Exclusive interview with Chester P. Michael

Chester P. Michael is the co-author of Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types.  The interview was conducted in April 2004.

What gave you and your prayer project the idea to link the Briggs-Myers research with prayer and meditation?

I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [MBTI] by Morton Kelsey in 1976. Immediately I saw the value of it for prayer and spirituality. I began to use it in all my retreats and individual spiritual direction. My associate, Marie Norrisey, said we should get some scientific proof of the connection between MBTI and prayer. Hence the prayer project of 1982. I canvassed the 800 persons on my mailing list for The Open Door. 500 of them responded.

The introduction to Prayer and Temperament describes the success of your group’s project. Generally, what results have you seen from your project since the book was published?

The good results of [applying MBTI to prayer and meditation] have been shown in the 340 women and men who have graduated from my two year course of training in the Spiritual Directions Institute. I have continued to use it in all my retreat work and spiritual direction work.

What has been the response to Prayer and Temperament?

We have sold more than 120,000 copies of the book worldwide.

What advice would you give someone wishing to explore meditation for the first time?

My advice for those wishing to explore meditation for the first time is to use all four methods of prayer based on the four temperaments. Then use the method that comes most easily for them most of the time. One should expose oneself at least occasionally to the other methods.

Have you enjoyed your retirement? And how have you come to define “retirement”?

For me, retirement means I am now a freelancer. I can can go in any direction in my journey of faith.

What has been the most satisfying part of your service over the years?

I think spiritual direction is the most satisfying part of my 62 years of priestly ministry.

Quiet on the set: Ignatius’s cinematic meditation

[The second of four occasional articles of variations on Lectio Divina meditation, based on the book Prayer and Temperament by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey.]

Ironically, one of the most entertaining forms of Christian meditation is most appealing to the most practical and rules-oriented kind of people, according to Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey in their book, Prayer and Temperament.

“Ignatian Meditation” is essentially the meditation style developed by Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises. It has lots of steps, and so it appeals to someone who likes rules, Michael and Norrisey believe. In the middle of following the rules, however, one learns to let one’s imagination run wild.

Meditating Ignatian style is like producing and directing a movie. The producer assembles the set, the actors, and the overall aim of the production. The director gets the most out of each scene. And all of this goes on in the comfort of your own head! Perhaps the “i” in Apple’s new “iMovie” should stand for Ignatius.

The irony of mixing strict rules and vivid imagination is just as much in the temperament as in the meditation. Practical types seem to glum onto this style of meditation once they get over any iconoclastic misgivings they may have about it.

Prayer and Temperament uses the four temperaments popularized by David Kiersey in his book Please Understand Me: the artisan, the guardian, the idealist, and the rationalist. (For the purposes of Slow Reads articles on meditation, I have renamed the guardian temperament the “practical” temperament, and I have renamed the artisan temperament the “free-spirited” temperament.) These four temperaments are extractions from Katharine C. Briggs and Isabelle Briggs Myers’ personality theory, and they fit well with historical personality archetypes.

Michael and Norrisey give each temperament something like a patron saint whose spirituality seems to match the temperament’s spirituality. The hard-nosed Ignatius is matched with the practical temperament. Kiersey’s practical people like to follow the rules, and they like predictability and order. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercisesprovide plenty of steps and order that temperaments more taken with spontaneity may chafe at.

Yet Ignatius’ exercises rely heavily on a vivid imagination, which Kiersey’s practical temperament barely keeps suppressed, as Michael and Norrisey point out. A practitioner would use his sensible imagination to picture himself in a biblical setting. Perhaps he would witness or be a part of the exodus from Egypt or the road Jesus took to his crucifixion. Perhaps he would become one of the disciples on the Emmaus road whom Jesus surprised after his resurrection.

