Personal spirituality




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A guide to Individual and Congregational Growth

^ Extracts from the Alban Institute Publication by Corinne Ware. 1995

Four Spiritual Types


The vertical speculative-affective axis intersects with the horizontal apophatic-kataphatic axis forming quadrants. Within these quadrants, identified by the bordering poles, we find the four spiritual types. Quad­rant 1, for instance, is influenced by the two points, speculative thinking and concrete (kataphatic) imaging of God. With the two bordering in­fluences creating a particular spirituality, exactly what can we discover about spiritual type within all the quadrants? I suggest you read the fol­lowing descriptions of the types now and again after you have taken the Spirituality Wheel Selector test.

At the conclusion of each description of the four spiritual types, I will address concerns of those called to do spiritual direction or who think of themselves as spiritual companions. These comments acknowl­edge the fact that each type of spirituality needs a different kind of nourishment.

^ Type 1: Speculative/Kataphatic - A Head Spirituality

This is an intellectual "thinking" spirituality that favors what it can see, touch, and vividly imagine. Such concreteness could be theologically expressed in concepts, such as God as Father and/or Mother; for Chris­tians, the centrality of Christ and the incarnation; for Jews, the Torah. What activities might this group ask for to enhance its spiritual life? Their choices will be based mostly on activity and on corporate gather­ing: more study groups, better sermons, and some sort of theological renewal within the worshipping community. (As you read further, you will notice that all four types seek renewal, but each seeks a different kind of renewal.) People in this group will support whatever helps them fulfill their vocation in life. The daily life, after all, is the "real world."

I was invited to lead a study for lay members and their pastors from three congregations of the same Christian denomination. After several hours of discussion of Holmes's "circle" concepts as they related to the groups' own printed orders of service and weekly newsletters, they agreed that their corporate worship expression fell predominantly within type 1 spirituality. It centered on gathering and the spoken word. To enrich their experience they needed to emphasize the opposite quadrant, type 3, fostering solitude, introspection, and silence. They planned a retreat, and then, in typical type-1 style, passed around a sign-up sheet, urging everyone to come. I expect the retreat ultimately featured a full program with little silence or solitude. If they did this, they were not "wrong"; they were simply exercising their style of spirituality. At some later time they may choose to risk the unstructured, the solitary, and the silent, but one sees the difficulty in doing what they could not, at that time, imagine.

The contribution of type-1 spirituality to the whole is invaluable. This style produces theological reflection and crafts position papers on ethical issues. It supports education and publication and causes us to examine the texts of our hymns to see if we are singing what we actually believe. Content is primary with this group, as is systematic congruence of thought and belief. While type 2 or 3 "experiences the Holy," it is type 1 that undertakes to make sense of that experience and to name it. They codify and so preserve the faith story from generation to genera­tion; Bibles are read and Torah is studied. It is here that things are done "decently and in order," and we can be grateful for the coherence exerted on us all by the gifts of type 1.

Spiritual directors will discover they have fewer directees or com­panions from the type-1 group, which is prone to seek guidance chiefly from scripture and sermon—that is, from words. Yet some do seek spiritual guidance, and their particular needs must be understood in order for them to grow. Reading, joumaling, and specific meditation with a definite focus are fruitful beginning activities. Prayer in this quadrant is almost always language or word-based prayer, whether aloud or silent. Theological discussion is usually easy with this type, but it is counterpro­ductive to spiritual growth to allow all sessions to become "head trips." Growth for such people lies in their gradually sensing their interior connection with God. The goal, however, is to stretch experience, not to change style.

Holmes contended that any one of the quadrants could become so exclusively focused on its particular style that excess and aberration could occur, what Allan Sager calls "falling outside the circle." For type 1, Holmes called this excess "rationalism." It is an overintellectualization of one's spiritual life with a consequent loss of feeling, often perceived as dogmatic and dry. The director will want to encourage flexibility and increased attention to the feeling and experiential side of spirituality.

^ Type 2: Affective/Kataphatic - A Heart Spirituality

Notice that with type 2 we are still viewing God in kataphatic terms, but that we have dropped into the affective or lower half of the circle. This means type 2 is not a head-trip spirituality; it is all heart—combined with the concrete, real-life stuff. Here theology still emphasizes the anthropo­morphic representation of God and the centrality of scripture, but this is now combined with a more affective, charismatic spirituality whose aim is to achieve holiness of life. The transformational goal is that of per­sonal renewal.

It is interesting that national demographic figures indicate that the Christian population formerly concentrated in type-1 mainline denomina­tions is now moving to no church membership at all or into congrega­tions that represent type-2 experience. One might conclude that there is a thirst for the affective in our lives, for an emotionally moving ex­perience more in touch with feeling.

"While kataphatics of the mind may charge, 'My doctrine is purer than yours,' kataphatics of the heart counter with, 'My walk with the Lord is closer than yours.' " It is an entirely different vocabulary based on whether one seeks illumination by rational mind or by heartfelt in­tuition. A type 2 will characteristically emphasize evangelism, since experience must be shared, and on transformation, sometimes of an ob­vious, even sudden type. Witnessing, testimonials, and especially music mark corporate worship. Theologically this experience stresses the im­manence of God over the transcendence of God. God is real in the here and now, and, as the rhythmic gospel chorus says, "Yes, God is real, 'cause I can feel him deep in my soul!"

