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.