Enneagram Makes a Difference — 3. Prayer
This reflection is part of a series exploring an approach to the Enneagram* that is nuanced, applied in daily life, and grounded in the Spirit. Additional posts are linked below.
IN ALL OUR VARIETY, people are built to connect with the Divine. I trust that God is always present, eternally inviting and welcoming partnership with our uniqueness. Of all the the themes I explore with individuals and retreat groups, developing relationship with the Holy is at the core.
Yet we connect to the Sacred in so many ways! There’s a seemingly endless banquet of prayer styles and spiritual practices. How do we choose and grow in Spirit?
Enneagram personality profiles* offer the most useful framework I’ve found for discerning helpful and healthy approaches to prayer. We can grow with spiritual practices that integrate our thoughts, emotions, and physicality.
What helps you connect to the Sacred? Maybe candles aren’t your thing. Maybe it’s singing, spiritual reading, or Yoga. Do you recite memorized prayers, sit quietly, or dance with loud music? Maybe you sense God’s presence walking in nature, gardening, or days-long silent meditation. Are you drawn to ecstatic dance, collage, or prayer doodling?
- How much thinking happens in your prayer? Feeling? Doing or movement?
I grew up in a church that valued rituals packed with words we all knew by heart. Until my 20’s, prayer meant mostly “speaking to God.” It happened in your head, or out loud, but words were key. Candles were part of the picture at times; bells, prayer beads, or incense could be helpful. But mostly, prayer meant words addressed to the Divine.
As an adult in another faith community, Quakers, I discovered listening prayer, no words needed. I reveled in quiet, open-ended waiting for the Spirit. Quakers encouraged me to listen inwardly for the Divine Voice, affirming that all could receive messages and follow the Inner Guide. For many years, my connection with God leaned toward purely receptive spiritual practices.
Now I can trace how my temperament has influenced my relationship to God through the years. The Enneagram reveals my growing edges in prayer, and encourages me to keep stretching.
Praying with Our Personality
Enneagram wisdom suggests that the ways we “do life” are often the same ways we pray. Without attention to our inner experience and intentional effort, a limited sense of our self (“ego”) runs the show. So our personality can run our prayer life too, even with our best efforts to be “good” faithful people. Thankfully, the Enneagram maps the way through our mostly unconscious, entrenched patterns, which can prompt astonishing growth in our relationship to the Divine.
The key is recognizing our own strengths and challenges with thinking, feeling, and doing—natural capacities for perceiving and responding to the world, which we engage with varied emphasis. The Enneagram names them “Centers of Intelligence.” When we seek balance or healthy integration of those capacities, we energize our relationship to the Divine and can grow toward fullness of Life.
We’d need an entire weekend retreat to unpack the implications of what you’re reading here, and that’s what’s coming up October 19-22, 2023 in Mt. Angel Oregon. Applications due by Wednesday, September 27th. Less than two weeks, people. Don’t wait.
The Problem and the Vision
Our prayer life can become imbalanced in thinking, feeling, or doing (human action and physicality). An excess of thinking can become heady rationalism. An over-emphasis on feeling can create a sentimentalized or hyper-emotional faith. Excess prayer-as-doing can become heartless, judgmental, or moralisitc—the worst of social justice ranting.
What happens when we under-emphasize thinking, feeling, or doing in prayer? When we don’t think enough in prayer or spiritual practice, we shrink our capacity to sort relevant information with our God-given mind. We might go along with a misguided crowd instead of discerning and collaborating with the Source of all Love.
When we underrate emotions in prayer, we can miss vital signals of human needs and agendas—our own and others. Our empathy declines. Compassion wanes. We need feelings for building and maintaining relationship with ourselves, others and the Divine.
When we don’t have enough doing or movement in spiritual practice, we are denying something of our embodied experience and how the Spirit guides us through physical sensation and perception. We can become disconnected from the energy of getting things done and caring for urgent needs (ours and others).
Balance in prayer or spiritual practice means different things for different Enneagram personality types. Some people will need to foster more physicality; others more feeling or thinking. It usually feels quite odd or counter-intuitive: A heady type might try to stimulate emotional response with an imaginative prayer practice; a heart-centered type could engage productive thinking with a daily “review of consciousness” or Examen; a doing-oriented type might need to stop to think through a discernment practice.
To increase reliance on a Greater Source than ego-referenced and self-reinforcing personality patterns, we must engage all our capacities. Do you understand that I’m talking about trust in God with all of our doing, thinking and feeling? Wise people say it matters.
