Restless is the Heart

Following is a passage from Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer by Brother David Steindl-Rast. For more information on Brother David, please visit

“There is something about the heart which everyone knows from experience, and which we have not yet mentioned. “Restless is our heart.” That is how St. Augustine put it. The core of our being is relentlessly questioning, searching, longing. The very beating of the heart within my chest seems merely the ego of a restless pounding more deeply within me, a knocking on some locked door. It is not even clear to me: do I knock to get in, or do I knock to get out? But one thing is certain: restless is our heart. And that existential restlessness is what makes religion religious.

“A particular religion merely provides a framework for the quest of the heart. Within each religion there are countless ways of being religious. In a personal quest we must find our own. No one can do it for us. This or that religion may provide the historical, cultural, sociological setting. It may provide an interpretation for our experience, a language to speak about it. If we are lucky it may even provide incentives to keep us awake and alert in our quest and offer channels to protect its driving force from trickling away, from petering out.  All this is of immeasurable value. Yet it remains on the outside. The heart of every religion is the religion of the heart.

“Restless is our heart until…” Until what? Until we find rest. But what can still our existential thirst? “As a deer yearns for running streams, so does my soul thirst for God, the living God” (Ps. 42:2) Lucky the psalmist who could give a name to what our thirst is yearning for. But what name should we use now? Today many whose thirst is no less burning will not use the name “God” because of those of us who do use it.  We have abused it and confused them. Can we find another name for that which gives rest to our heart? The term “meaning” suggests itself. When we find meaning in life, then we find rest. At least this is the starting point for an answer. But let us now assume that we know what meaning means. All we know is that we find rest when we find something meaningful. That is a matter of experience, and it is all we know about meaning. Meaning is simply that within which we find rest.

“But so is the heart. It seems to be a contradiction. Yet our restless heart is also the only place where we find rest when, “at the end of all our exploring,” we arrive where we started “and know the place for the first time.” To know the heart means to know that it has depths too deep for reason to fathom, the depths of divine life within us. The heart that comes to rest in God rests in its own fathomless depth.”1

1Steindl-Rast, Brother David. Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. Paulist Press, 1984. pp32-33.
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