I often tell my Creighton friends that if I had time to take extra majors beyond my double-major in journalism and theology, I would probably tack on a psychology major, along with justice and society, English, and social work. I’m kind of a dork.
The beauty of my theology major is that it gave me the chance to incorporate the things I love about the justice and society and social work majors into my course repertoire. I could take theology classes that emphasized Catholic Social Teaching or the application of spirituality into ministry work.
One such class like this was Dr. Bergman’s Christian Ethics of War and Peace class, which conveniently overlapped with both the theology and justice and peace studies majors. Perfect.
Dr. Bergman began the Justice and Peace Studies program in 1995. Because he dedicated his professional life to teaching students how to work for social justice in their communities and the world, and because of my interest in continuing with some kind of social justice work beyond Creighton, I decided Dr. Bergman would be a good person to ask for words of wisdom.
I walked into Dr. Bergman’s office out of breath after climbing the four flights of stairs in Creighton Hall at record pace (I was running late after leaving the CCSJ later than I expected). If he noticed, he didn’t say anything, but simply greeted me with a friendly smile and asked the question all seniors love and hate to answer: “What are you doing after graduation?”
After catching up for a few minutes, I expected Dr. Bergman to dive into his words of wisdom with something profoundly social-justice oriented. I was surprised when, instead, he started talking about the Ignatian Examen.
“Pay attention to your deepest promptings, your deepest desires,” Bergman said. “If you can get to that truth about yourself then that’s ninety percent of the battle. It’s a vocational question: Who are you in the world?”
When I asked Dr. Bergman how we can keep up this practice of reflection in the midst of pressures to be practical, to have everything figured out and be focused on being successful (not bad things, but they can be if they consume us), he pointed to the Examen. The Examen is a Jesuit mode of reflective praying through your day.
“I’m a big fan of the Examen as a way to look at where your spirit was in the day and how it met other people’s spirits, it’s a way to look at highs and lows,” Bergman said. “You find the one time/moment of the day when it seemed like something happened and you think about why it stands out to you, why it’s significant.”
Bergman pointed to Fr. Dennis Hamm, S.J.’s article “Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day” as an example of a good way to approach the Examen.
Having done the Examen for many years, Bergman believes that if you reflect and pray with it consistently over time, you can start to see patterns developing, patterns that tell you who you are and where you’re headed. Bergman emphasized the way the Examen can lead to greater self-knowledge and awareness of what it is we are truly called to do with our lives, and the importance of realizing this first before looking at logistical questions of careers.
“Once you’re centered in that discernment, you can move on to the practical stuff and it doesn’t seem so stressful,” Bergman said. “It doesn’t happen all at at once. Sometimes you have to tell those who are pressuring you to make practical decisions to give you a break.”
Along with promoting greater self-awareness and discernment, the Examen can also help you carry an attitude of attentiveness throughout the day and can even lead to praxis-focused reflection, Bergman explained.
Praxis is the act of reflecting on hard social injustices, asking questions about them and then acting on the energy those questions raise. In the CCSJ, we do this by asking “What?” “So what?” “Now what?” What is the issue I’ve just encountered? Why does it matter? What am I going to do about it now that I care about it?
“Without this kind of deeper reflection that the Examen creates, action might not be as well-grounded,” Bergman said about the intersection of the Examen and Praxis.
“I would to say to students, especially, that it’s not about what you do tomorrow or next week, it’s about what you do for a lifetime,” Bergman said. “It’s about forming yourself by the things you participate in.”
For those specifically interested in pursuing social justice work as a vocation, Bergman had a couple of quotes to share:
1) When sharing the story of a friend who lost her house for resisting taxes as a form of social disobedience to promote peace, Bergman passed along a phrase she still lives by: “Be of good cheer. It’s better than being bitter and resentful.”
2) Along with this, Bergman shared a favorite Wendell Berry quote that speaks to staying positive in a world where so much work is needed: “Be cheerful, although you have considered all the facts.”
Finally, Bergman encouraged social justice workers to surround themselves with people of like commitments and goals.
“If [social justice work] becomes who who you are, than you can’t not do it,” Bergman said.
Bergman shared a quote with me from one of his former students, Holly Fuller (CU grad, ’03), that I think is appropriate to end with:
“It’s hard to be in solidarity with the poor but I can’t imagine not trying. If I don’t try then I am failing myself.”
Fun facts: Dr. Bergman has been a professor at Creighton for 25 years. If he could have one superpower of choice it would be that his knees were good enough to play basketball again.
Words of Wisdom is a blog series started by Student Coordinator Anna Ferguson, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. Each blog is an interview that poses the question to various faculty, staff, Jesuits and friends: If you had to give words of wisdom to someone, or if there was one phrase or sentence you think people should live by, would would that be?
The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.