Tuesday’s conversation on writing

Catharine writes:

Today we introduce the outstanding work of our long-time friend and colleague Clare Hallward of Montreal. She assisted Neil with the editing of at least 2 of his books, including ‘In The Stillness Dancing’ when it needed to be cut by 1/3 to keep down costs – she was on board until the final full stop.

Clare Hallward’s introduction to ‘David Steindl-Rast Essential Writings‘.


Someday after mastering the wind, the waves, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energy of Love, and then for the second time in history we will have discovered Fire.
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Brother David Steindl-Rast is a landmark figure in a society increasingly aware of the evolution of consciousness gather¬ing momentum all around us — and within. Self-effacing in his personal life as a Benedictine monk, he has nonetheless won international acclaim with his call to grateful living. For Brother David, gratefulness is “the inner gesture of giving meaning to our life by receiving life as gift.” He emphasizes that grate¬fulness lies at the source of the generosity of spirit that the world needs so badly today, thereby “lifting us all in the long journey toward planetary harmony and wholeness.”1 His is a creative response — to be grateful in all circumstances — one he describes as the heart’s willing reply to the call of any given moment. It is life lived in all its great fullness.
In 1984, with his first and seminal book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, Brother David began to weave his theme of gratefulness into his writings. Indeed, buoyant pilgrim that he is, he weaves that theme into everything he does. HiT intro¬duction to Gratefulness says it all: “This book: is about life in fullness. It is about coming alive.” And although he urges us all to “wake up,” he notes that “waking up is a continuing process. No one wakes up once and for all. There is no limit to wake-fulness, just as there is no limit to aliveness.” Rooted as always in common sense, Brother David warns that being awake to life
is risky: “It takes courage    We have to choose between risk
and risk. We run the risk of sleeping through life, of never wak¬ing up at all. Or else we wakefully rise to the risk of life, facing the challenge of life, or love” (GHP, 8). Brother David contin¬ued to flesh out the practice of gratefulness in a number of his subsequent books including A Listening Heart; Belonging to the Universe, written with Fritjof Capra; and The Music of Silence.
In these times of upheaval, in the freshness arising as growing numbers of people begin to massively reject the greedy, tawdry schemes of power and the gun, Brother David steadily sounds a bell of sanity — a bell calling us to our senses, calling us to trust our God-given inner authority in the life decisions we are called upon to make.
Growing Up in Austria
Brother David was born Franz Kung on July 12, 1926, in Vienna, Austria. Hints of Brother David’s unfolding destiny, with its generous response to the call of an “evolving con¬sciousness,” can be seen in the qualities of heart and courage that Brother David inherited from his grandparents, particularly his grandmother. Equally remarkable was his mother, affection-ately known to Franz and his brothers as “The Lion Mother,” a tower of strength for many throughout the tragic, chaotic days during and after the war. The fact that she managed t*0 put anything at all on the table was sheer magic.
Having known such strong and feisty women so well, it is no mystery that Brother David would have us know that “when I
speak of women reclaiming their power, I try to stress that it is their power, since I am convinced that the very concept of women’s power is different from that of men. Women’s power is the power to foster new life and growth.” He goes on to say, “If more people would understand how this life-giving power differs from power over others, the world would be a more peaceful, healthy, and sane place.”2
Brother David expands on some of his family history:
My maternal grandfather was an officer in the Austrian army and died during the first weeks of World War I. His wife, my grandmother, was an extremely energetic woman — the first woman to ever speak on the radio in Austria — and she conceived a project of shipping war orphans and other hungry children to neutral countries, especially Holland and Sweden.
After World War I, she continued this work under the auspices of the cardinal of Vienna and traveled to the United States to raise funds. When Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore found out that she had to leave her daughter, my mother, in the care of my great-grandmother while she spent so much time away from home, he gave my mother a scholarship to Notre Dame in Baltimore    My grand¬mother continued to spend half the year in the United States all through my childhood. Thus, the pull of the family to the United States was already there when Hitler came to Austria.
Immediately after the war, my two brothers left f<3r the