Type-2 prayer is made with words but the words are used less formal than with type 1, and praying is usually extemporaneous. These people focus on personal service to others but often with the caveat that the service provide opportunity to witness about one's faith. Witness and proclamation are so important to type 2 that they often use mass media, such as television and radio, even creating their own national and worldwide media networks. Their contribution to the whole is the warmth of feeling, energy, and freedom of expression others sometimes lack. African-American churches, especially, have this capacity for spontaneity and ebullient spirituality.

Spiritual direction of the type-2 person may begin with the story of her life told from a spiritual perspective and a relating of these events to the biblical story. Such people may respond well to a loosely structured daily spiritual discipline. They often need permission to acknowledge anger, disappointment, sadness, and doubt, and to allow themselves to be less than ideal. Their spirituality is enriched by being able to see expres­sions of faith other than their own as having value and making contribu­tion. You might also encourage type 2 directees to risk new experience on their own and to trust God to be with them in their journeys, seeing God as the nurturing rather than the punitive parent.

Holmes calls the excess for this group "pietism." The focus can become too exclusive, resulting in an "it's us against the world" mental­ity that does not acknowledge the spiritual experience of others, espe­cially if it differs in any way from a type-2 experience. Spirituality in this quadrant is sometimes disdained for being too emotional and for believing that an affective experience must be duplicated in others if the experience of these others is to count as valid. These people may be viewed as anti-intellectual if their exclusivity results in being closed to the risk of new thought.

^ Type 3: Affective/Apophatic - A Mystic Spirituality

In type 3 we are still within affective, or feeling, experience, but we move for the first time into apophatic knowing. Here hearing from God rather than speaking to God is prominent. The aim of this spirituality is union with the Holy, and, although this is never completely achievable, only the continued attempt, or "the journey," satisfies. People attracted to this type of spirituality are often by nature contemplative, introspec­tive, intuitive, and focused on an inner world as real to them as the ex­terior one. This is most often the home of the mystic.

Instead of a God who possesses characteristics similar to human ones, God is ineffable, unnameable, and more vast than any known category. God's statement to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exod. 3:14), makes perfect sense to a type-3 person and is accurate to his understand­ing of the Holy. A life of austerity and asceticism is appealing to many in this quadrant—not because they are necessarily self-punishing, but because simplicity of life quiets outside distractions and enables one to attend more fully to the inner voice. People of this spirituality often find themselves uncomfortable and not fitting in, especially within Western Protestantism or within synagogues that are primarily cultural assem­blies. They will discover the works of writers such as Anthony de Mello and Thomas Merton and feel that they are like thirsty survivors of the desert who have come upon water. Jewish readers may rediscover the Kabbalah, or enjoy the writings of contemporary writers such as Lawrence Kushner. If they leave organized religion, and frequently they do, they may be attracted to Eastern religions because of the apo­phatic approach (a former emphasis of Christianity and Judaism that has largely been discarded in Western technological culture). Their agenda is renewal of inner life.

Theologically people on the apophatic side tend to see God asCreative Force and may be attracted to a creation-type theology. Those of a slightly different bent may enjoy reading the work of Alfred North Whitehead, although the appeal of his work is certainly not limited to just one quadrant.

The type-3 contribution to the whole of spiritual experience is enor­mous. Many in this group write and publish and provide the especially inspirational and uplifting spirituality that fuels our daily lives with a sense of the Holy. Type-3 spirituality provides fodder for much of the intellectual interpretation and theological writing done by type 1. These are the people who push the frontiers of spirituality, enabling us to imagine what we might do if we would be open enough.

To a spiritual director the spiritual needs of a type-3 person are usually evident, and fortunately people from this sector frequently seek spiritual direction. As those from type 2 need permission to be human, those from type 3 need permission to retreat and seek solitude. They may have bought into the American myth that says being alone and do­ing "nothing" is lazy, antisocial, and unproductive. They may feel guilty and odd as they carefully hide their desire for the nourishment of solitude and silence. Once they have realized who they are and become comfort­able with their spirituality, type-3 people are more likely to laugh than any other group. Remember Saint Francis of Assisi? Truly a laughing mystic.

The excess of this quadrant is labeled "quietism," an aberration that leads to exaggerated retreat from reality and from interaction with the world. Quietism tends to spiritual passivity rather than initiative and deprives the world of the treasured gifts of mysticism. The mystic who lacks the balance of the other spiritual expressions is also deprived of the blessing of interaction with others and the lessons provided by friction. Unless it is discerned that they have a true vocation for solitary prayer, and some do have such a calling, spiritual direction will steer these people to alternating their retreat time with involvement and interaction. Teaching techniques of meditation and contemplation are especially fruitful.

