It's hard work for a hermit, but David Steindl-Rast periodically sets his beloved solitude aside to undertake strenuous lecture tours, discussing his ideas with everyone from Green Berets to New Age commune-dwellers.
His audiences have included European intellectuals, Ivy League professors, underprivileged African students, members of the Papago Indian Tribe, Buddhist monks, Sufi retreatants, United Nations delegates, missionaries on remote Polynesian islands, and Annapolis cadets. During a two-month tour of Australia, he gave 140 talks and traversed 12,000 miles without ever retracing his steps. It's all in a day's work for Steindl-Rast, one of the world's most famous Benedictine monks, a leading interfaith advocate, and a founding father of today's thriving gratitude movement.
His 1984 book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer asked readers to "wake up" and allow themselves to be startled by whatever they saw, be it rainbows or rubble.
Emerging from a church where he had sheltered during a bombing raid as an Austrian youth during World War II, Steindl-Rast saw smoke, blasted sidewalks, and broken glass. But he also spied a few square feet of pristine lawn. "It was as if a friend had offered me an emerald in the hollow of his hand. Never before or after have I seen grass so surprisingly green," he remembered. "Surprise is no more than a beginning of that fullness we call gratefulness."
Ten years ago, Steindl-Rast cofounded the international nonprofit A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L), which fosters the transformation of gratitude into a global ethic via rituals such as candle-lighting and meditations on what he calls "turning points in the rhythms of each day."
At the First Congregational Church of Berkeley (2345 Channing Way, Berkeley) on Friday, July 30, Steindl-Rast joins philosopher Sam Keen, whose latest book is In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred, for a discussion titled "The Scandal of Gratitude," about searching beyond what passes for gratitude in popular culture. At the same location on Saturday, July 31, Keen and Steindl-Rast facilitate an all-day workshop. Proceeds from both events benefit ANG*L.
Steindl-Rast hastens to note that gratitude is not limited to any one denomination. His commitment to interfaith dialogue shines in his new book Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles' Creed, which bears a foreword by the Dalai Lama — hardly whom you'd expect to meet in a volume about a 5th-century proclamation that avows: "Jesus Christ, God's only Son ... suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. The third day He arose again from the dead."
"The Creed speaks in the language of the Christian religion," Steindl-Rast acknowledged, "but also in the voice of a spirituality that lies deeper than any particular tradition." Whatever their faiths, those with open minds can see the meanings that lie "deeper than words" and "recognize them as valid expressions of the faith that unites us. ... I have tried to trigger that recognition." Fri. 7:30 p.m., $20; Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., $99 (includes coffee, tea, and boxed lunch). BerkeleyArts.org