Sacred Paths: Manifold Spirituality
By Charles Rush
November 6, 2005
colleague of mine told me that he was lecturing for several days at a prominent
Christian college and his lectures were very well attended.
On the third
day, an attractive student stopped him after one of his lectures and asked him
if he was 'born again'? He asked her why she asked him that question and she
said that her prayer group stressed that she should only be influenced by a
spiritual leader that was born again. He didn't know what to say, so he said,
"Absolutely born again" and then he called me to ask exactly what he
had committed himself to.
What is it
about religion that needs certain marks that indicate you are on the clear and
certain path. Evangelicals want you to be baptized. Catholics
want you to take the sacraments. Jews want you circumcised. Muslims want you to
wear the veil. They are powerful symbols that you are submitted to the right
authority, that you are following in the right way, that your heart is on the
path towards true salvation.
nothing wrong with any of them as far as they go. Religion, quite obviously,
could not exist without external symbols and without guidance in the way of
virtue and truth. But just as obvious is the fact that there is no one way to
salvation. Just as obvious is that there are as many forms of piety as there
are personal dispositions.
I remember in
Seminary, we took a course on 'Great Mystical Tradition' and we read St. John
of the Cross, Thomas a Kempis, Ignatius, St. Francis,
Meister Eckhardt all the way up to Thomas Merton, the
Trappist Monk that wrote "The Seven Storied
Mountain". We were encouraged to keep a journal, to engage in the
discipline of silence and prayer during this period. At one point, we went on a
weekend retreat to Thomas Merton's monastery to do a two day exercise in prayer
and silence. The Trappist order, you may not know,
only speaks when it is absolutely necessary. They go for long periods of
silence and so did we. Most of the people on that trip got a lot out of their
time of silence and reflection. But there was one young man, every time we
would go off to pray alone underneath a tree or in a beautiful field, that different people kept finding asleep. He was the
subject of good natured ridicule by the group who gave him the honorific title,
"Brother Somnulent", for his prone piety.
Unfortunately that young man was me and this was just one of many early
indicators that I was not cut out for the monastery.
time in my life, I also started to realize why this great tradition was not for
me personally. I was in therapy and one day my therapist said to me, "You
don't really know what you think until you've said it do you?" I got to
reflecting on that and it was largely true. It was probably one of the most
extroverted periods of my life. Years later, I was reading a book on management
about a company in Silicon Valley that described their corporate life. The CEO had taken
chairs out of the meeting room and he found that people had shorter meetings
that were more to the point, meetings that didn't stray off topic, if people
were standing. I read that and thought, I would love
these people. This is the way extroverts want to do life.
tradition really fits for people that are more introverted, people that have a
developed interior life and find internal reflection and concentration natural
Many of you
have heard of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Profile. You may have taken it in a
corporate setting because it is very helpful for understanding the challenges
you have putting a management team together to get the most out of what each
brings to the table. They measure personality on 4 different continua: Extroverted
v. Introverted, Sensing v. Intuitive, Thinking v. Feeling, and Judging v.
There is no
question that each of these personality traits encourage a certain type of
piety that go with them.
feed off social situations. They love the interaction. They need a lot of
relationships. President Clinton used to have meetings in the very early
morning at the White House. One of is aides explained that he would wake up
that way, come to life talking with other people. Extroverts are more concerned
with breadth than depth, more interested in the extent of things rather than
how intensive they are. They are more likely to wake up reading the paper for
the events of the day or flipping on the T.V..
they tend to prefer worship. These are the people that are saying hello to
everyone when they walk in the church and they like all the noise and chaos
that kids make. They sign up for Church socials and are more likely to go to
educational fora. People that are more extroverted
than introverted make up about 75% of our population. They tend to get
distracted easily during the time of silence or when the choir sings a slower,
meditative piece. When they pray, they are more likely to have a short conversation
with the Almighty outlining their situation than to engage in a Zen meditation.
In fact, in the extreme, they may try yoga or other forms of active meditation
because they know it is lacking and that their interior life is thin.
prefer fewer relationships that have more depth to them. They usually find
group social outings exhausting and have to gear themselves up for them in
advance and take time in between them. On the weekends, they are more likely to
hibernate in the Den. Their basic style is reflective and if you are married to
an introvert, you know that after an argument, they need to retreat and mull it
over in their mind, especially any major decisions. At church, they are more
likely to listen to Danny Rufolo's jazz piano meditations
at the second service and prefer the time of silence as the best part of the
service. They like one on one interactions and are
more likely to show up for a small group discussion on a book that is very
substantive. They are also more likely to report that feel closest to God, not
in Church as such, but out in nature alone, or praying alone in the chapel at a
large cathedral. For them, spirituality is about going within. In the extreme,
they can't really focus when there are babies crying in worship and they will
push themselves to be more social like the majority of people because it is so
hard for them.
Another important personality dialectic for spirituality is
Judging v. Perceiving, and here the balance is about 50/50 for the national
average. Half of us tend to be more judging, the other half more perceiving.
tend to be more comfortable with things that can be settled and decided. They
were more likely to major in Math and accounting. They prefer to plan things
ahead and take pleasure in watching those plans come to fruition. They like dealines and tend to be decisive in their decision making
style. These are the people that are more likely to speak of the need for
closure and to get things wrapped up. They want to get the show on the road. In
the extreme, these are the Dads in our lives that will only stop to go tee tee every 150 miles on the family trip because the plan
calls for so many miles in so many hours- just use a jar. They can, in the
extreme, come across like the Great Santini, as somewhat arbitrary and not
given to the reconsideration of a position once they have taken one.
disposition has a pronounced manifestation in the spiritual realm. These are
the folks tend to like their religion boxed up, neat and orderly. They tend to
presume that one of the intrinsic jobs of the Church is to provide answers.