States, and my mother followed not long affer    3 But I
was in the midst of my studies and stayed until I received my Ph.D. in 1952    After my graduation in November
1952, I joined the family in New York, partly running away from a monastic vocation, but [actually] running right into the arms of it, when I visited Mount Saviour in May 1953 and joined on August 20th that year.
By the time Franz was seven years old, his parents had sepa¬rated. His mother moved from Vienna to a small village nestled in the Alps, taking his two younger brothers, Hans and Max, with her. Franz, already in school, was to stay with his father, but his father, quite incapable of dealing with a young boy by himself, promptly sent him off to boarding school. When Franz’s mother heard of her son’s misery at that school, she “kidnapped” him, taking him home to his brothers in the vil¬lage. Eventually, she remarried and lived with the children’s stepfather for fifty years, although the marriage was not official because of the church’s rules at the time.
Franz was to spend all his teen years under the Nazis, being twelve years old when Hitler marched into Austria and nineteen when the occupation ended. When asked by Michael Toms in a 1991 New Dimensions Radio interview if the experience of spending his teenage years in an occupied country h^d anything to do with his leaning toward a contemplative or spiritual life, Brother David said “yes.” He expanded:
Because Hitler really did persecute the Church… some of our priests and pastors were imprisoned and a few were even executed. We knew that… and that we were in a cer¬tain danger if we went to church    For teenagers, [that
danger] was exactly what we wanted… so it drove us more and more deeply into a commitment to our faith, and to the Church too.
With all the problems that I find in the Church nowa¬days, at that time in the ’40s, that was where real life was.
It was the only thing that you could rely on. I remember, for instance, during the bombings of Vienna, when every¬thing was in shambles… and I mean the house, the rooms we lived in, had boarded-up windows because all the gas was gone and the walls had big cracks where you could put your finger in and so forth, and there were no more trains and trams, and at the end there was no more water
and no more electricity    The only thing you could rely
on was that the priest would come at exactly the same time every day and bring communion, and go through the ruined houses. That meant something. And it contin¬ues to mean something to me… with all the problems I
have with the institution    There was the institution at
its best.
When I asked Brother David if his faith had been “an expres¬sion of patriotism,” arising from outrage that his home was under attack, he replied:
There was a strong pride in being Austrian rather than German, and we gave standing ovations to hymns of praise to Austria in patriotic plays (for example, by Franz Grillparzer), which the Nazis permitted in the Burgtheater as a wise means to let off steam in an innocuous, way. But… our conviction of faith went much deeper, and I owe it mostly to that wonderful school run by Catho¬lic lay people, Neulandschule, in Vienna. Of course, the awareness of doing something rebellious against the hated government was an additional spice to our faith.
Franz’s first love and interest in life was art. In fact, in the same email exchange with me, he says that he “started out as an artist.” His father and several of his uncles had been art col¬lectors, and “we often had hungry artists at our dinner table at home. When I was five or six, I wanted to become a landscape painter and was always drawing… also through my adoles¬cence. My interest was definitely in line, not so much in color.” Franz’s interest in art continued during the war, before he was drafted, encouraged by his friend Uta Guerth, who was a stu-dent of Karl Sterrer at the Kunstakadamie in Vienna. “I passed the entrance exam and became Sterrer’s student. He had a small class of six or eight students, modeled on the medieval mas¬ter classes, and we were known as a cell of resistance against the Nazis.”
Fortunately, when Franz was eventually drafted into the army, he was never sent to the front lines.
How that happened I don’t know. I just had a great guardian angel, and after a couple of, well several, months — I was there from May ’44 until February ’45 — I just took off and my mother hid me and two others, one other soldier, at home. It was very brave of her. We were hidden there from February until April.4
Today he speaks of his time in the army “as almost a monas¬tic experience”: “Hours of marching drill were so many hours of praying the Jesus Prayer, and I felt grateful for this time of undisturbed prayer. Nothing in daily barracks life held my interest sufficiently to distract the mind from prayer.”
Surely these practices were signposts on the ^invisible map of his life, pointing to what lay ahead, as yet so largely un¬discerned. Perhaps, too, the discipline he encountered in the