Here’s a summary of the steps in Ignatius’ meditation:

Use all five senses in an imaginary journey back to the events of Bible, particularly the life of Jesus. One way: imagine ourselves in place of someone in a biblical scene using imaginatively all five senses. Method emphasizes (A) structure and order, (B) sensible imagination, and (C) practical fruit, as seen in Ignatius’ points in meditation:

1. Choice of topic
2. Preparatory prayer
3. Composition of place
4. Petition for special grace needed
5. See and reflect
6. Listen and reflect
7. Consider and reflect
8. Draw some practical fruit
9. Colloquy with the Father and Jesus
10. Closing with the Lord’s Prayer

Here’s a sample Ignatian Meditation, which I’ve summarized from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises (second week). The steps in the meditation are linked to the numbered points above.

1. Choice of topic: the incarnation. 2. Preparatory prayer. 3. Composition of place: See the great extent of the world with its many different races; then see the particular house of Mary and its rooms in the town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee. 4. Petition for special grace needed: “I ask for what I want: here I ask for interior knowledge of the Lord who became human for me so that I may better love and follow Him.” 5. See and reflect: “This is to see the various kinds of persons: first, those on the face of the earth, in all their diversity of dress and appearance, some white and some black, some in peace and others at war, some weeping and others laughing, some healthy, others sick, some being born and others dying, etc.: second, I see and consider the three divine Persons, as though They are on the royal throne of their Divine Majesty, how they look down on the whole round world and on all its peoples living in such great blindness, and dying and going down into hell; third, I see Mary and the Angel who greets her.” 6. Listen and reflect: “This is to hear what the people on the face of the earth talk about, i.e. how they talk with each other, how they swear and blaspheme, etc. In the same way what the Divine Persons are saying, viz., ‘Let us bring about the redemption of the human race etc.’ Then what the Angel and Mary are talking about.” 7. Consider and reflect: “Now I look at what the people on the face of the earth are doing, e.g. wounding, killing, and going to hell, etc., and in the same way, what the divine Persons are doing, that is, accomplishing the sacred Incarnation, etc., and similarly, what the Angel and Mary are doing, the Angel fulfilling his role of legate and Mary humbling herself and giving thanks to the Divine Majesty.” 8.Draw some practical fruit. 9. Colloquy with the Father and Jesus: “I think about what I ought to be saying to the three Divine Persons, or to the eternal Word incarnate…. and I make a request, according to my inner feelings, so that I may better follow and imitate Our Lord, thus newly incarnate.” 10. Closing with the Lord’s Prayer.

Other Suggestions: 1. While taking a walk, use this method for Jesus’ walk to Calvary, for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, for Paul and company on the road to Damascus. 2. Don’t worry if you get the steps out of order. Ignatius didn’t mind – he was results-oriented and wanted to see hearts change more than form followed. 3. Sing a hymn or biblical song with many images, and think about the images.

Who was Ignatius?

(1491-1556) Founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The youngest of eleven children, Ignatius left his
Basque home to become a page for a noblemen. His life of brawling, gambling, and womanizing was disrupted
when his boss lost his position. He joined the army and was hit in the leg by a cannonball. During a year’s
recuperation in France as a prisoner, he turned to God. His Spiritual Exercises for a 30-day retreat were
modeled after his own conversion experience and are considered a classic of Western spirituality. Ignatius spent
much time as an administrator over the Jesuits, and had the new order emphasize preaching, education and acts of
charity.

Further Reading:

Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Personal Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1996)

Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types (Charlottesville, VA: The Open Door, Inc., 1991)

 

Think it through: discursive meditation

[The third of five occasional articles of variations on Lectio Divina meditation based on the book Prayer and Temperament by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey.]

Discursive Meditation: a Short History

Developed over the first Christian centuries, the form of meditation known as Lectio Divinaincluded the elements of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. These elements are interwoven to make the prayer simple and spontaneous. The passion for analysis brought about by the 12th Century schools of theology began to emphasize more analytical and methodical meditation. A 14th and 15th Century renewal movement – the Devotio Moderna – reacted against the overemphasis of analysis in prayer and emphasized the last two elements of the Lectio Divina. By the 16th Century, the elements of the Lectio Divina generally were no longer interwoven. The term “mental prayer” (as opposed to liturgy and corporate prayer) was coined, and mental prayer was divided into discursive meditation, affective prayer (or affective meditation), and contemplation. In the last 400 years, grace-infused contemplation has been seen as the exception rather than the rule. It has been confused with phenomena such as levitation, visions, and private revelations, and has been associated with certain heresies such as Quietism in the 17th Century. Meanwhile, discursive meditation fit the rational approach to life brought about by the Age of Reason. This overemphasis on analysis and thinking in meditation lasted until The Vatican II Ecumenical Counsel in the early 1960s. Reacting to the inroads made by Eastern religions in the West, Vatican II caused many Catholics to rediscover their own contemplative tradition and theology as expressed by Thomas à Kempis, Francis de Sales, John of the Cross, and others.

