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Invitation to a Journey - part 4

This is part four of some excerpts and reflections from "Invitation to a Journey: a road map for spiritual formation" by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

His proposed definition of Christian spiritual formation is:
"Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others".

In the next section of the book he explores how Myers Briggs personality types can bring some insights to our spiritual journey. He explores the standard preference pairs extraversion(E)/introversion(I), sensing(S)/intuition(I), thinking(T)/feeling(F), judgment(J)/perception(P).   He is careful to warn that psychology is no substitute for spirituality and neither is spirituality a substitute for psychology.

The following thoughts are not inspired or infallible, feel free to discard them but have a ponder and leave your comments:

In some persons, each of these preferences is very clearly delineated.  In other persons, the alternatives in one or more of the pairs may be equally strong......  One image for appreciating these differences in preference is "handedness".  Some persons are left-handed, some right-handed, and some ambidextrous..... Neither is inherently better than the other (right/wrong)..... A person's pattern of preference, however, should not be viewed as a straightjacket that locks him or her into predetermined modes of being and doing.  The patterns indicate preferences, not rules of behaviour.  Human wholeness lies not in seeking to become an "XXXX" person, a person with no distinct preference in any of the pairs, but in a mature and discrimminating ability to function with whichever side of the preference pair is best suited to teh situation at hand.....Our image of handedness can again help us here.  Even though I am right-handed, I would be greatly disadvantaged should I lose the use of my left hand.  (pp 52-55)

Left to ourselves in the development of our spiritual practices, we will generally gravitate to those spiritual activities that nurture our preferred pattern of being and doing.  The shadow side of our preference pattern will languish unattended and unnurtured.  For instance, extroverts will tend to develop highly social spirituality which involves them in spiritual activities with others, but avoid the solitde and reflection that would bring depth and perspective to their life with others.  Intuitive persons will tend to develp more contemplative forms of spirituality, but minimize the input of their senses that would help them keep their vision and intution in touch with 'reality'.  Thinking persons will tend to be more theological, more analytical and structural in their spirituality.  Theory and principles of spiritual life will be their focus, but they may slight the affective, emotional aspects of their relationship with God and others that could keep their spirituality from becoming a legalism.  Perception oriented persons will tend to lean toward a very unplanned, unstructured spirituality that is open to God in whatever comes, but resist a more planned and structured spirituality that would bring some order and regularity to their sponteneity.

The results of such one-sided spirituality can be devestating to our spiritual pilgrimage.  The undernourished shadow side will sooner or later demand equal time.  Not having any holistic spiritaul patterns for its expression, it will usually manifest itself in 'unspiritual' behaviours which are both antithetical to holistic spirituality and destructive to the spiritual activies of our preferred patterns.  For example, in the next chapter we will see that one of the speicail temptations for intuitive-type persons is primitive sensuality.  Why?  Because if their sensing side is not nurtured spiritually, it may fulfill its needs through sensual activities that are destructive.  One wonders, for instance, how many of the sexual abberations of noted Christian leaders in recent years might be due in part to their being strongly intuitive types who failed to nuture the sensing side of their preference pattern

Or take the thinking-type person whose special temptation is emotional explosion.  Why? Because if they do not bring their feeling side into their spiritual life and deal with their feelings and emotions in a holistic way, those pent-up emotions will, sooner or later, 'explode' in damaging ways.

The following story will illustrate the dangers involved in a one-sided spirituality.  A student came to me a few years ago and after breaking the ice, admitted to me somewhat sheepishly, "My devotional time is the pits.  I'm just getting nothing out of it".

I asked 'What are you doing?'

He responded, 'Well I have a quiet place in the apartment where I go and I sit.  I try to get silent, I read the Scripture, I pray, and I try to meditate.  It's just horrible.'

Since we have all our students take the Myers-Briggs Type indicator as part of their orientation, I inquired about his preference pattern.  It turned out that he was an ESFP with strong sensing feeling preferences.  When I asked him how he had developed this kind of devotional life, he said 'I was taught that if you want to have a good devotional life you go aside by yourself and sit quietly, read your bible, pray and try to be silent and meditate and listen to God.'

I asked him, 'What are some of the times God has truly been alive for you, when God's presence has been real?'

He replied, 'When I am out walking in the woods and hearing the sounds of nature and things like that.'  And he went on to describe a pattern of sensing-feeling activities.

I suggested to him that perhaps he should develop a devotional time that would incorporate these kind of activities.  Since he had his devotions early in the morning, I suggested that he go out and walk through the streeets of town or in the woods while he prayed, pondered Scripture and fellowshipped with God. .. I also suggested that instead of sitting still he might try expressing his prayer and worship of God in body movements, singing hymns and chanting psalms.

Although he didn't say it in words, I could see him wondering whether this was appropriate.  Could these activities really be 'devotions'? ....  A few weeks later the young man returned ecstatic.  He had experienced a wonderful renewal of spiritual vitality and a sense of once again being on the pilgrimage toward wholeness in Christ.

What had happened?  Some well-intentioned INTJ had laid upon this fellow, in the early stages of his Christian pilgrimage, a purely INTJ devotional life.  Such a model of devotion can be rich and fulfilling for an INTJ, but not for an ESFP.  It didn't nuture this kind of person at all.  It ahd become a numbing burden rather than a nurturing blessing. (pp 55-62)

David Wanstall, 11/03/2009