army was to contribute to his later conviction that it is our Christian duty to question authority. Indeed, the lesson of the war — to constantly ask, “Who said that and why?” — would remain with him throughout his life. He remembers:
Our outfit was the 86th Regiment, a unit of “Pioneers” — the corps of engineers. I remember that number, because one of the humiliations we had to undergo when making mistakes was this: we had to climb on our locker, crouch in the narrow space between the top of the locker and the ceiling, and yell 86 times, “I am an ugly little dwarf!”
Perhaps, too, we see intimations of Brother David’s later focus on gratitude and surprise in his remark, “On the whole, how¬ever, my time at Krems was bathed in gratitude for not yet being dead — a gift surprisingly renewed with every day one was not shipped off.”
After the war had officially ended, but before things returned to normal in Vienna, Franz found himself working with refugees some fifty kilometers north of the city on the Czech border. On one of his visits to his Uncle Hans — which always yielded, besides something edible, news from the larger world — he learned that Cardinal Innitzer, archbishop of Vienna, was appealing to young people to volunteer their help to the thou¬sands of refugees pouring into Austria in the area of Laa and thereabouts. The misery was said to be heartbreaking. In his memories of that time, Brother David notes the following:
That only active love can bring order out of chaos was not a far-fetched idea under the circumstances. It wasn’t mere theory for us. To suspend our Greek lessons and respond to the Cardinal’s appeal made good sense. An

organizational structure for this venture didn’t exist. We
had to… set it up as we went along    We decided to
break up into groups of two or three, only the men at first, and walk north to check what we might find… and how we might be able to help. In retrospect, how completely unstructured and unorganized this undertaking was [still] amazes me. But, at the time, we simply took it for granted.
In a journal found later, Annemarie Heidinger, a young refugee fleeing across the border of what had been Czechoslovakia, writes:
June 5th, 1945: Old people stood along the edge of the road, mostly near collapse, because they lacked the strength to go on living. No one was around to care for them. They simply died and were left lying there. Was no one burying them?
Or at least covering them with earth? How many skeletons would the farmers plowing their fields find later on? Here an arm, there a shoe, there a cracked and fractured skull…
We were dependent upon begging. On one such begging expedition where I was fortunate to get several slices of bread and a little milk for my mother…
You must imagine … the road… lined with destroyed tanks, bombed houses, rotting corpses of horses and graves …only lightly covered with… earth. A gentle hand had
sometimes laid a flower on a grave    Again and again,
when my courage failed me, or when something terribly shocking happened, someone took me by the hand. Strange how I then regained my courage and strength.    **’
This time it was a young student, Franz Kuno von Steindl-Rast. In the framework of the Catholic Youth, he was put in charge of the refugee camp in Wolkersdorf. I no
longer know how many hundreds of people were there. But he managed to comfort and refresh all of these dis-heartened and despairing people. Sometimes I think of the wonderful miracle of the bread, because suddenly all were nourished and satisfied, and he made us timidly believe somehow in the future.
The numbers of people in the camp slowly dwindled.
… It became easier to care for those remaining. And now our Franz Kuno performed his miracles. I was naturally extremely happy to meet a person who could speak with me about music, who understood how to talk about the most beautiful spiritual topics, and who carefully, gently, helped me, led me, once more to believe in life, in true life.
On June 23, 1945, that same young woman wrote a letter from Graz to a friend:
Dear Kathe… Mother and I are now in Graz, cared for by Uncle and Aunt, my mother’s sister. Wolkersdorf was the stopping point in which our situation began to open up. There Franz Kuno von Steindl-Rast from the Catho¬lic Youth Organization brought about the miracle which allowed us once again to believe in humanity. He and his friends provided us not only with food and clothing, but
also restored our confidence
He planted my mother and me in his mother’s heart. After much searching, we finally found them in Vienna, and we were allowed to pick and eat cherries from their garden! We “were allowed”!… Our conversation with.Mrs. Elisabeth

