pew, stepped over shattered glass and debris and into the street in wartime Austria.

Outside, buildings, which had stood there just before he ran into the church for protection, were now reduced to smoking rubble.

But what he remembers most today is the few feet of gloriously green grass glowing in the sunshine.  It was life.  It was surprise in the midst of ruin.

“Surprise is no more than a beginning of that fullness that we call gratefulness,” writes Steindl-Rast in his book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer.  “But a beginning it is.”

His book is a call to make gratefulness our basic attitude to life.

He takes delight watching a cardinal swoop down on a rock for the corn that Steindl-Rast has scattered for birds in winter.  He has come to expect the bird and yet is surprised at the same time.

Steindl-Rast calls these moments gifts from God.  These simple gifts are all around us.

In essence, he says, we need to wake up to the world.  The more aware – or wakeful – we are, the more we see and enjoy the little gifts of life.

Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic writer and priest, says in his introduction to Steindl-Rast’s book:

“In the midst of a world in which fear, apprehension and suspicion make us live stingy, small and narrow lives, Brother David stretches out his arms, smiles and says: ‘Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise – then you will discover the fullness of your life.'”

Steindl-Rast says it takes practice to grow in gratefulness.  We need to engage our minds and hearts and spirits.

The apostle Paul was one who learned to be grateful.

In Philippians 4, he writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

And in the same chapter, he says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Repeatedly, Paul urges his readers to rejoice in God and be thankful.

This was a man who was beaten often, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned for long periods, and shipwrecked – all for the privilege and honour of sharing Christ with people who did not know Jesus.

Steindl-Rast and Paul have a lot to say to people like me who take blessings for granted and complain about little things.

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