New name, renewed ministry at house of prayer

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

EASTON — The name has changed, but the most attractive aspect of the archdiocesan house of contemplative prayer remains the same.

The silence. A whole 120 acres of it.

Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the founding of what used to be known as the Shantivanam House of Prayer. Today, it’s Christ’s Peace House of Prayer.

In addition to the new name, the ministry has a new board, board chairman, and director.

Shantivanam is a Sanskrit word meaning “forest of peace,” explained Vince Eimer, the new director since Dec. 1. The founder, Father Ed Hays, chose this name after a visit to a Catholic monastery with the same name in India.

After Father Hays returned from his one-year sabbatical in 1971, during which he learned to pray with people of many faiths, Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker asked him to build a house of contemplative prayer.

The retreat house was Christ-centered, but it had a strong ecumenical component and an openness to what was true in other world religions, said Eimer.

The name was changed to Christ’s Peace House of Prayer this fall, however, to reflect a changed emphasis and to define the identity of this archdiocesan ministry a bit more precisely.

“We felt that . . . most people upon hearing [the name Shantivanam] would not realize that this was a Catholic house of prayer,” said Eimer.

“Even though [the name] comes from a Catholic institution, [it isn’t] even recognizable as Christian,” he continued. “So, to help our guests know that this was a Christ-centered Catholic house of prayer, we made that name change to make that evident.”

The house of prayer was based in 1972 on two Scripture passages, and it remains so today, said Eimer. One is Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God”); the other, Isaiah 56:7 (“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people”).

“We’re still keeping the contemplative emphasis,” said Eimer. “And anyone and everyone are welcome to come here. But we want them to know when they do come here, that . . . we are not emphasizing the other spiritual traditions and the ray of truth they contain, but [instead] our Catholic tradition of contemplative prayer.”

Eimer is a lifelong Catholic, born and raised in Independence, Mo. He has spent most of his life in monastic communities or in house of prayer communities. He was a Benedictine monk for 16 years and was at Shantivanam for five years in the early 1990s. He is currently a member of Nativity of Mary Parish in Independence.

Christ’s Peace House of Prayer is comprised of a main building with offices, a library, a chapel and a couple of courtyard guest rooms. On the grounds there are 12 private cabins for staff and guests. Ten cabins have heat and running water.

Two of those cabins are “hermitages,” with slightly more rustic accommodations. People have to bring their own water, but the cabins do have electricity. These are closed during the winter.

The land consists of woods and meadows, and no hunting or fishing is allowed on the property.

Guests stay for a self-directed time of contemplative prayer, or they may seek assistance from the permanent staff. Currently, there are four staff members, with one or two more coming aboard in January.

Eimer hopes to draw more guests to the house of prayer, and plans to conduct workshops in parishes throughout the archdiocese in aid of that.

“I hope [the house of prayer] becomes the contemplative center for the archdiocese and that it will actually become a contemplative center for people in our country and beyond our country,” said Eimer.

“There aren’t many places like this in the United States,” he continued. “We’ve been given a precious legacy, and we want to continue the legacy of contemplative prayer. . . . What is different is that we really want to emphasize our Catholic tradition. I think the time is overripe for this tradition to [be]come known to Catholics.”


Contemplative Prayer

Contemplation is a desire for God that expresses itself in the simple gaze of love, said Vince Eimer, director of Christ’s Peace House of Prayer.

Contemplative prayer is the most common practice that leads to this simple state of contemplation. Examples of contemplative prayer are “lectio divina” (meditative reading) the Jesus Prayer and centering prayer.

These, as well as other forms of contemplative prayer, have in common a focused attention on a word or phrase leading to a state of inflamed love or peace. When at peace, one is at rest in God with loving attention. That is the state of contemplation.

When practicing in this way, thoughts will come. When the thoughts are noticed, go back to the simple word or phrase and let it lead you back to the inner silence. As you become empty, God fills you. St. John of the Cross teaches that, as you rest in God with loving attention, you are transformed in God. God draws you inwardly into himself, and the Holy Spirit guides you outwardly to acts of virtue and charity to all.

Suggestions

• If you want to commit to this in your life, you need to do it daily.

• In the beginning, set aside a time of day to do it, but don’t set a time limit. It may be long or short. Let it develop naturally.

• A good book about contemplative prayer is “John of the Cross: Doctor of Light and Love,” by Kieran Cavanaugh.

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