The Four Spiritual Types (Part 2)

Four Spiritual Types

Four Spiritual Types

A previous blog described The Four Spiritual Types, as set forth by Corinne Ware in Discover Your Spiritual Type (Alban Institute, 1995): head, heart, mystic, and social justice. Here I will give examples of prayer exercises which may be helpful to the different types. A prerequisite is that you know your own primary spiritual type, which you may identify by doing a brief questionnaire, The Spirituality Wheel. Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey provide a host of prayer suggestions for all spiritual types in their book Prayer and Temperament (The Open Door, 1984) to which I refer below. Lectio Divina provides a basic model for praying with scripture which may be adapted to the needs of all spiritual types (see Lectio Divina).

Head spirituality is nourished by reading good books, especially the spiritual classics found in a series like The Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press), as well as taking classes and studying the Bible. My favorite Bible commentaries which balance devotional and literary concerns are the Interpretation Series published by John Knox Press. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (4th Edition, NRSV) is very helpful in providing basic guidance to each book of the Bible. The pursuit of truth is not an academic exercise but rather will challenge our way of life. Michael and Norrisey (Prayer and Temperament, pp. 86-90) recommend questions like the following ones. What does it mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34-38)?  What does one do about one’s anger (Matthew 5:20-26) ? Are the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to be taken literally? What justification can you make for the verses you are unwilling to accept literally? What do you need to change in your attitudes and behavior in order to follow Jesus more faithfully?

Heart spirituality is nourished by relationships and richness of emotion. Warm and informal worship with good singing lifts the spirits of folk in this path. Music is especially important and should be incorporated into personal devotional times. Lectio Divina will make use of Ignatian exercises (Michael and Norrisey, pp.53-57) such as the following: Read John 21:1-19 and pay attention to the details; close your eyes and imagine yourself in the role of Peter. When Jesus asks “do you love me?” how would you reply? Read Luke 18:9-14 and put yourself in the place of both the Pharisee and the tax collector. What do you need to do to be more like the tax collector? How does the parable of the lost son reflect your own spiritual life (Luke 15:11-32)? Can you be more like the father in the story in relation to the parts of yourself represented by the younger and older brothers?

Mystic spirituality requires silence to connect with God. Meditation is a very helpful daily discipline (see Meditation) and naturally occurs in the fourth stage of Lectio. It may be supplemented with art, icons, poetry, journal writing, walks in nature, and personal retreats. The support of others in a prayer group is important on this journey which may involve loneliness.   Michael and Norrisey (pp. 65-68) suggest these exercises for Lectio: Read Isaiah 43:1-5 and change “Jacob” and “Israel” to your first name. Hear the words spoken directly to you from God. Likewise read Ephesians 3:14-21 and change the pronouns “you” to “me”. Read slowly and savor every word. How do you hear these passages now?

Social justice involves action but also needs time for reflection. The marches during the civil rights era always began with worship and prayer because the leaders realized that their efforts would avail little without God’s support. This path involves a vision for a more just and caring society, as exemplified in Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Being involved with others who share a vision and work for compassionate causes gives meaning and joy. Times of personal devotion will enrich this journey. Read the prayers of Walter Rauschenbusch or the writings of Francis and Clare of Assisi or the writings of Quakers who have always combined inner quiet with social action. In Lectio try the exercises suggested by Michael and Norrisey (pp.75-78). I especially like #4 and #5 where you think of the persons you love most and dislike most, and list the positive qualities of both.

Even though we feel a strong inclination towards one type we should avoid becoming one dimensional. The complete human being like Jesus comprises elements from all four types. In the community of faith we aim for balance where all types are represented to make the church whole. And remember that these are types – one type is not spiritually superior to another, just different.

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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4 Responses to The Four Spiritual Types (Part 2)

  1. John Sullivan says:

    Thanks John for your reflection on the four spiritual types. I can easily relate to the call to mysticism and social justice but I see the wisdom in trying to express all four types in my daily activities. Thanks for all you bring to the centering prayer group. I am grateful that you have your meetings at LaSalette. Peace to you in your Lenten journey. John S.

    • John Fisk says:

      Fr. John, thanks for reading and for your thoughts and kind words. I am very grateful to you and the LaSalette community for your support and hospitality. Your ecumenical and interfaith witness and your service to the community are inspiring, and I am glad to be a friend.

  2. Rev. Mary Bettencourt says:

    Those of us who are mystic in spirituality do need long stretches of uninterrupted time to meditate and to pray…..hard to find when one is a pastor! Thanks for this one, John!

    • John Fisk says:

      Thanks, Mary. Apologies for the delay in replying – just got back from two weeks in London. Even 15 or 20 minutes a day of silent prayer is beneficial, and an annual retreat day for silent prayer is especially helpful. Peace to you and the church in Woburn.

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