November 28, 2013

A Prayer of Generosity

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a lovely time with your friends and families. Today is a wonderful time to reflect on everything we have. 

I personally think that when you realize how blessed and gifted you are, you become inspired to share your blessings with all the people around you. So for this Thanksgiving, I wanted to share this short prayer of generosity from St. Ignatius Loyola:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to look for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I am doing your will.

Have a wonderful evening!
-Riley XO

November 25, 2013

The Examen

Good morning! This post is based on a chapter about the Jesuit Examen from the book A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin. It's a very thought-provoking book that I would encourage you to pick up sometime.

The Examen is a meditation that can be done by Christians and non-Christians alike, but please note that since I did this exercise based on my own perspective (which is a Christian one). However, if you want to try the Examen and are not actively "seeking God," the option is always available too.

With that said, here is a brief reflection on the Examen: talking a little bit about what it is, and how it was beneficial to me. I hope that it will encourage you to also try it for a while and that it will help you find a heightened capacity for gratitude, love, and growth. (What better time to start the process than during the hectic holiday season?) Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!
-Riley XO


Ever since about sophomore year of high school, time became an integral part of surviving the day. School, practice, and lessons begin and end at these specific times; I need to sleep for a certain amount of time; this specific time should be set aside in order to work on a project. Time is necessary for planning a schedule, and schedules are in turn necessary for fitting in everything that needs to be accomplished in the day or week. Juggling the many aspects of life is a struggle for many people, who despite having improved technology find it harder to balance work, play, family, and friends. I for one could not make it without a weekly planner--imagine how many more assets I would have to keep track of in the future when work, and a larger family or friend group are added to the list. When people get in a perpetual cycle of plan, execute, plan, repeat, there comes a problem because soon life loses its spontaneity and therefore vibrancy and wonder as well. How does one preserve the treasures found day to day when life soon becomes reduced to a list of tasks to check off? Well, although it is impossible for us to stop time, it is possible to remove ourselves from time, to stop the perpetual cycle, take a break, and reflect on the magic of daily life that cannot be reflected in a schedule. There are several ways to remove oneself from time, such as through meditation, journaling, or prayer. The Examen is a specific type of daily prayer that allows someone to intrinsically pause time, reflect, and improve his/her mind and spirit; it is therefore encouraged.

 "In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius includes a prayer designed to enable believers to find God in their lives" (87). In a life where events, jokes, food, and friends are so tangible, it is easy to lose sight of the supernatural, which, while present, is not always completely in the forefront. The Examen is a prayer or meditation for Christians to realize the presence of God, to help strengthen the definition of an abstract deity. It is done in five steps: gratitude, daily review, sorrow, forgiveness, and grace (97).

Taking these steps allows a person to realize that God is indeed with him/her every day. After I began doing the Examen, I began to take note of the little blessings that had been dismissed before: the warmth of the sun, smiling at other people and seeing them smile back, the little squirrels prancing around campus... Each of these, although a small gesture, creature, or something that is always there, is a creation of God. This reflection has deepened my sense of gratitude for what I have been blessed with. Not just the little things, but especially for friendships, new and old, for attending a wonderful university, for staying in touch with my family, for the opportunities to be involved, and for knowing that I have plenty of food to eat and the chance to exercise. Being aware of these blessings have instilled a sense of contentment with my situation here at Creighton University, which has helped me remove myself from my schedule. Now, while walking to class, I am more aware of what is going on around me instead of being focused on reaching my destination.

Reviewing my day is also extremely helpful because it leads me to realize that my life isn't about finishing these tasks and sitting through hours of meetings. It emphasizes the fact that life is a story. There are highs and lows that make each day unique, therefore significant. It has certainly been beneficial to renew the feelings that I experienced throughout the day and has also made me more aware of others' various perspectives. Experiences play a big part of shaping who we are, and we have the power to influence what is occurring around us, so being aware of what happens each day, along with how certain events precipitated and some of the repercussions that may have arisen as a result, is important to becoming an individual graced with self-awareness.

Sorrow and forgiveness are two elements of the Examen that were more challenging for me. I guess that I have been aware for a while that my primary character faults are impatience and pride or stubbornness. Being reminded of these have helped me develop humility and understanding for others. I realize that my frustration does not help difficult situations, and am not starting to develop more patience and a calmer attitude, channeling the intense nature that comes from within to do something that is productive and good. While recognizing my sins and being able to ask for forgiveness is constructive, it is also slightly frustrating because there is a desire to improve daily, and can at times be difficult to remember that change is a process, and bad habits cannot be eradicated immediately.