was not concerned with need and wretchedness, but rather with the beauty of nature (in their garden) and the positive
side of life. A believing human being is the best doctor for a wounded soul! The beginning of spring — of new life.5
Many an intimation of young Franz’s future work can be seen in these passages, proof that biography is the first clue to theology. We also catch glimpses of that future in the following memories (emailed to me by Brother David), which demonstrate his grow¬ing reaction to injustice and his ability to respond flexibly and swiftly to the complex situation facing him once he was able to return to his art studies.
When the war was over, all those who had been big Nazis went scot-free, and my art professor was scape¬goated because, to camouflage his position, he had become a member of the party. Heartbroken, he resigned from the Akadamie, and I couldn’t find any other teacher whom I liked, portrait painting being my major interest at that time. So I switched over to restoring and became a student of Robert Eigenberger.
Subsequently, Franz became interested in primitive and chil¬dren’s art, although he would increasingly shift his focus to

psychology and anthropology, finally getting his doctorate in psychology in 1952. As he put it: “At that time in Vienna we tried to make psychology an exact science, as scientific as possible. We were not the couch types of psychologists but decidedly the rat types. Everything had to be measured. That was my interest, too.”6
Franz was to weave his interest in art and psychology into the next stage of his life as well, becoming a monk only after he had gone through training in art and psychology and had moved to the States.

Today Brother David still underlines the importance of art and science, saying that while he appreciates what Joseph Campbell calls “the creative interplay of discovery and recognition,” for him “the highest creativity in art lies in letting the same creative impulse that brings forth irises and the carapaces of turtles and the spiral nebulae flow through human hands.” But he adds:
This presupposes a high degree of selflessness. Much that calls itself art today looks to me rather like a display of ego, boosted by commercial interests. This together with my growing desire to leave only minimal footprints on this Earth has contributed to my diminished pursuit of artis¬tic activity. In this respect, too, music is the queen of the arts    I like singing — voice or no voice!7
That love of music is reflected in Brother David’s book The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, first published in 1998. The website which he cofounded in 2000 — a treasure trove of wise words and beautiful images at http://www.gratefulness.org — also conveys that love of music with its inclusion of Gregorian chant in its “Angels of the Hours” segment. Supported by an international nonprofit organization, this website was developed to offer encouragement and new ways of reaching out and “to provide resources for living in the gentle power of the gratefulness that restores courage, rec-onciles relationships, and heals our Earth.” One of its most popular features is the chance to light candles to celebrate or commiserate with friends and family. As of now, over seven million people from 242 countries and territories have sent messages accompanied by glowing candles into cyberspace — a number that only keeps growing.

Answering the Call
In 1953 Brother David, having received his Ph.D. in psychol¬ogy (with a minor in anthropology) from the University of Vienna and having followed his family to the United States, “suddenly” joined the Benedictine community in Elmira, New York — Mount Saviour Monastery — where today he is a senior member. While this sudden turn in the roadmap of his life may have surprised some people, Brother David would later explain that he had always felt that his move to join his family in New York was partly a “running away from a monastic vocation.” In Austria, although the question had been which would come first, “the right girl or the right monas¬tery” — and there had been an abundance of girls — he felt that the Austrian monasteries of the day, with their layers of encrusted traditions, had all but smothered the original teaching of St. Benedict.
Introduction continued in next post

More info on David Steindl-Rast can be found at gratefulness.org founded by brother David. More than 5o million people have visited the website.


Writing conversation: next Tuesday, Catharine writes about her own experiences.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Today we introduce the second part of the outstanding work of our long-time friend and colleague Clare Hallward of Montreal.  You can read part one here. […]

RSS Feed for this entry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: