I am through you so i, p.1
I Am Through You So I, page 1
i am through you so i
Reflections at Age 90
Brother David Steindl-Rast
Translated by Peter Dahm Robertson
New York / Mahwah, NJ
Photo/image credits: All interior photographs are from the author’s collection, copyright © 2017 by David Steindl-Rast. Used with permission.
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition, Copyright © 1989 and 1993, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Excerpts from “Burnt Norton,” “The Dry Salvages,” and “Little Gidding” from FOUR QUARTETS by T.S. Eliot. Copyright © 1936 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company in the United States and Faber and Faber Ltd in the United Kingdom. Copyright © renewed 1964 by Thomas Stearns Eliot. Copyright 1941, 1942 by T.S. Eliot; Copyright © renewed 1969, 1970 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and Faber and Faber Ltd. All rights reserved.
Cover/title page image by Diego Ortiz Mugica (http://www.ortizmugica.com/). Used with permission.
Cover and book design by Lynn Else
First published in German as Ich bin durch Dich so ich © Vier-Türme GmbH, Verlag, Münsterschwarzach 2016.
English translation copyright © 2017 by Paulist Press, Inc. Translated by Peter Dahm Robertson.
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ISBN 978-1-58768-765-5 (ebook)
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1. Becoming Human
2. Becoming a Christian
4. Becoming a Monk
5. Interfaith Encounters
6. Hermit’s Life
7. Encounters in Travel
8. Contemplation and Revolution
9. Double Realm
About the Interviewer
First, a disclaimer: this book contains much that is autobiographical, but it is not actually an autobiography. For each of the nine decades of my life, I have chosen a characteristic theme and written down related memories. The nine interviews then go deeper into the respective themes. I realize that such a framework has advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that it excludes details that spring only from the talkativeness of an old man and only serve curiosity. One of the disadvantages is that not all themes that were important to me fit within the framework. I was especially sorry that I could not include the dialogue between science and religion in which I have repeatedly had the privilege of participating. As a Lindisfarne Fellow since the 1970s, as speaker at the Cortona weeks of the ETH Zürich and the Waldzell Meetings of the Stift Melk, and as a participant in the Mind and Life Fellows Program, I have had the opportunity of meeting important pioneers of the sciences. My life has been additionally enriched by my friendships with Joachim Bauer, Fritjof Capra, Stanislav Grof, Amory Lovins, Pier Luigi Luisi, Reinhard Nesper, Herbert Pietschmann, Rupert Sheldrake, Tania Singer, and Richard Tarnas. To all these encounters, I owe my conviction that science and religion are two inseparable attempts to orient ourselves in the inner and outer realms of this one reality. They belong together.
I also regret that I can mention the names of only a few friends throughout the text. But here I do want to express my thanks personally to those whose help made this book possible: I was able to work on it in silent isolation on the S’Alqueria estate of Stephan and Viktoria Schmidheiny; Brigitte Kwizda-Gredler was my first reader and gave empathetic advice; Joan Casey supported me by prayer and encouragement; Johannes Kaup insightfully held the interviews; Diego Ortiz Mugica added new photographs and improved those from the past; Alberto Rizzo, Julian Fraiese, and Michael Casey helped me by helping Quicksilver, my temperamental computer; Brother Linus Eibicht, OSB (publisher), Marlene Fritsch (lector), and Rose Hofmann (rights manager) of Vier-Türme-Verlag awaited, shepherded, and published the German edition with great patience. Special thanks also to Marc Grossman for editorial advice, to Peter Dahm Robertson for translating this revised version into English, and to Father Mark-David and his team at Paulist Press for publishing it. The prayers of many friends and the encounters with many people whom I will never know by name encouraged me and strengthened me in my writing, finally bringing the book into the hands of you, the reader, to whom I am also grateful for your interest.
I want to dedicate this book to my brothers—my two biological brothers, Hans and Max, and their entire families, as well as my Brothers, the Benedictine monks of Mount Saviour, New Camaldoli, and the Gut Aich monastery at St. Gilgen; there especially, Father Johannes Pausch: this book was his idea, and I would never have written it, except in loving obedience to him as Prior.
—Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB
Mount Saviour Monastery,
August 6, 2016
This book has an unusual style. It is divided into nine decades that sketch out the processes of learning and maturing in Brother David’s life. The memories of each decade, written by Brother David himself, precede the nine interviews (“dialogues”). These dialogues attempt to explore his life and thinking as well as open new horizons of questions building on his reminiscences. Through the reflective writing, on the one hand, and the deliberate but also lively and spontaneous dialogue, on the other, two different narrative forms have emerged. There may be a tension between these two stylistic approaches, but this tension is also an aspect of the author’s multifaceted person and work. Maintaining this tension, allows us in the present to take a critical and self-reflective view of Brother David’s concerns with past and future.
“i am through you so i”—with this deep line of e.e. cummings, David Steindl-Rast summarizes his ninety years of life. With its many layers, this “through you”—with you, in you, because of you—reaches from birth to death and beyond; it grows accessible as he tells of his life. It can get under one’s skin and touch one’s heart—at least, that was my experience when I first visited Brother David in the mid-nineties in the southwest United States, and had the honor of speaking to him face-to-face. Then as now, we were separated in age by forty years, but during an encounter with him, that becomes as irrelevant as so much else. He is concerned with the Now, which transcends the flowing passage of time, bringing present, past, and future together in all their fullness.
Brother David adamantly refuses to be set on the pedestal of the master. But he remains unquestionably a spiritual master, though he has never founded or wanted to found a school. He has students all over the world, and they have not so much learned a specific method from him than they have been inspired and fascinated by his heart’s
Brother David is convinced that life confronts every human being with Mystery. Everyone, no matter their origins, education, culture, or religion, has an inkling of the Mystery, even if they never bother to open the doors to access it, or find them closed in their face by some religious tradition. Steindl-Rast is concerned with getting the wellsprings of faith to flow again, to make its power fruitful for shaping life, and to work toward greater justice in the world, firmly and spiritually grounded in the Mystery.
Even in his ninety-first year of life, one can still see how Brother David, who has already discovered so much, returns to being a searching novice. His beginner’s mind, his multifaceted curiosity, and his sheer childlike joy attract many. He is also a living example that one can be old in years without losing any of one’s mental freshness. It is possible that this is made easier when one does not need to “make” oneself but can receive one’s life anew every day: “i am through you so i.”
Thanks for this book is due to many people, not least Brother David himself; Brother Linus Eibicht, OSB, the publisher of the Vier-Türme-Verlag for initiating the project; and Prior Johannes Pausch, OSB, for his patient and persistent help in the production of the book. Additional heartfelt thanks go to Marlene Fritsch and Brigitte Kwizda-Gredler. Both spent long nights proofreading the text versions of our dialogues with watchful eyes, and giving advice along the way. Silvia Tschugg contributed constructive criticism and practical help with formatting. We are grateful to Argentinian photographer Diego Ortiz Mugica for some of the finest pictures. Most of all, I want to thank the monks of the Gut Aich monastery. They continually received me with open arms and hearts when I arrived for the dialogues in this book. Without them, this book could not have become what it is today, and what it will hopefully remain for a lengthy line of readers: a document of reflections on gratitude and of grateful living.
Vienna, September 1, 2016
Finding My Heart’s Center
Adam in the Garden of Eden—this memory, gilded with myth, of the beginnings of human history is mirrored in what is probably my earliest memory: I am still small enough to look up at the underside of a tall tulip.1 I can see only its underside, but I want to look inside the chalice, so my father lifts me into his arms and lets me look into the flower from above. A bitter smell rises from the tulip, its interior shining darkly with soft stamens.
We are encircled by flowers; white gravel paths lead to little ponds above which ancient linden and chestnut trees stretch out their branches: my personal Garden of Eden.2 A high wall—which for me was the quintessence of feeling protected—surrounds the rambling park of this coffeehouse my father has inherited in the suburbs of Vienna.
My parents, my two younger brothers,3 our “Detta,”4 and I live in one of the side wings of this little palace from the time of Empress Maria Theresa. The central wing, meanwhile, with its large ballroom and several smaller rooms, belongs to the coffeehouse.
A stone spiral staircase leads up to the second floor, which I call “the old floor” because my grandmother and great-grandmother live there. The “old floor” is my favorite place. It is where my grandmother builds me a tent using a colorful tablecloth, spread over the backs of two armchairs. In that space, I experience the feeling of belonging and being protected, and it is there that my grandmother brings me snacks and drinks. Together, we marvel at the beautiful dance of dust when sunshine streams into the room between the damask curtains. We also pray together. My grandmother introduces me to the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelus prayer, and soon the entire Rosary.
At this stage of my life, my mind is still equally at home in disparate realms of reality. It is shortly before Christmas and my imagination is charged with joyous anticipation. There is something glinting on the carpet in my parents’ bedroom. I take up the tiny piece of gold thread between my thumb and forefinger. What can it be? (In Austria, not Santa Claus but the Christ Child brings the gifts.) “Perhaps the Christ Child has come by already and lost a hair from his locks?” my mother suggests. That is enough to send me into a sort of ecstasy. In retrospect, too, I should say, for me, that was a genuine, albeit childlike, encounter with the unfathomable Mystery with which all of us humans must engage.
On another occasion, I look up through the trees and see something like a tiny white dove in the cloudless blue sky. Wings outstretched, it glides through the air silently and leaves a trail of huge, cloudlike letters: I M I.5 I ask Detta what this might be, and without much interest, she answers, “That’s the skywriter.” I shiver with a deep reverence. For years, I did not share this experience with anyone, for adults seemed suspect to me if they could be so indifferent to something so sacred: the skywriter! That must mean the Holy Spirit! (I would never have imagined that the letters were an advertisement for detergent.)
This is also the time when I dreamt of an image that—without knowing at the time—would become fundamental to my understanding of all else that happened to me in life.6 In the dream, I am walking down the stone spiral staircase of the “old floor.” Halfway along the stairs, I am met by Jesus Christ, who is walking up from the floor below. He looks just like the picture that hangs above my grandmother’s bed. We move toward one another, but instead of walking past each other, we melt into one.
The myth of paradise includes the fall of man and the expulsion from the garden. I had only just entered the second grade of my Catholic elementary school on the Rosenhügel (Hill of Roses) when my parents’ divorce completely changed our life. In retrospect, I can see how young they were: my mother was only eighteen when I was born. Our coffeehouse, not far from Schönbrunn Palace, was a popular location with Viennese on day trips. Hundreds of guests came on sunny weekends, and our supply of pastry was taxed to the limits; when it rained, all the expensively purchased baked goods went to waste. To this was added the depression of the early 1930s. Each week brought agitation and disappointment, an external strain that certainly contributed to the failure of my parents’ marriage. From then on, my father was gone. We three boys lived with my mother in the vacation home my parents had built in Prein on the Rax in the Eastern Alps. In the alpine valleys of the time, life often resembled the Middle Ages more than the early third millennium. More has changed there in the last eight decades than in the preceding centuries. There I experienced Christianity—the amalgamation of culture and Christian tradition, the unquestioned acceptance (albeit not complete living) of Christian values.
The holy days of the Church calendar and the local traditions gave the year a fixed structure: for Advent, we children would set up the model of the manger and would open a new window of the Advent calendar each day. Then came Christmastime, with its wonders that grew more wonderful each year. The Christ Child brought the gifts on Christmas Eve, but first we had to eat my grandmother’s fish soup, which we found revolting but of which she was so proud, and then came the prayers beneath the Christmas tree, which seemed to us children to drag on endlessly before we could look at our presents. St. Stephen’s Day was set apart for family visits, and on the third day of Christmas, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, we got a sip of blessed wine—a special treat for us children. New Year’s Eve brought all sorts of games of divination,7 yielding infallible predictions of what the coming year would bring—though not taken very seriously. On Epiphany, the twelfth day of Ch
There were only two classes in the Edlach elementary school: our teacher Miss Riegler (d’Riegler Fräul’n, as she was known in the local dialect) taught the first three grades, while strict Schoolmaster Straßmaier instructed the fourth through eighth grades. Before school, the girls would dance under two linden trees in the schoolyard or play jump rope and hopscotch, and we boys had our own games, such as tug-of-war. While soccer was not permitted in the schoolyard, it was our favorite game. After all, at the time, the Austrian “Wunderteam” had even beaten the English team. We listened to cup matches over the radio, and to this day, I remember the name of our hero, Sindelar, even though spectator sports never interested me again. For days on end, my brothers and I would play explorers, following the brook that flowed past our house way up into the woods, or tend the radishes, bush peas, and tomatoes we had planted in our garden beds. In winter, we were sometimes allowed to ski to school and, on the way back, could hitch ourselves to a horse-drawn sleigh, for instance, the one with which our baker delivered bread and rolls.
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