When Brenda Black discovered that people had different spiritual types, she found it helpful for her volunteer work.
“I had an ‘aha’ moment that helped me understand that not everyone sees things like I do,” she says. “You have to understand that people are seeking different things from the church, not the things you’re looking for, so it helps you to avoid conflicts or work through big decisions.”
Black, who lives in Gilbert Plains, Man., learned about people’s four spiritual types in an Ontario workshop led by spiritual director Miriam Frey. The workshop focuses on Corinne Ware’s book, Discover Your Spiritual Type and explores why different people find a variety of spiritual practices and worship styles meaningful.
You can check your spiritual type by taking an online test here that combines Ware’s work with the Myers-Briggs personality test. You answer a series of questions and find out if you are a lover (focused on relationship), sage (intellectual), mystic (contemplative), or prophet (social justice focused).
Black thrives on the relational aspect of church and is often organizing or preparing meals for groups ranging from her congregation’s movie club to the Out of the Cold dinner for the homeless. For her, spiritual practice and service is about bringing people together to build community.
Her husband, David Black, who also attended the workshop, says it affirmed he was a sage. “Reading. That was the door opening,” he says of his own spirituality after he discovered authors like John Spong, Marcus Borg and Amy-Jill Levine. Participating in study groups also helped him question and understand what prompted the early Christians to follow Jesus and how faith and spirituality still apply to people today. “That gave me some ‘aha’ moments,” he adds. “I’ve only felt something in a religious way three times since going back to church – twice in Israel and once at Bible study.”
While David prefers quieter services and music, such as Gregorian chants, he recognizes that others may like rock music. “We are all trying to go to the same place,” he says of the religious or spiritual experience. “But there are many rivers to the ocean.”
Rev. Dr. Brice Balmer, who lives in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, discovered his prophet – or social justice – sense of spirituality while working with the civil rights movement. “I saw God in the cry for justice. I saw God in the action,” he says. His spiritual growth came from working with marginalized people and those who are addicted but then break free. “As I walk with other people, God becomes more present, real and hopeful as we find joy, love and liberation together,” he says. He also loves seeing his congregation become more ethnically diverse.
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“Following Jesus is really important for me, but it’s following Jesus in the middle of the social structures. Trying to break oppression and open doors for people who are marginalized,” he says. “What draws me is moving into community. I get energy in it, and not just because it’s successful, because sometimes it’s not. It’s where I see the presence of God and how we can be closer to that presence.”
Miriam Frey, the spiritual director who taught the workshops that the others attended, has also found freedom in Corinne Ware’s model. She learned that she’s a mystic – one who is often more intuitive, values silence, and may find walking in the woods or meditating more valuable than attending church. She’s Mennonite, but says she really loves the Quaker tradition because “no one is talking. I can sit in prayer with people who love to sit in prayer.”
“I used to feel out of place,” she says, “because I didn’t like long sermons or really heartfelt songs. Once I realized I was a mystic, I could sit in a sage service and understand they value the Bible, tradition and order. They have a different way of understanding the divine and can approach it with intellect. I’ve also been in services that are much too emotional and spontaneous for me because that’s the way some people connect to their God.”
Frey, who trains spiritual directors in the Ontario Jubilee Program and counsels seekers on their spiritual journeys, says Ware’s model has allowed her to view spiritual practice and prayer in a broader way. It also means she can encourage people to experiment with new ways to experience the divine. “Going on a peace march or having a potluck is as meaningful to some people as my silence is to me,” she says.
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