Thursday, September 20, 2007

Discovering our spiritual type

Last weekend our student chaplains and I went on retreat. We went to the Martha Retreat Centre for some time apart to get to know each other and to do some planning. Part of what we did was work with some material from Corinne Ware's book Discover Your Spiritual Type. Ware develops a questionnaire on spiritual preferences using the classic spiritual typology developed by Anglican theologian, Urban Holmes.

The diagram is my rather pathetic attempt to use the paint programme to draw the typology. The horizontal axis is about whether you know things through your head (speculative - ideas) or through your heart (affective - emotions). The vertical horizon is whether you are drawn to the ways in which God is revealed (kataphatic) or to the ways in which God is mystery (apophatic).

If you are head/kataphatic inclined your spirituality is more centred on the head - doctrine, theology, sermons etc. If you are heart/kataphatic then you are more centred on the heart - feelings, experience, heart felt faith etc. If you are heart/apophatic you are more drawn to the mystical, the spiritual journey (journey is a big word for you), and aren't concerned too much about colouring inside the lines. If you are head/apophatic you are more drawn to a spirituality of the hands, service, embodied spirituality. Ware is interested in what happens when there are differences between the spirituality of a congregation and an individual (particularly that of clergy - this is an Alban Institute publication). Ideally people move to an integrated spirituality and Holmes suggests that it is helpful to try to find balance by moving to the opposite. And this I think is true of groups as well as individuals.

The four of us represented all four types and had an interesting discussion about what moves us and why. Part of it is personality but part of it is also experience. I used to come out heart centred which I think was the balancing of my work life which is so centred on the head. But after more than a decade of ministry I find myself more and more drawn to the mystery of God.

I did a service once where I choice hymns from each of these types, a heavy theological hymn, an old emotional revival hymn about personal experience, a simple chant and a hymn about service and talked about Holmes typology in my sermon. I think my parish is heart and hand centred for the most part and people are pretty generous about differences so we don't tend to have worship wars. But I did think that it was helpful to be aware that different things feed the souls of other people. I've come to realize that if I preach a really idea centred sermon that people don't really get into it. The ideas have to be connected in strong ways to experience.

I think with the chaplaincy that we are aware that we need to offer different ways for people to connect that reflect these kinds of differences in spiritual preferences and so we're glad we understand all four of them between us. I'm excited to see what the year is going to bring and to see how these gifted young women will grow in their ministries.


Tim Chesterton said...

When you're using this typology, how do you deal with the fact that the use of 'heart' to mean 'emotions' is different from the way the biblical writers use 'heart' to mean 'will' or 'choices'?

I ask the question, because I've seen people get into serious trouble by assuming that when they read 'heart' in the Bible it mans the same thing as it does in a modern country-western song!

Erin said...

That is a really good question. I think Holmes is following Aquinas in the distinction between the affective and the speculative which is the distinction between the will and the mind. Although the emotions are a part of the will.

But you are right that that isn't how we read it nor is it what we were identifying when we talked about the experiential.

I have been thinking more about it this week and wondering too about how I showed up as being in the mystical type. I understand, on the one hand, why I came out in the quadrant because I've become much more aware of the grays in things and less convinced that we are saved by good doctrine (which would have been my tendency 15 years ago). Yet I am still much more drawn to Ignatian spirituality, which is kataphatic, than centring prayer, which is apophatic. So I think my appreciation of the mystery of God is a more intellectual thing than an affective thing. I should go back and read Holmes in the original again. If I can find him in the mess that is my library.