They want the Church to take a stand.
They tend to
gravitate towards authority and things authoritative in religious life. They
are over represented in the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church that look to the
Vatican clarification of what the official teaching of Christianity ought to
score high in the J category are likely to be over represented in the ranks of
all of our Protestant denominations that want the Church to make a concrete
stand on issues of the day. As you know, every major denomination is presently
divided on the issue of how to treat homosexuals, whether they should be
allowed to marry or serve as Ministers. Judging personalities would prefer, one
way or the either, for the Churches to make a definitive statement and get on
speaking, people who score high on the J personality index are also likely to
value tradition and history. There is a clarity and definition to the past and
religious tradition, particularly as it is embodied in the liturgy and in
architecture, reflects the accretion of our past definitions of where we have
been. These markers from the past also orient us toward the parameters of our future
juxtaposition to Judgment are people that are more comfortable simply
perceiving the world around them. They value the process of gathering more data
and keeping the agenda open ended. They are much more likely to see their
immediate enterprise as a kind of treasure hunting expedition. They are looking
for things that they don't presently see that will emerge in the course of the
investigation. They are looking for the things that will eventually turn up to
be important considerations that could shade what they will do or the reasons
they will do it.
As a result,
they tend to want to keep their options open going forward. Instead of being
decisive, they tend to be more tentative. Rather than sense that something must
reach a resolution, these are the people on the committee that suggest there is
plenty of time or at least caution you to take more time. They are more
comfortable just letting things happen rather than planning every detail and
they are more likely to stress the value of adapting to new circumstances
rather than executing a definite strategy. Their virtue is keeping things
extreme, they get on the nerves of people that favor judgment because
everything in their plan is always pending. To people that are on the judgment
side of life, they can appear like teenagers that never know what they are
doing on Friday night until the very last moment when the party is actually
already underway and they are late getting there.
speaking, these people tend to be more comfortable waiting for the Spirit to
move in the community and direct where we should be going in the future. In the
pragmatic life of the Church, you see it regularly revolving around money. The
Church always seems to be about $10-50k short of what it needs every year in
order to break even. Budget shortfalls create anxiety, period. Some people tend
to get focused on how to control spending or amend the budget in some way- a
more typical J response- and some people want to focus on manifesting our core
mission in faith that things will simply come together in ways that we can see
right now… but they will. Our treasurer is fond of quoting a great P type
person when projecting a budget shortfall, "The Lord will provide".
And for 10 years, the Lord has provided, just barely and later than I would
wish, but it does come together somehow, someway.
When we were
going through our own debate internally about homosexuality, some people would
say, 'trust the process'. That meant that we didn't know what the consensus was
going to be yet, but in the fullness of time, it would emerge.
Pilgrims had decided to come to the New World, one of their Ministers John Robinson gave a sermon
that has stood the test of time in the P vein of spirituality. Some people
argued that the Pilgrims should just remain content where they were in Holland and England. But Robinson addressed them and
said, "… the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of his
holy Word." It is not just about paying attention to tradition and what
God has done in history, we must also be open in a
daring way to the emerging future and the possibility of something quite
different and new.
speaking, folks that score high on the P indicator,
are more likely to get energized when the Church is doing something new in the
liturgy. They are more likely to attend those seminars that deal with moral
questions on a subject like stem cell research that we have never dealt with in
speaking, folks that score high on the P indicator,
are more likely to embrace unpredictable things that fall in your path as a
spiritually significant sign- things like an unexpected pregnancy or a job
downsizing that forces you to look in broader directions than your original
life plan. Spiritually speaking, P folks are more comfortable embracing the
adventurous dimension of our lives and going with those where they lead us.
There is no
one path spiritually speaking, but rather a manifold spiritual expression. You
have probably heard the quote from Rama Krishna,
speaking of the various world religions, when he said, "There are many
paths to the Mountain top but the same view."
I think he is
actually wrong about that. Nirvana in Hinduism is actually not the same view as
Enlightenment in Buddhism, which is not the same view as Holiness in Judaism,
which is not the same view as Salvation in Christianity, which is not the same
view as Submission in Islam. Different religions actually take us to different
places if we follow their spiritual disciplines.
within each tradition, you have expressions of piety that match our different
emotional dispositions. I've only mentioned two of the four on the
Meyers-Briggs for lack of time. But as you would expect, over time, there develop
as many sacred paths within our Christian tradition as there are manifold
spiritual types. It is not that one is right or wrong, though we get annoyed
with people that process things differently than we do and don't seem to be
able to accommodate our way of doing things, the point
is that one size does not fit all. Variety simply is the norm and key to
developing a mature life of piety is finding expressions of piety that fit your
emotional and spiritual disposition, hopefully without passing a lot of judgment
on a different path.
I know when I
tried the path of mystical tradition in prayer and found that I wasn't very
good at it, I could have given up and said the life of spirituality is not for
me, back to law school. Thank God, I happened to be reading St. Thomas Aquinas
during that time. Aquinas made a remark that one minute of serious academic
study of theology was like unto an hour of prayer. Aha! The obvious had not yet
occurred to me that what I did most often and did fairly well, was also an acceptable
spiritual path- study.
No, there are
many paths, find yours. There are some things we will only be competent at, but
the chances are that there is one way that you express yourself spiritually
that is profound. I say that with some confidence because I am surrounded by
talented people. Don't overlook the obvious, the spiritual manifestation of
what comes by you naturally and you seem to do with ease.
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