Archive for Meditation

Remembering a mother of peace: Lidia Grilliot

By Megan Hope

On May 1, we lost a great mother of peace: Lidia Grilliot.

I knew Lidia best in the context of her family, as the mother of Marvin and Charlie and the constant companion of her husband, Joe. I don’t think I ever saw her alone. Many knew her far better and longer than I. But her singular effect on me, while only a tiny fraction of the transformative love she practiced during her life, suggests the enormity of her legacy.

I met Marvin in a class on the Politics of Religion in Latin America at KU in the fall of 1998. He brought personal experience to the course topic–his parents met in Chile, Lidia’s homeland, where Joe served for a time as a priest during tumultuous times for the Church in Latin America. Marv and I began came fast friends and spent hours together reviving the Latin American Solidarity student group.

That October, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London on a warrant from Spain requesting his extradition on murder charges. Latin American Solidarity hosted a rice and beans dinner on campus to discuss the development. Lidia and Joe brought their dear friends, Marcos and Alicia Cruz, who described how they were tortured under Pinochet’s regime. It was a dark, disturbing evening, especially given the uncertainty about whether Pinochet would ever be tried. But looking across at Lidia and Joe was comforting. They were our examples of the unflagging friendship and stubborn hope solidarity is made of.

How good it was when they came to other rice and beans dinners, too–not just because of their connections and commitment to Latin America, but because they were parents. My own mom and dad lived six hours away in western Kansas, and were too busy with their own meetings to make a long drive to come to mine. This, and their rather unusual oldness (they were 48 and 49 when I was born), propelled my search as a young adult for satellite parents–not full-time nurturers, but just some representation of parental love and safety. Lidia and Joe were ready satellites.

On September 12, 2001, I stood next to them at a peace vigil by the JC Nichols fountain. I’d come confused and rather ashamed of my lack of anger about the events of the day before, and wasn’t prepared for the vitriol of the drivers passing us. I ruptured into tears. Lidia and Joe encircled me with the compassion and calm of veterans who’d seen it all before. Joe said that even when he was a schoolboy and someone picked a fight with him, he couldn’t bring himself to hit back. Their courage gave me courage to persist in an unpopular resistance.

Lidia made a home that was open to everyone. One long weekend, when I was helping some Peruvian friends new to Kansas City deal with car problems and apartment searching, we ended up at a supper party on the Grilliots’ back porch, overlooking their verdant garden. Lidia fed us well, and Joe later helped my friends find a mechanic. Years later, Carolina and Tito still talk about the kindness of “Lidia y José.”

The Grilliot house is on the way to my sister’s place in Roeland Park. For several years when my sister very ill and needed rides to and from the hospital, we might drive by their home several times a day. Just seeing the paz sign in the front yard, Joe’s cart of aluminum cans in the driveway, or Lidia sitting in the living room at night–signs of parents when our own couldn’t be with us–brought us solace.

At 84, my mother is still surprisingly strong and industrious. Only recently did she stop writing the newspaper column she’d churned out for 55 years. Increasingly, though, her mind is clouded by the effects of chemotherapy, old age, and an impossible jumble of memories, including of six children born in four different decades. She is still here, but many parts of her have slipped away.

I often think about my mom while lying in the dark at night. I remember nights when I was little, worried about falling asleep or not, afraid of bad dreams or school or the future. But always I could see a slant of light shining in, the light from the living room where my mom was reading, only a few seconds’ walk to my room. Somehow I’ve never outgrown the desire, at least once in a while, to call out for her.

These nights I think of Lidia, too, and the light she provided in a room down the hall–for me, my sister, my Peruvian friends, and so many others–when our sources of safety and consolation were far away or fading. Women like Lidia explain the power of the world’s many images of Mary. They explain why Mexican migrants travel with crumpled cards of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their pockets, and Vietnamese seek comfort and healing before Our Lady of La Vang. We need not one mother, but multiple ones, to sit near us and visit us in the darkness.