^ Type 4: Speculative/Apophatic - A Kingdom Spirituality

Type 4 is the smallest group. Because there are relatively few examples, it is the most difficult to describe. The mystic, apophatic experience coupled with an intellectual mode of gathering data makes for an active visionary who is single-minded with a deeply focused, almost crusading, type of spirituality. When we try to envision this quadrant, we think less of denominations or faith groups and more of individual people. In fact, people of this spiritual type care less about affiliation with organized religion than do many others, certainly less than those in types 1 and 2. Their aim is simply to obey God and to witness to God's coming reign. Theirs is a courageous and sturdy idealism that takes responsibility for change; they have a passion for transforming society. While type 3 tends toward retreat, the type 4 is inclined to be assertive, even aggressive, in desire to implement a vision of the world as the kingdom of God on earth.

I have no idea what Ralph Nader's spiritual life may be like, but politically he perfectly exemplifies this single-minded dedication of the intellectual visionary. From a faith standpoint, these people frequently sacrifice their personal lives for their hope that the kingdom will be realized on earth; they may even become martyrs to their cause. The Hebrew prophets and the Apostolic Fathers and Mothers come to mind in thinking of type 4 as well as Savonarola, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Dorothy Day, Elie Wiesel, and the spirit found in present-day liberation theology. For these people the regeneration of society becomes a personal crusade, fueling a strong desire to rectify the wrongs of the world.

They equate prayer and theology with action. It is not uncommon to hear statements such as, "My work and my prayer are one," or, "I pray with my hands and feet." Their gifts to us are tremendous—found in the freedom marches of the sixties and overseas in the Peace Corps. They lead us in the difficult and embarrassing issues, caring little about how others may judge them. They have their vision of the ideal, and your opinion and mine will hardly matter when placed alongside that vivid driving image.

Spiritual guidance offered to such a person should channel and inter­pret—not stifle—the evident spiritual energy. Respectfully listen to anger and exasperation with authority figures, being patient and firm in your response. Encourage small-group support and alternative modes of worship if the present style is not affirming. For type 4 the growing edge is the knowledge that God has ultimate control; although they may offer their considerable gifts, they do not need to be "driven" to be faithful. These people need to hear the words of the fourteenth-century English mystic Julian of Norwich: "But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

An excessive and unbalanced spirituality in this type is called "encratism" and refers to a moralistic and unrelenting tunnel-vision. If you are not supporting "the cause" with the same selfless effort that they expend, you are not a part of their world. In her single-mindedness, a type 4 may not notice you. Do you know a person with strong type-4 ten­dencies? He can trouble our lives, even make us feel guilty, but we find ourselves admiring this person for being willing to make a difference.

^ The Circle as Invitation to Spiritual Wholeness

The primary value of this approach to spiritual type is not in being able to pigeonhole oneself or other people or groups, saying, "I am this cate­gory or type." Such an application undermines the core of Holmes's meaning by suggesting limitation rather than latitude. Rather, the typolo­gy shows that we all have tendencies toward certain ways of living out our spirituality and that our growing edge is the tension placed on us by "the other." Of necessity, the above descriptions of four types are over­drawn. We could safely guess that almost no one falls entirely into one quadrant or type of spiritual expression without any shade or inclination toward at least one other type.

The message of Holmes's circle is this: Once we have found where we fall within the total circle, we then have opportunity to grow by

(1) acknowledging and strengthening our present gifts,

(2) growing toward our opposite quadrant, and

(3) appreciating more perceptively the quadrants on either side of our dominant type

Worshipping groups will want to plan to meet the needs of more people by stretching toward some variety of expression without losing the central identity of the group. People who find their spirituality represented in several quadrants may be encouraged to see that they are capable of several kinds of worship experience.

From several constructs and typologies that provide ways of seeing spirituality, I have chosen to explore this particular schema because

(1) it offers a template by which basic spiritual types can be affirmed, while it provides

(2) spiritual tension from alternate styles encouraging a path toward wholeness.

Presentations of spirituality are often hierarchical, with one expression viewed as being higher or better than another. We get competitive about that sort of ranking and defeat our own best inter­est by forcing on ourselves things we do not really feel. In Holmes's schema of spirituality, each category is of value, yet all are different.

I encourage you to work with these ideas. They will foster growth through the individuation of your personal spirituality and enrich you as you integrate into your life the experience of others. Using this typology, we each come to know more truly our own gifts and to see their value to corporate spiritual life. The Spirituality Wheel Selector test is designed to affirm gifts and to reveal differences, not to evaluate the maturity or worth of any particular spiritual style.

We have discussed the importance of integrating all the types of spirituality to make for a balanced whole. We have also discussed the equal importance of becoming individuated, of recognizing our own individual spiritual type as indicated by the combinations that create the four spirituality types. We are now ready to use the Spirituality Wheel with some deeper understanding, appreciating the meaning of its results to our own experience.

Here are only a very few suggestions as to how a congregation can enrich its worship expression to include more of its members. If we have learned anything from the study so far, it is that we should not expect all members to participate in all activities. Participation in activities is not a test of faith. The contemplative mystic who prays in her closet but does not attend potlucks is busy and equally faithful.

To read the following, think in terms of this statement: "If I wanted to strengthen a particular type of spirituality, I might try ..."
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