With my preschool teaching duties not scheduled to re-start until the fall, I have finally found the time to scroll back through many archived interviews and podcasts from some of my favorite media sources.
As is my habit, rather than delving deep into one specific outlet, I’m primarily focusing on the subject matter of each broadcast; ones which not only interest me, but those for which I think readers of this column will also find some relevancy and applicability to their own lives.
As I’ve previously mentioned a few times in this space, I’m a big fan of the syndicated program known as “On Being with Krista Tippett.” For those not familiar with this program, it is a nonprofit media source consisting of various components, one of which is frequently carried on many NPR stations across the country. The format that is typically conducted for this particular weekly program is done via phone interview, with an array of topics too lengthy to mention.
I came across an interview that Krista had conducted with Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk based in Austria for nearly the past 65 years. As founder of ‘A Network for Grateful Living,’ much of his written work and teachings pull from life experiences during some of the 20th Century’s major catastrophes, yet ultimately they center on the subject of gratefulness and gratitude, which he points out, are not necessarily synonymous with one another.
I’m probably not alone in my assessment that many of us have been raised to appreciate everything that we’ve been given, and that much of what we’ve obtained, at least early on in life, was achieved through our parents putting us in a favorable enough position to begin. Where I think we often fall short is in our tendency to see life circumstances from a transactional or situational perspective rather than one of opportunity.
Steindl-Rast is quick to point this out when he states: “I don’t speak of the gift, because not for everything that’s given to you can you really be grateful. You can’t be grateful for war in a given situation, or violence, or sickness, things like that. The opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience – what to grow by it, or even to protest, to take a stand – that is a wonderful gift in a situation in which things are not the way they ought to be. So opportunity is really the key, when people ask: ‘Can you be grateful for everything?’ – no, not for everything, but in every moment.”
This was particularly relevant when as a teen, he was pushed into resisting Hitler’s advance; something quite different than the more predictable world he’d grown accustomed prior to the Nazi invasion of his country. Though this may be a more extreme example than what most of us encounter; being afforded such opportunities for growth ultimately shapes our character, especially when they are presented during challenging or critical junctures in life.
Another key component to realizing one’s gratefulness is our ability to embrace those moments when we are literally filled to capacity with Being. For most of us, we probably cut short the full potential of that transformative experience; essentially opting out for something else. Steindl-Rast describes it this way: “For many people in our culture, the heart fills up with joy, with gratefulness, and just at the moment when it wants to overflow, advertisement comes in and says, ‘No, no, there’s a better model, and there’s a newer model, and your neighbor has a bigger one.’ And so instead of overflowing, we make the bowl bigger and bigger and bigger, and it never overflows. It never gives us this joy.”
This is so common, especially in a society such as ours, where the push is to always strive for bigger and better than what we already have. What’s often lost is that this isn’t limited to only material means. When you really think about it, how often do we actually share what we’ve acquired with others? I think if we took a step back to reflect upon those moments, we’d see that the answer is probably “not often enough.”
“It’s this affluence inside that means it always flows in, it doesn’t overflow,” Tippett’s guest would later add. “It flows in and in and in and chokes us, eventually. And we don’t have to deprive ourselves of anything, but we can learn that the real joy comes with quality, not with quantity. And that’s an important distinction.” Indeed it is.