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Seeking meaning in an unjust world

NOTE: Last month, a Jackson County jury found a motorist not guilty of two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Larry Gaunt, 59, and Sierra Gaunt, 14, who were hit by a the driver’s truck while biking near Longview Lake. For more information about the case, go here.

The jury’s decision left many cyclists angry and distraught for what was a perceived injustice. One of those cyclists wrote to fellow cyclist Ed Chasteen, one of the city’s most notable peace activists.

“Ed, while I believe that there is way too much hate in the world and I do my best not to add anymore, the truly personal nature of the Gaunt’s case and the seemingly obvious fault on the drivers behalf leaves me stunned with a verdict such as this. I know that [the accused] has probably suffered plenty and is probably a good person. But I’m left feeling angry and yes a little hateful toward the jury members and court system. I guess this too will pass but in the mean time my thoughts turn toward you and I wonder if you could help me understand how to turn the other cheek.”

Ed’s Response

I was angry and sad at the verdict. How the jury could render a not guilty verdict baffles me. I feel less safe out on my bike now. I ask myself what I should do. The one thing I cannot do is quit riding. Another thing I cannot do is let myself become bitter and hateful. One of my dear friends, Bronia Roslowowski, survived the Holocaust. She was beaten and starved and almost killed. All in her family were killed. For years I have taken my students to visit her. We always ask, “Bronia, do you hate anyone?” “No.” She says. “Not even Nazis?” We ask. “No.” She says. “Why not?” We ask. “Hate kills you first,” she says.

Victor Frankl survived the Holocaust and felt guilty. Why had he survived when his friends and family had not? Out of his struggle to understand this, he wrote a book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a psychiatrist. Because of his experiences in the Holocaust, he contends that the purpose of life is to make it have meaning. Meaning is not out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. Meaning comes from within us. We live in an unjust and capricious world over which we have little control. The only control we have is how we respond. The world that lies behind our eyes, beneath our skull, above our chin and between our ears is really the only world there is. How we let the outside world inside and what we make of that raw material determines what kind of life we lead and how others respond to us.

Gandhi is one of my life models. In his book, My Experiments with Truth, he says, “In so far as possible, I try to agree with my adversaries.” As I read the morning paper about the not guilty verdict, I thought of Gandhi and found myself trying to imagine how those jurors could find the driver who killed two people not guilty. These were 12 ordinary people, struggling to do what was right as they understood the law. They must have been conflicted and confused. But our system of justice demanded that they make a decision. How will that decision impact the rest of their lives? They will be questioned by friends and family, the curious and the angry. I feel sympathy for them. And I wonder what I would have decided had I heard what they heard inside that courtroom.

I feel sympathy for the family of those who were killed. I can understand their anger. What meaning can be made out of two senseless deaths, I do not know. How long it will take I do not know. As I’m writing these words, my mind turns to Nelson Mandela. For 27 years he was a political prisoner in South Africa. When he was finally released, he was elected President of South Africa. He then selected some of those who had imprisoned him to help him govern the country. Long Road To Freedom is the title of Mandela’s book. No one thought Mandela could forgive his jailers and give them a place in his government. But because he did, he avoided civil war and brought to himself a moral authority greater than any living person in our world.

All of us who love biking and want to be taken seriously and treated fairly have a long road ahead as we try to help our fellow citizens understand us and accept us as equals on the road and in a court of law. Knowing Bronia, Frankl, Mandela and Gandhi help me find my way. Perhaps they might help you. I hope so.

Only when terrible things happen to us and around us do we have opportunity to discover what kinds of persons we truly are. Now is such a time. Who will we be? What meaning can we make? Will we draw people to us and our cause by the way we respond?

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Resurrection: A new life for Brad Grabs

By Brad Grabs

“So, are you OK with death and resurrection?” asked Fr. Ed. I looked down at the table between us. I took a drink of my iced tea. Then, I glanced up at him. “Well, I love the idea of resurrection. It’s the death thing that I have a hard time with.”

Months ago, I shared lunch with my friend, Fr. Ed Hays, as I explained to him my plans to move on from Shalom Catholic Worker House, a homeless shelter for men, after 10 years of living and working there as a volunteer. Though I felt fairly certain that I was being called to leave, I still dreaded the thought of leaving behind my life in the community that had been my home for most of my adult life.

