April 30, 2014

Announcing The Enneagram & Prayer Series

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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)


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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.


The Enneagram & the Deadly Sins (Or Passions)


The Enneagram & the Holy Virtues (or Ideas)

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 One & Prayer

Type Two – The Helper
Basic Fear: Of being unwanted or unworthy of love
Basic Desire: To feel loved

Type Two & Prayer

Type Three – The Achiever
Basic Fear: Of being worthless
Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile

Type Three & Prayer

Type Four – The Individualist
Basic Fear: Of having no identity or uniqueness
Basic Desire: To “find themselves” and have personal significance

Type Four & Prayer

Type Five – The Investigator
Basic Fear: Of being useless, helpless or incapable
Basic Desire: To be capable and competent

Type Five & Prayer

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?

  1. Leigh Kramer
    April 30, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    I am so glad you’re doing this series, Tara! I cannot wait to read through it. Thank you for linking to my series- I’m so honored by the way it inspired you. xo

  2. Cara Strickland
    April 30, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    I’m really looking forward to this, Tara. I’m just starting to delve into the Enneagram. Also, I can’t believe that I’ve never noticed that your blog is Anam Cara. I was named for this phrase and concept and it’s precious to me.

  3. David Fox
    May 1, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I am so looking forward to this. I have been using the Wisdom of the Enneagram for over 10 years. I find it very helpful. I look forward to the coupling of Prayer (practice) and they learnings of the Enneagram types. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Sari Graham
    May 7, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    This is another one of those moments of serendipity. I found this from a comment on Rachel Held Evans post about being a 3. I have been interested in the Enneagram for some time and via Richard Rohr’s and the now archived Beams and Struts magazine. This is very exciting and I’m really looking forward to it.

  5. Beth
    May 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Oooh how delicious!

  6. Andrea Brownlee
    May 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    This is wonderful! I have several people who I think might benefit from this! I will be sharing these posts on my congregation’s Facebook page! I am always searching for ways to help them engage and/or strengthen their prayer lifes!

  7. Christine- Fruit in Season
    May 29, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    This excites me so much! Looking forward to reading more.

  8. Andrea Brownlee
    June 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Wondering when the next blog on the Enneagram will be?

  9. Andrea Brownlee
    May 20, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Hi! I really enjoyed the first 5 blogs on the Enneagram and prayer and I wondering if type 6,7,8, and 9 will get a blog sometime in the future?