Asking for grace for the next day, on the other hand, is a calming experience because it reminds me to live in the present; it also really helped me learn to calm down and enjoy what God has given me now, turning away from any worries of the future. So although I plan and make to-do lists, which are goal and long-term oriented, I have started focusing on what I can currently do to study and prepare, as opposed to fretting over how much a future test will cost. The Examen is a beneficial prayer because it is a removal from the grueling schedule of daily life. It reestablishes what should be valued in life, and stirs an appreciation for creation, love, and morality. It is certainly a positive tool for spirituality and can be used to add flavor and enjoyment. It has helped me refocus my attention on God in the midst of a busy college life and is a commemoration of each day. Martin was right in saying that it is possible to "look back" to find God (98).

November 20, 2013

My Actual November (So Far)

Hey guys. So there is a certain flow to life, and sometimes the flow takes you to a different place than you'd probably expect. This November, I was planning to have more alone time writing a novel and making videos. However, life had its own ideas for me.

The major thing that happened was that I became the vice president of the residence hall council here. Since I'm responsible for keeping track of what happens in meetings and watching the budget, I now have to attend  three meetings a week and spend more time planning fun events for the hall. It is definitely a job that I enjoy, but it also makes it difficult to write a novel because the meetings essentially consumes the time that I had originally allotted for writing and making videos.

Two other changes occurred: 1) I joined a peer educators program that basically is about promoting healthy lifestyles on campus, and 2) my friend and I started a tae kwon do club for the campus. I'm really passionate about these new activities because they involve helping the people around me, and sharing the confidence, strength, and discipline that comes with martial arts.
I feel guilty for failing to write the novel and devote time to making videos because I was really looking forward to it, and I know that you guys were too. Monday was the last day for the leadership workshop that I was participating in, so hopefully I'll be able to use that time slot to film. I found some issues with editing with my first video, and I want to make the next video better, so it may take a while for me to complete it. But thank you so much to the people who have been hanging in there and supporting me through the process. I appreciate it bunches!

That being said, I am about to start a post that's all about getting ready for finals. This is going to be a hectic time of year, so I'm going to share my little survival tips for making it through, getting the best grade possible while staying sane and balanced. It will hopefully be up for this coming Tuesday!

So there is just a quick update for you guys on what's been going on in my life. How has your month been going so far? Let me know in the comments!

-Riley XO

November 5, 2013

Discipleship and Inner Turmoil

Hello there everyone!

Unfortunately I did not have time to film a YouTube video this weekend. My roommate used to travel to visit her boyfriend every weekend, but she just got a job and is now staying in the dorm a lot more, which makes it somewhat awkward to film because I feel guilty disturbing her. NaNoWriMo started five days ago, and I'm getting into the swing slowly but surely (so much writing, ahhh!).

There are also a couple of additional things going on in college that I added onto my palate this week, so I am in the process of adjusting, but I am determined to film a video for next week focusing on the first chapter of The Little Prince.

That being said, I recently wrote something for a Theology class that I wanted to share with you. This is an essay responding to the prompt: 
Based on Mark’s Gospel and EITHER Philippians OR 1 John, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Please present and explain the connection(s) between Mark’s gospel and the ethical demands of Philippians OR 1 John. Include an assessment of the practical implications of discipleship for Jesus’ followers today, possibly including a reflection on the tension between Christian life and “modern life.”
It was a challenging write for me, but here are the insights that I had. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to type away at the space below!

Have a wonderful week, and I hope you find this to be valuable or at least interesting.
-Riley XO