My decision to leave Shalom House was affirmed by Miro, our young volunteer from Germany. Knowing that I was struggling with my decision, Miro made this observation: “Shalom House is a place where people go for help to become a better person. Maybe Shalom House has helped you all that it can.” The more I reflected on his words, the more I recognized the wisdom in this statement.

During the past 10 years, I have grown and changed in ways I would never have imagined. I have been shaped and formed by extraordinary experiences and countless good people. Shalom House has truly helped me to become a better person, and has taught me invaluable lessons.

Struggling to be patient and charitable to Alvin, a homeless man who is bitter and abrasive, has taught me a bit about unconditional love, and how truly difficult it can be.

Sitting through the horrific murder trial of a former guest, whom I consider my friend, has taught me a lot about the complexity of each human being.

Assisting an undocumented guest in court to sue a crooked slumlord has taught me a lot about vulnerability, and about greed.

Watching our teenage neighbor wither and die in our street after being shot by the police has taught me a lot about power and control. Seeing what his family went through afterwards taught me about the lack of it.

Seeing the cruel rejection faced by a guest who told his mother that he had AIDS taught me how incredibly blessed I am to have been born to compassionate and loving parents.

Treating cuts and bruises of undocumented immigrants who just jumped off of the freight train after a harrowing journey across the border has taught me how devastating some laws are, and how real their consequences.

Standing on street corners in protest against injustices of many kinds has taught me that there is value in resistance, even if it has little apparent effect.

Accepting monthly donations of $10 from a poor widow who wants to participate in our ministry has taught me a lot about providence and generosity.

And living in community with people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities and disabilities, ages, strengths and weaknesses, has taught me much about the beauty and wonder of our Creator.

Clearly, living at Shalom House has taught me a great deal and made me a better person. Moving on from Shalom House after 10 years truly felt like a death in many ways. It was not easy and not without pain and regrets. But as Fr. Ed Hays reminded me at lunch that day last spring, if one wants to experience resurrection, one must endure death.

I have been gone from Shalom House for over a month now, and the feeling of death is still present. Even so, I am slowly seeing evidence of resurrection in my new life. I live in a house near Shalom and continue directing a neighborhood learning program for inner city kids and operating a small tree care business. Every day, I see new opportunities to apply the lessons that I have learned over the past 10 years to other areas of my life. And I see resurrection slowly emerging in unexpected ways in my life after Shalom.


Shalom Catholic Worker House continues its 26 year old ministry of providing breakfast, dinner, and a safe place to sleep and call home to 20 homeless men in Kansas City, Kansas. The current live-in community of volunteers, Dawn Willenborg, Pedro Olvera, Miro Heyink, Rusty Bailey, and summer intern Matt Lynch continues the day-to-day operation of the house. More volunteers, especially live-in volunteer staff, are needed. With human resources stretched thin, Catholic Charities of KCK has offered to hire someone to assist with house operations and case management. It is everyone’s wish that Shalom House, which is the only men’s homeless shelter in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties, could continue to be run by volunteers. But it appears that keeping Shalom House operating to its full capacity will necessitate a change in operating structure, perhaps with a hired staff.

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Finding peace in the meal

By Ryann Kuykendall

Where and how do you find peace?  This is something I want to ask the people I admire.  I want to sit down with them and really be able to listen and learn from them.  Of course this is not the easiest task because the people I admire are involved in many activities and also mainly because it may appear odd to suddenly say to them, “So how do you live such a purpose-filled life?”

This topic intrigues me much more lately and because tracking down my harmonious heroes to list all they know may not happen any time soon, I have taken the initiative to try and figure out some of the questions I have.  In particular the practice of Zen interests me the most.  To follow up on my curiosity, I have read many peace-themed books with mild success.  My first attempt was “Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”  I have to tell you, I spent most of my time rereading passages about metaphysics.  Other books like “The Three Pillars of Zen” and “The Religion of India” offered guidance, but not in a way that applied directly to my current stage in life.  It wasn’t until I watched the documentary “How to Cook Your Life” that a simple but new way of thinking suddenly made sense.