Sadly, the pendulum has swung again and discursive meditation is underemphasized. Despite centuries-old warnings by John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and others, many today are trying to reach advanced stages of prayer almost solely by means of special methods and without the needed spiritual maturity. With its emphasis on personal growth, discursive meditation helps to bring about maturity.

Discursive Meditation: a Definition

Discursive meditation is a thinking-oriented approach to meditation. One “walks around” a Scripture or truth, seeing it from many angles. One reasons with oneself, moving from the doctrinal to the personal. Reasoning may be based on the seven auxiliary questions: why, who, what, where, when, how, & with what helps. The lectio portion may be brief, centering on a virtue, a fault, or a spiritual truth. The exercise concludes in the oratio portion with suitable resolutions. This discursive meditation results in a change of behavior. (Some sources use the term “discursive meditation” to also include the Feeling-oriented personalization of Scripture that will be described in a future article on NF spirituality.)

[chart]Discursive Meditation and the Rational Temperament

Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey’s book Prayer and Temperament uses the four temperaments popularized by David Kiersey in his book Please Understand Me: the artisan, the guardian, the idealist, and the rationalist. (For the purposes of Slow Reads’s articles on meditation, I have renamed the guardian temperament the “practical” temperament, and I have renamed the artisan temperament the “free-spirited” temperament.) These four temperaments are extractions from Katharine C. Briggs and Isabelle Briggs Myers’s personality theory, and they fit well with historical personality archetypes.

“Persons of the NT temperament possess a very logical mind which approaches a problem with an orderly movement of thought from cause to effect or from effect back to cause. They gravitate to anything complicated, exacting, or challenging to the mind.” (Prayer and Temperament, page 80.) NT’s (rationalists) usually prefer discursive meditation because of its emphasis on thought and logic. This style of meditation may not come as easily to those of other temperaments, but it would benefit them as well as the rationalist.

A Discursive Meditation

Lectio: read verses on humility, including Matthew 11:28-29, Matthew 23:8-12, 1 Corinthians 4:7, and 1 Peter 5:6.Meditatio: Consider the lives of Moses or Mary (Martha’s sister), or other examples of humility. Perhaps consider Peter’s hard-won humility by comparing Matthew 26:33 with John 21:15-17. Who is the most meaningful example of humility in the Bible to me? Why? Who in real life? Why? When have I been humble in the recent past? When have I been arrogant? What’s behind my arrogance? What’s the purpose of humility? How if at all does humility reflect reality? How can I grow in humility? How did Peter grow in humility? Who can help me grow in humility? How can he or she help? Oratio: End your meditation with suitable prayers for insight and expressions of repentance. Converse with God about an appropriate concrete action step.

Further reading:

Merton, Thomas. The Ascent to Truth. San Diego: Harcourt, 1951, p. 177.

Michael, Chester P. and Norrisey, Marie C. Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types. Charlottesville, VA: The Open Door, Inc., 1991.

 

Rumination’s four stomachs

[Read my exclusive interview of Chester P. Michael here.]

A friend of mine, outgoing and practical, was asked recently what he would like to see more of in our church. “Meditation,” he responded. I don’t think he would have felt that way if he had not participated in a series based on Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey’s Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types.

Michael and Norrisey believe that my friend and others like him have been shut out of meditation because of many churches’ “one size fits all” approach to meditation. Many of us also fight our assumptions about those who meditate (if we don’t) or those who don’t (if we do). Why can’t meditation be for everyone? It can, if meditation means more than what one fears (if one doesn’t meditate) or than what one is used to (if one does).