Note: the excerpt from Rolheiser is taken from the third chapter his book The Holy Longing. It is a fascinating read if you ever have time to pick up a little something.
             Some people view the Bible as a manuscript for living. Although the Bible actually encompasses a variety of genres, it is undeniably a helpful tool for discovering God's plans for his disciples. The Gospel of Mark gives a narration of Jesus' life, but also highlights parables that exemplify the image of an upright disciple. First John then builds upon Jesus' commandments, providing further insight regarding the proper lifestyle for disciples, embellishing on the parables in a straightforward manner. An interesting implication arises, however, when both Mark and First John express that disciples will be persecuted by the world for following God. With further examination, turmoil ultimately coincides with discipleship in the modern context.
            In order to understand the meaning of discipleship, it is first necessary to understand the Kingdom of God, which is a common theme throughout the New Testament. From early on in his teachings, Jesus is already proclaiming that "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (New American Bible, Mark 1:15). The concept of the Kingdom of God is developed throughout the New Testament, and essentially comes to define the community of Christians who follow Jesus' teachings and love one another, and the Kingdom of God is spread through Jesus' disciples, as explained by the Great Commission (NAB, Mark 16:15). Perhaps one of the most descriptive parables for discipleship in Mark comes from the Parable of the Sower, in which Jesus explicitly states that "those are they that were sown upon the good ground; such as hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold" (NAB, Mark 4:20).  The soil in this parable is most significant because it predetermines the seeds' success. According to Mark, therefore, disciples of Jesus are nourished with "good soil."
            What is an example of good soil, and what must a disciple do to ensure that s/he is in good soil? Jesus answered this question, saying, "Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it" (NAB, Mark 10:15). Accepting a set of beliefs as a child would goes against instinct, especially after a human has developed rhetorical and logical skills with adulthood. To adults, children seem naive and too trusting. However, it is exactly this innocence and acceptance that Jesus values. Children tend to look for good in the world. Rather than looking down at others, they look up because they realize that they are not the strongest, the wealthiest, nor really even capable of surviving on their own. They  listen and learn quickly; their perspectives are malleable, constantly adjusting to new information. Good soil is having such openness of a child, and the plant begins to grow when the seed realizes that it is dependent on God.
            When the seed has taken root and has the nutrients to flourish, it then bears fruit. First John develops discipleship further by explaining what "bearing fruit" is, revealing that "everyone who acts in righteousness is begotten by [God]" (NAB, 1 John 2:29).  A person living righteously can be interpreted to be someone who abides by the Ten Commandments, someone who loves his/her neighbor as him/herself, or someone who follows Christ's example. The last of these would probably be the most suitable interpretation due to the latter part of the verse above. Doesn't it make sense that the disciple following Christ's example is, in a sense, "begotten by God"? Turning again to Mark, it is possible to understand what the correct image of living righteously should be. Jesus showed compassion to the persecuted, healed the sick, and loved the poor. He also taught the people around him to express agape (love) for one another, and empowered the Twelve Disciples to also heal and perform miracles. Therefore, in order for disciples to be considered as "begotten by God," they must also act with this selfless agape. The fruit that disciples bear is essentially the good that ripples out from sharing agape with the Christian and surrounding communities, which is analogous to spreading the Kingdom of God.
            So this rudimentary definition of a disciple of Jesus shaped by Mark and First John is simple, desirable, and straightforward. However, it is a matter of fact that disciples will be hated by the world (NAB, 1 John 3:15). It turns out that discipleship is not as wonderful as it seems, despite the Kingdom of God being the reward. What is it about following Christ's example, that persecution is the result?
            The obvious answer is that in modern life, Jesus' commandments do not coincide with what the world teaches. So naturally, modern disciples are distinctly separate from others. However, it is also important to clarify that persecution comes from the world, and not necessarily other humans. Because disciples are originally born of the flesh before they are "born again" in God, perhaps persecution does come from within the disciples themselves. In order to better conceptualize this abstract idea, Rolheiser establishes that balancing a strong sense of personal integrity, social justice, a peaceful heart, and community with others --all components of being "begotten by God"-- is challenging (Rolheiser 56).  Rolheiser demonstrates with four examples that imbalance is accompanied by personal distress and/or disapproval from both Christians and non-Christians. Disciples must wrestle with inner turmoil trying to attain balance to lead a godly life, a process that is emotionally taxing. And since the great, harmonious, perfect image of God is beyond human capacities, the process of inner turmoil is, in a sense, permanent.

            Being a disciple in the context of Mark and First John presented challenges especially in the early church since Christians were actually physically persecuted. However, such persecution in contemporary life has taken a different form as modern disciples are bombarded with a fast-paced lifestyle that heightens stress and often blurs lines between what is right and wrong. Conflict between disciples and the world, which is integrated both into society and the disciples themselves, makes it a challenge to follow Christ as a child would; however, true disciples of Jesus persevere in order to bear fruit and spread the Kingdom of God.

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