The documentary focused on mindfulness when cooking and eating and the idea of treating food as if it were your eyesight.  As a wife and mother, this resonated deeply to me. Far too often I find it easier to pour the meal out of a box without much thought at all to who packaged the food or where the food came from.  This is disappointing because I have seen first hand what life is like for the many migrant farm workers and factory workers who in essence did the work for me.  Most importantly I rarely gave thought of the intention to the meal.   When shopping I sometimes think, “I don’t feel like cooking tonight.” So I get a meal that some stranger prepared at the deli or I cook a meal I could make in the dark.  No thought.  No intention.  My concern has always been to provide my family with a hot meal that will provide the right nutrition.

Cooking was a chore to me.  However for the first time in a long time, I am excited about putting joy into my cooking.  Preparing a wonderful meal that has a clear intention I hope will bring more peace to our home. I also hope we will slow down at meals to be present when enjoying the textures, flavors and aromas.

My family and I pray before meals to give God thanks.  I like to think we are at least one step closer to beginning mindfulness when cooking and eating together.  Usually we pray the traditional Catholic prayer: Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.  However not too long ago I heard about a prayer that our friends the Kriege family sometimes prays.  I am thankful for the joy it brought to our table and highly recommend the prayer to anyone.  The following prayer is sung to the tune of the Superman theme song.

(Raise one arm) Thank you God for giving us food
(Raise the other arm)  Thank you God for giving us friends
(Keep arms raised and move as if flying) For the food that we eat
For the friends that we meet
Thank you God for giving us food

Other times they will sing the Alleluia while clapping. I love making prayer and meals a time of smiling and being together.  When talking to the family about the prayer, the mom and wife, Teri told me that her brother-in-law’s family deserves credit and that they are always thinking up new prayers to sing.  “How to Cook Your Life” and all my Zen books don’t mention making up happy songs during meals, but at our table we certainly sing prayers and sometimes we just sing.

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On loss and tiny blessings

By Ryann Kuykendall

This April my husband I found out that I was pregnant.  Twenty one days later our doctor told us that our baby’s heart stopped.  Our baby was due December 15, 2008.  For days I debated with myself if it was right to share my story of joy and loss.  Because many others mourn loved ones and maybe someone reading this will find comfort I decided that it was right.

The second I knew I was pregnant, I fell in love and became a different person.  The wonder and awe filled my every thought and move.  Even house spiders became almost sacred to me. Because she might be pregnant, I couldn’t throw the spider outside.  All life took on a new perspective.  Now I see the grace in death.

Each person grieves differently.  In graduate school, Jessica, my best friend worked at Solace House on State Line Road as a grief counselor.  Jessica felt called to because her brother died when she was 18 years old.  The first time I visited her, I sat on a couch waiting for her and silently watched heartbroken people come to her for answers or comfort.  I asked her what she told people and she told me that she would wait to see how they dealt with their loss.   Sometimes she would cry with them and sometimes not.  The one thing she did know was that each person handled loss differently.  The wonderful example of Jessica finding strength and beauty in the death of her brother is a testimony to her faith.    She gave others a place to rest their spirits.  Her example of grieving while giving thanks is one of my greatest inspirations.

The spider I couldn’t bring myself to throw outside rests in the corner of the stairway to our basement.  The washing machine and dryer are in the basement so I pass that little brown spider many times a week.  I was right not to throw the spider out because she is pregnant.  Childish as it may seem, I smile when I pass her and her swollen belly.

That is what has gotten me through these last few weeks, finding beauty.  Friends and family say prayers for us and send cards to let us know they are there for us.  My purple irises and pink peonies are almost in bloom. The oak trees in front of my house make a lush green canopy.  I can feel love of God in all of these things.  My life blossomed right along with my flowers and trees this April.