About Knotted String
In my 40s’ I finally reconnected with “doing” something as prayer. It wasn’t Yoga or walking the labyrinth. After many years of sitting quietly in open worship with Quakers, thinking and feeling my connection to God, I was in grad school studying theology and ministry. Once another student who served as a prison chaplain brought in her large collection of prayer beads. An entire table was covered with bracelets, strings, and rosaries from at least six different faith traditions.
In my limited exposure to world religions at the time, I had no idea! My fingers were magnetized, pulled to touch and stroke them all. There were pretty ones, ugly ones, shiny new, and well-worn ones. Most were small enough to carry around like a stone in your pocket to remind you of something important. They undoubtedly employed different prayers or mantras from around the world.
So many people found meaning in this practice? Really? A habitual dismissiveness started to kick in with judgmental inner commentary: Those aren’t necessary. Remember all those rote prayers you hated? Etc.
Then a strange question rose in me: “If Quakers had prayer beads, what would they look like?” That was the pivot to something new, a hint of curiosity toward a spiritual practice I’d avoided like the plague [My apologies to readers who never lost “touch” with Holy One through prayer beads.].
An answer to my doubtful question followed promptly: Quakers would use string. Huh. Surprised, ideas began to tumble. String would honor Quakers’ testimony of simplicity. I remembered that early Christian monks knotted their rope belts into prayer strings. Could I learn some knots? An astounding amount of energy bubbled in me for days afterward. I researched and figured out some complicated options. Long story short, my final “project” for a class on spiritual practices included my very own knotted prayer string.
Enneagram Type Four personality patterns are all over this story, though I didn’t know Enneagram wisdom at the time. I’m wired to seek meaning, beauty, and uniqueness, so the repetitive focus of church practices in my early years lost meaning for me. The inward focus of open-ended Quaker worship perfectly suited my introspective and withdrawn nature.
“Doing” or physicality, is my weakest capacity, or Center of Intelligence. Cycles of feeling and thinking can create unhealthy hamster wheels in my relationship to the Spirit, as in the rest of my life. So, doing something with my hands, with intention turned toward the Holy, can put a wrench in the automatic cycling of my ego. Prayer strings brought new Life into my prayer and relationship to God.
The words I attached to my prayer string were my own. I overlayed the knots with an open-ended version of the Ignation Examination of Consciousness. Each day for years, I prayed seven thank you’s, seven regrets, seven please help me’s, and seven segments of the Great Commandment: “I love You / with all my heart / with all my soul / with all my mind / with all my strength / and my neighbor / as myself.” If you’re curious, you can see what I put together here.
Participants in the Way of the Spirit program heard my crazy story. Some were drawn to learn how to make their own prayer strings.
Nowadays, I recognize I can fall into a similar sense of prayer as I knit. Go figure. It’s another simple manual activity that frees my heart and mind for relationship with God. Freedom in the Spirit is a sweet gift!
If you’d like to learn more about yourself and prayer or spiritual practice through the Enneagram, you’re invited to a residential retreat, Oct. 19-22nd in Mt. Angel, Oregon (details below). No experience with the Enneagram or Quaker spirituality needed. Please join us!
Accepting applications through September 27th for up to 15 people.
An Approach to the Enneagram
*If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, it’s an ancient wisdom tool describing nine personality “types,” or ways of seeing and experiencing the world. The Enneagram Types have unique strengths and challenges, so at its best the Enneagram can prompt astonishing psychological and spiritual growth. It helps us tend what we bring to relationships, work, and a life of faith and faithful service or activism.
If you’re considering attending an Enneagram retreat or workshop through the Way of the Spirit program, these posts can help orient you:
- Enneagram: Not a Test — Introducing the Enneagram as much more than a one-off personality test
- Enneagram: Coming Home — Charting varied paths of growth toward True self or Enneagram Essence
- Enneagram: For Integration — The Enneagram maps our thinking, feeling, and doing, and invites the best, healthiest use of all three capacities in a given moment.
- Enneagram Makes a Difference: 1. Relationships — Honoring diverse temperaments offers tools for connecting and building compassion.
- Enneagram Makes a Difference: 2. Discernment — Our personality influences how we make decisions with the Spirit
- Enneagram: Helpful Quaker Baggage, Pt 1 — Like Quaker spirituality, the best of the Enneagram encourages attention to both the inner life and outer relationships.
- Enneagram: Helpful Quaker Baggage Pt 2 —Like Quaker spirituality, the best of the Enneagram emphasizes process over outcome, integration of the inner with outer life, and the sacred with the ordinary