Prayer and Temperament offers new possibilities for people who have been frustrated by a form of meditation that doesn’t suit them. It also helps open up the Christian world to its own meditative traditions, largely unknown to western Christians and especially to western Protestants. Specifically, Prayer and Temperament describes and gives exercises in four Christian meditative traditions, and it suggests which tradition may be most suitable for each of four temperaments.

Prayer and Temperament is based on Katherine C. Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers’ theory of personality types, which has been applied to many other venues over the past quarter century – the workplace, the schoolroom, and the bedroom, to name three. Briggs and Myers’ theory, in turn, is an extension of Carl Jung’s theory of psychological type. This month, Slow Reads has an article explaining Myers-Briggs theory and comparing several books about it.

Michael and Norrisey use the four temperaments popularized by David Kiersey in his bookPlease Understand Me: the artisan, the guardian, the idealist, and the rationalist. (For the purposes of Slow Reads articles on meditation, I have renamed the guardian temperament the “practical” temperament, and I have renamed the artisan temperament the “free-spirited” temperament.) These four temperaments are extractions from Briggs and Myers’ theory, and they fit well with historical personality archetypes. A chart here provides an overview of Kiersey’s temperaments.

Michael and Norrisey give each temperament something like a patron saint whose spirituality seems to match the temperament’s spirituality. For instance, the hard-nosed Ignatius is matched with the practical temperament. Kiersey’s practical people like to follow the rules, and they like predictability and order. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises provide plenty of steps and order that temperaments more taken with spontaneity would chafe at.

Yet Ignatius’ exercises rely heavily on a vivid imagination, which Kiersey’s practical temperament barely keeps suppressed, as Michael and Norrisey point out. A practitioner would use his sensible imagination to picture himself in a biblical setting. Perhaps he would witness or be a part of the exodus from Egypt or the road Jesus took to his crucifixion. Perhaps he would become one of the disciples on the Emmaus road whom Jesus surprised after his resurrection.

Michael and Norrisey point out that all of the exercises and forms of meditation are really for every temperament. They suggest that all of the forms be tried, but that the practitioner return to the form of meditation she finds most comfortable and profitable.

The authors see all of the meditative forms as loosely connected with the Lectio Divina, a method of prayer and meditation that began in the fourth century and was popularized by St. Benedict. The four steps of Lectio Divina build on themselves, moving, if you will, from the head to the heart:

1. Lectio (seeking truth, or seeking God’s word)
2. Meditatio (making God’s word personal)
3. Oratio (our response to God’s word, including our adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication)
4. Contemplatio (union of love between God and us)

Each step in the Lectio Divina calls on one of four specific ways we perceive or make decisions, according to Prayer and Temperament. Since Briggs and Myers say we each have a favorite (a “dominant function”) among these four ways, each of us will tend to favor one part of the Lectio Divina, and consequently one of the meditative forms the authors have loosely connected with that part of the old Benedictine prayer form.

Linking meditation forms to temperaments raises some interesting issues. Can one’s interest in spiritual things be linked to one’s personality type? Do people who enjoy similar expressions of meditation or worship have similar temperaments? Are entire denominations or even religions dominated by people with the same temperament? Can contemplation – even the gift of contemplation written about by John of the Cross and Thomas Merton – be explained as the exclusive province of the idealist temperament?

In this respect, Michael and Norrisey continue in the long tradition, begun perhaps by William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, of analyzing religious experience from the standpoint of psychology, or at least quasi-psychology.

Prayer and Temperament uses the objectivity personality type theory offers to suggest how one may get over certain prejudices that may hinder legitimate religious experiences. Here is a sample:

Because of the modern prejudice in favor of the physical and rational and against the spiritual and metaphysical, those who have Intuition as a Tertiary or Inferior Function may be wary and afraid of it and thus find it difficult to activate its transcendent dimension. The important thing is to give due consideration to any sudden insights that seek one’s attention.

Perhaps most importantly, the authors’ linkage of personality type theory and meditation gives us an unthreatening way to discover and discuss our own religious traditions and practices.