No one thing or prayer can heal the pain my family and I feel.   God never promised us happiness through a child.  Before the loss of the baby, I never understood how others found peace that some day in Heaven loved ones will be rejoined.  However, knowing that one day will I be able to hold my child, there is a tremendous comfort. Despite my loss, the blessing of my short time with my child was my greatest gift.

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Entropy and peace

By Mary Patterson

If you listen closely between KCUR and KLJC you can hear it. In the faint static you can hear the beginnings of time. 13.7 billion years ago the matter of the entire universe was tightly packed into the space of an atom. Then in a singular titanic event a burst of energy exploded the universe outwards at millions of miles per hour. This burst of energy is what we can still hear echoing about space as static on the FM.

The Big Bang* began what Stephen Hawking calls “the arrow of time.” In this grand universe the direction of time can be determined by an increase in entropy. Entropy is randomness or chaos. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that everything in our cosmos becomes more chaotic by the minute. As the universe expands, chaos increases. Actually, everything in our lives becomes more chaotic by the minute, unless there is an input of energy into the system. In the universe chaos is inevitable, but, in our civilized world, chaos can be reversed with planning and energy.

Oh, how hard I work to clean my daughter’s room before a sleepover! Yet, 5 minutes after the girls arrive all is chaos again. It takes a morning to restore order. In one motion a toddler dumps legos (a definite increase in entropy) and we must input energy restoring the legos to their bucket. The direction of time can easily be determined by following the increase in entropy. It takes planning and energy to build a beautiful sand castle. The direction of natural time can be deduced by watching if the sand castle is being swept away by the tide or if it is miraculously becoming more complex and beautiful when left alone. If we watched a movie of the sand castle becoming more complex and beautiful, we would suspect that the movie is playing in reverse.

Peace is a decrease in entropy, it is ordered living in the absence of physical conflict. Peace is working against the increasing chaos of the cosmos. Leave 5 toddlers alone in a room full of toys to witness that peace is not the natural course. It took two years of careful planning to devise the Marshall Plan for the rebuilding of Germany. Planes flew into Berlin day and night like clockwork. After World War II tremendous efforts were made to secure peace in Europe (the creation of the Euro still amazes me). Careful planning and effort has succeeded in preventing European war for the past 60 years. This has not come easily or without heated debate.

While the Marshall Plan took 2 years to devise, we only spent 60 days planning the reconstruction of Iraq. There seemed to be some magical thinking that Iraq would not obey the laws of entropy, that democracy, electricity, clean water, and security would fall into place, as if a bucket of legos ceremoniously dumped would arrange themselves into a castle upon hitting the floor. The chaos that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein will take years to restore. Many Iraqis believe it will be 10-30 years before their country is livable again.

War is an increase in chaos. It takes relatively little planning to bomb a city, to destroy buildings, or to destroy infrastructure. What we are seeing in Iraq is an ever increasing wildness and the breakdown of carefully constructed barriers to ethnic hatred. To reverse this breakdown and bring peace will take tremendous effort and intelligent planning. At this moment, our military leaders are laying down the tracks to yet another US-led war. After World War II it would have been unthinkable to even propose the idea of war. Yet, here we are a mere few years after 2 major military conflicts and it seems chaos has flooded the Pentagon into an oblivion of endless wars.

The Iraq conflict has been in motion for 6 years now. Peacelovers in Kansas City have been faithfully speaking, writing and standing in the cold as a witness to peace. My point is this- we cannot give up now. Peace is going upstream. It will take the daily effort of thousands to prevent yet another war. It will take our voices holding the government accountable for Iraqi children who need water, electricity, and healthcare. It will take emails and letters demanding aid for Iraqi refugees here in the U.S.

How badly do we want peace? Do we believe that a peaceful civilized world is possible? The New York Philharmonic played in North Korea, a testament that peace efforts can have beautiful results. Let’s take a deep breath, and continue the work of peace. It may feel like walking upstream, or picking up those legos again and again, but, it is worth it. If one child is saved the horrors of war, if one family remains together because of our efforts, then we won’t mind building the sand castle again.

Which direction is this video going?

