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Christmas 2002

Author-artist makes the divine mystery accessible

What air is to the body, prayer is to the soul. That’s why Jesus told us to pray unceasingly, according to Fr. Ed Hays, illustrator and author of the best sellers Prayers for the Domestic Church and Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim. Hays has made it his life work to help pump the fresh air of prayer out to a wide audience. He has written 25 books on prayer and spirituality for everyday living. “He makes the divine mystery accessible to the ordinary person,” says Tom Turkle, Hays’ publisher.

In addition to his writing, Hays is known for founding a popular house of prayer.

A parish priest in the archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., in 1979 Hays approached his archbishop, Ignatius Strecker, asking for a three-month sabbatical so he could spend some time praying. Instead, he was sent on a yearlong prayer pilgrimage around the world -- to Rome, Jerusalem, India and Tibet. On his return, Strecker asked Hays to open a house of prayer that would be available to anyone in the diocese who desired a deeper prayer life.

The founding of this house of prayer named Shantivanam, which means “Forest of Peace” in Sanskrit, took place in the midst of the spirit of renewal after Vatican II. Shantivanam is located near Easton, Kan., an hour’s drive from the large urban center of Kansas City. “Saying yes to this invitation to found a house of prayer was the most transforming experience of my life,” Hays said. “Living in a community of prayer with laypeople was a wonderful experience.”

Hays has published most of his books through Forest of Peace Publishing, Inc., an adjunct of Shantivanam. His first, Prayers for the Domestic Church: A Handbook for Worship in the Home, was published in 1979. His latest is Prayer Notes to a Friend, published by Forest of Peace.

Hays is an accomplished artist. He illustrates his own books, with whimsical drawings like the one on this week’s cover. There’s even an Ed Hays screensaver available from Forest of Peace.

Hays spent many years in prison ministry in Leavenworth, Kan., home of the state prison, the U.S. Federal Penitentiary and the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks.

Now retired, he divides his time between action and contemplation.

“There is no one writing in Christendom today,” say Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, coauthors of Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, “who has so consistently, zealously and creatively wed spiritual practice with imagination in ways that deepen and enrich both our devotional life and everyday activities.”

-- Rich Heffern

National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2002