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C21 Director’s Children’s Book to Come Out Next Month

In a Stop & Shop in Natick, Mass., not far from Boston College, Karen Kiefer, BC ’82 and director of the Church in the 21st Century Center (C21), found herself mindlessly perusing the aisles. Glancing over the options, she happened to overhear two kids talking.

“My mother said that you shouldn’t talk about God at school because it makes people feel uncomfortable,” one of the kids said to the other. 

“And at that moment, I thought, ‘[How] have we gotten here?’” Kiefer said. “We’ve gotten to the point where talking about God at school for little kids makes people feel uncomfortable, or they’re getting that message.”

Calling herself the “accidental author,” Kiefer supposed the idea to write her book Drawing God fell down from the sky. She had never intended to write a children’s book, but once the idea was in her mind, she couldn’t escape it.

Kiefer started her C21 career in 2008. She rose from assistant director to associate director, and in June 2018, she was named director. First and foremost, she explained, C21 strives to be a catalyst and resource for the renewal of the Catholic Church. 

Kiefer’s bright disposition is contagious, so it’s no surprise that she believes the most important part of renewal is talking to one another. She’s proud of all the options C21 offers, including Agape Latte; C21 Resources, a semiannual magazine with an impressive 185,000 subscribers; and Faith Feeds, a program that gives hungry individuals an opportunity to talk with others about their faith over a meal.

Drawing God, set to be released on Oct. 8, tells the story of a young girl, Emma, who, after visiting an art museum, sets out to draw God. After many of her classmates tell her that her art isn’t actually God, Emma accepts that only she and God know that she drew God—until her classmates do something that surprises her. 

Kiefer’s story is intertwined with illustrations by Kathy De Wit, a Belgian artist. De Wit’s illustrations, which transition from a vibrant sun, to warm chocolate-toned loaves of bread, to a piercing red heart—as seen on the cover—illuminate the pages of the book.

Kiefer is the personification of Dewit’s luminous drawings—animated as she talks, she lights up a room. Her confidence and pride in her work are apparent as she speaks about the goals she has in mind for Drawing God. Though Kiefer said the inspiration for the book was seemingly random, her hard work brought it to be the final product that it is today.

After writing up the manuscript, Kiefer reached out to Susanna Leanord Hill, an award-winning children’s book author, in the hopes that she would review the manuscript.

“After a couple of tweaks and recommendations… she said, ‘I think you’ve got yourself a book,’” Kiefer said. “So that [gave me] confidence, and I felt like I could show it to someone else.”

So Kiefer sent the manuscript to a couple of Chirstian publishers. Jon Sweeney of Paraclete Press reached out to her shortly after, saying he called an emergency editorial board meeting to decide whether they wanted to fast-track the book toward publication. The decision to publish Drawing God was unanimous.

“I thought, ‘Wow, if this could get out there in the world, this could really start some wonderful conversations about God, with children and with adults,’” Kiefer said, reflecting on her feelings after receiving the news from Sweeney.

Similar to how she runs C21, Kiefer has kept in mind that her most important goal while Drawing God comes to fruition is creating conversations about God and faith. Kiefer said she not only hopes that the book will inspire children to think about their relationship with God, but that it will inspire teachers, parents, grandparents, and mentors to take the message they find within the book and share it with the younger people in their lives.

Emma, the main character, is based on one of Kiefer’s daughters, Emma Kiefer, BC ’20. As a self-described quirky kid, Emma marched to the beat of her own drum. She said she believes the message of talking about faith that her mom is trying to get across through Drawing God is incredibly important.

“I think the story of the book is that even if you choose not to draw God, in a metaphorical sense, you can still ask yourself the question of whether you want to or not and understand why,” Emma said.

And Kiefer hasn’t just stopped at writing her book. World Drawing God Day will be taking place on Nov. 7, a month after Drawing God is set to be released. Created by Kiefer and promoted through various social media outlets and the book’s website, it will be a day on which everyone draws their own depiction of God. Kiefer, who has created a hashtag for people to use when posting pictures of their drawings, said she hopes the variety of different ways people portray their God will remind people that God is different in everyone’s eyes.

“I think we all are comforted by community, and knowing that we’re doing something with someone else, and the whole idea of participating in something with your friends, or family members or classmates, and also with perfect strangers,” Kiefer said.

Kiefer is hopeful that the hashtags will start flowing on Nov. 7 and that World Drawing God Day will be an annual event.

Kiefer and her four daughters all either attended or are currently attending BC. Kiefer’s youngest daughter just started freshman year. Kiefer’s deep ties to the college make her feel incredibly grateful to be working on campus, she said, and she incorporates her faith into the Jesuit ideals BC promotes.

Similar to how BC pushes students to give their education to others, Kiefer encourages people to share their faith. She believes that her faith isn’t truly hers until she shares it with others. That same mindset is applied to her book, which she believes doesn’t really belong to her—instead, it’s an opportunity to share the story with others.

“I really believe with all my heart … that the people who read this book can change the way we think about God,” she said. “[They can change] the way we talk about God, which is a beautiful grace.”

Featured Image by Jack Miller / Heights Editor

September 23, 2019