* The Big Bang theory was first proposed by a Catholic Priest. Russian scientists initially rejected it, claiming it was too creationist. The Vatican embraced it, and the American scientific community doubted it, until the evidence supporting it became overwhelming. Even Albert Einstein did not believe it until later in his life.

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Breakfast with Meister Eckhart

By Michael Humphrey

“God waits on human history
and suffers as she waits.”

– Meister Eckhart

Over the past six months, my wife and I have spent our breakfast time with Meister Eckhart (1260-1328). Perhaps it’s strange to start your day with a 14th century German mystic and theologian once condemned by the Church for heresy, but I can tell you it beats the morning news.

Eckhart’s ideas do not come in easily digestible bites. His sermons are thick and wondrous, his defenses during his inquisition are reasoned and intricate. But in the early 1980s, Dominican Father Matthew Fox compiled a concise and beautifully translated book entitled, “Meditations with Meister Eckhart.” (Bear & Company, Santa Fe). That has provided the inlet to a system of thought that really does make each day seem more meaningful and manageable all at the same time.

Lately the concept of justice has been served with oatmeal and tea. For instance, last week we read:

“People ought to think less about what they should do
and more about what they are.
For when people and their ways are good,
then their works shine forth brightly.
If you are just,
then your works are also just.
Works do not sanctify us — but
we are to sanctify our works.
Holiness is based on being, not on a single action.
If you wish to explore the goodness of action,
explore first the nature of the ground of the works.”

This was a striking pronouncement to me, even though everything we read from Eckhart was leading to this point. His spiritual direction is known as the four-fold path –

1) Creation

2) Letting Go and Letting Be

3) Breakthrough and Birth of Self as Child of God

4) The New Creation: Compassion and Social Justice.

“Eckhard insists in very strong language,” Fox writes in the introduction, “that our spiritual life is not ended with creativity but rather we are to employ creativity for the sake of personal and social transformation.”

This thought is not new. It is steeped in the lessons of the Hebrew Scriptures, the life of Christ, the letters of Paul and in many doctors of the Church. But what Eckhart has to offer is a path that leads to justice, not one where justice leads to the path.

That is an important distinction, because it assumes the interconnectedness of all living things with God, in God. Seeing this creation as dynamic and joyful, washing the mind of all attachment to our own concepts, then re-finding the path with pure eyes – this leads to a new vision of justice. It sounds like it will take too long, but God waits patiently, and perhaps, so should we.

So specifically, the path looks like this:

1) Creation: “We ought to understand God equally in all things, for God is equally in all things. All beings love one another. All creatures are interdependent.”

2) Letting Go: “Outside of God, there is nothing but nothing. … I pray God to rid me of God.”

3) Breakthrough: “In my flowing-out I entered creation, in my Breakthrough I re-enter God. Only those who have dared to let go can dare to re-enter.”

4) The New Creation: “Compassion means justice. And compassion is just to the extent that it gives to each person what is his or hers.”

These are angry times. It is natural to feel overwhelmed by the powerful forces that seem intent on undermining basic structure that would create a peaceful world. And perhaps the frustration is easiest to apply to our own country, because we understand the ideals of democracy. We understand the standard by which our nation’s rhetoric is severely belied by sanctioning pre-meditated war, torture, degradation of civil liberties and reactionary mistrust for the very heart of who we are as a people – immigrants.

The truth is Meister Eckhart’s time was no more ennobling. A growing fear of heresy was making the Church suspicious and soon the Spanish Inquisition would be unleashed. The Church, ostensibly established on the rather clear principles of peacemaking that Christ implored, was in fact fractured and warring amongst itself. These were hard times to avoid outrage as well.

And yet Eckhart says all action for justice must come from within an inner integrity, from a spring of love and compassion created by union with God. And in union with God, we enter union with all beings. Including those who would choose war over peace, profits over people, struggle over compromise.

If we can’t act in love and compassion, Eckhart says, we can’t act. Then again, when working in love and compassion, no greater action is demanded of you than to be fully present in that grace and do what is before you.

“A person works in a stable.
That person has a Breakthrough.
What does he do?
He returns to work in the stable.”

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