Welcome to a blog series that I’ve been excited about for some time now, a series that explores the connections and interweavings of the Enneagram with various prayer styles and personalities. Although I’ve been interested in and have been using the Enneagram as a tool in my spiritual direction practice for some time, it was Leigh Kramer‘s insightful posts on the Enneagram and Blogging that got me thinking about how helpful it might be to explore together how and why the Enneagram impacts our spiritual lives, and specifically our life of prayer. (Leigh is also an Enneagram consultant, and would be happy to help you discover your type, if you’re so inclined.)
I’ve been studying about and using the Enneagram as a help for spiritual growth for nearly 5 years now. I was first introduced to it in my spiritual direction practicum by a classmate whose research project centered around the Types and how they might affect our lives with God. At the time, it didn’t connect with me—it was just a series of numbers and personality types in a sea of personality quizzes and type-indicators. I was doing so much self-examination in seminary that yet another lens to look at my life put me on overload. And that can happen, because the Enneagram, like any tool, is only right for certain situations and certain people. Although everything looks like a nail when you’re holding a hammer, and everyone looks like a Type when you’re holding the Enneagram, it doesn’t mean that bashing the can of New England clam chowder is going to be anything but messy.
Which is to say, as I walk through this series, posted on Wednesdays, take what is useful to you, and leave the rest. If the Enneagram isn’t resonating with you in your season of life, feel free to leave it to one side, maybe to return later, maybe not. In the spiritual life, as in the rest of our lives, we have a tendency to begin measuring ourselves by what is popular or being talked about—if you haven’t read Brené Brown by now, you’re just not spiritually mature, says your inner voice—which isn’t the way God works in helping us grow into our truest selves at all. Everything has it’s season, and everyone grows at different rates and in different ways. As St. Therese of Lisieux says,
“I have come to realize, that the radiance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the fragrance of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy…Perfection consists in being what God wants us to be.”
What I’ve come to discover for myself over these past years of working with the Enneagram is that it is a very valuable tool for helping people see themselves, their passions, their blind spots, their strengths rightly. Developed as a synthesis of various ancient and modern traditions in the 1960s by Oscar Ichazo, the Enneagram is a modern rubric that has deep roots in work and teaching of the Desert Fathers and early Christianity. Although there is a lot of mistaken attribution for the Enneagram (some of the symbols are similar to ancient sufi teachings, so the work of the Enneagram often gets confused with Sufism), it is a model that draws heavily on the idea of the seven “deadly” sins.
Those deadly sins (a term that we tend not to like because it makes us feel shameful) were originally penned by Evagrius Ponticus, an Egyptian monk who lived in the 300s. “The most prominent feature of his research was a system of categorizing various forms of temptation. He developed a comprehensive list in AD 375 of eight evil thoughts (λογισμοι), or eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs. This list was intended to serve a diagnostic purpose: to help readers identify the process of temptation, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the remedies available for overcoming temptation.” (source)img source)
Evagrius wrote that the first of the sins or temptations was love of self, followed by gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow (sometimes called acedia), lust, anger, vainglory and pride. Thus, the seven deadly sins were originally nine, and meant as an understanding of the corruption of core passions within us, the core ways in which we are made to reflect uniquely the beauty and glory of God. These sins are deadly not because they are somehow worse than anything else, but because they corrupt the life flowing within us from God, the very essence of who we are—they are the very things that bring about death (relational, emotional, mental, spiritual and physical) and separation from God.
In the same way, the Enneagram identifies nine Types (which have varying titles, but are most helpfully denoted by numbers so that we don’t get attached to character qualities) whose core passions are held in tension with each of the deadly sins.
According to the Enneagram, we each have a holy virtue, something that is innate within us to pursue and reflect, and the corruption of that is our core passion, or deadly sin. We all reflect each Type of the Enneagram in some way or another, of course. Just because you’re a Seven doesn’t mean that faith doesn’t matter to you, it just means that wisdom is a core pursuit of your soul. In the same way, just because you’re a Four doesn’t mean you don’t struggle with anger, but it means you don’t struggle with it on the same deep level as a One does.
Another reason that I find the Enneagram so effective is that it describes both your path to growth and your path of degradation (the place where you go when you’re under stress or living in the place of your passion). These paths, along with the wings (the number to your right and left that influences your type) and the instincts (one of three qualities—self-preservation, social and sexual—that move you toward or away from others in particular ways), go a long way to helping us understand both where we are at any give time, and what actions and internal narratives might help us grow more fully into who we are meant to be.
Here’s a brief overview of each of the Types:
Type One – The Reformer
Basic Fear: Of being corrupt or defective
Basic Desire: To be “good” or “right”
Type Two – The Helper
Basic Fear: Of being unwanted or unworthy of love
Basic Desire: To feel loved
Type Three – The Achiever
Basic Fear: Of being worthless
Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile
Type Four – The Individualist
Basic Fear: Of having no identity or uniqueness
Basic Desire: To “find themselves” and have personal significance
Type Five – The Investigator
Basic Fear: Of being useless, helpless or incapable
Basic Desire: To be capable and competent
Type Six – The Loyalist
Basic Fear: Of being without support or guidance
Basic Desire: To have security and support
Type Seven – The Enthusiast
Basic Fear: Of deprived and in pain
Basic Desire: To be satisfied and content, to have their needs
Type Eight – The Challenger
Basic Fear: Of being harmed or controlled by others
Basic Desire: To protect themselves or to be in control of their own lives and destiny
Type Nine – The Peacemaker
Basic Fear: Of loss and separation
Basic Desire: To have inner stability, “peace of mind”
There’s much more to be said of each of the Types, and I encourage you to read the short descriptions in the links to each of the Types before even beginning to guess your own Type. The Enneagram Institute has a short-form free test here. If you’d like to do the long-form test, normally $10, I administer the test in cooperation with the Institute and can offer the Anam Cara community 20% off. Just email me here, and I’ll send you instructions for paying and receiving the test. That test takes about 40 minutes, thereabouts, and needs your full attention. If you come up tied, you can take the test again within 6 months. Finally, if you’d like a more personal touch, I suggest you get in touch with Leigh, who can walk you through the Enneagram flash cards and talk more about what your Type means for you.
Over the next 9 weeks I’ll be talking not so much about the growth and stresses of each Type (although I’ll overview those), but the prayer practices, postures and spiritual struggles of each Type. I’m looking forward to diving into this journey with you, and learning alongside as we talk about our Types and our relationships with God. I’d love this to be a community series, so feel free to blog about how your Type influences your prayer life, and link back here. I’ll link up with the best posts, and share some insights along the way.
Finally, I’ll also be including a Spotify playlist appropriate to each Type as we go, compiled by a dear friend and fellow spiritual director. Cause who doesn’t want to rock out ot Type specific music?
If you’d like to link up with this series, feel free to grab this button and use it on your site. It will link back to this post where I’ll be compiling the posts for each Type:
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So what about you? What do you think of the Enneagram?
What excites you about this series?
What are you looking for?