This is part 2 of 3 in a series on Being Christian.
I’ve recently been trying to make it a habit to live life with more of an interior Christian disposition. But I ask myself, what does it mean to be Christian? I know people whose Christianity oozes from them. They shine with a kind of joy and love that touches everyone around them. They have an enthusiasm for life. It’s more than their personality; its an intentional choice of disposition: they choose to live a life of integrity and love that blesses others in their presence with dignity and kindness. How do they manage this?
This coming Sunday the church celebrates Pentecost, when after Jesus’ ascension the Holy Spirit descended onto the disciples like tongues of fire and they all begin to speak in different tongues. The scripture uses words like “astounded” and “amazed”. Those gathered are astonished, captivated, and animated. This is the beginning of an identity that will eventually become known as “Christian”. It took time for the Jesus movement to shift from an identity of a new kind of Judaism to something wildly different. The excitement and zeal that spilled out from the Pentecost scene I believe is the kind of zeal that ought to animate us as Christians. We need to be Spirit-moved. This doesn’t mean we can’t experience sorrow or doubt or suffering—that’s a reality of life. It means we allow the Spirit of God into our very beings and allow that Spirit to shape our disposition.
Saint Ignatius doesn’t talk much about the Holy Spirit in the Spiritual Exercises, but he does speak about the “good spirit” that comes from God. Here it needs to be more than a force in our lives that simply pushes us toward God in opposition of the evil spirit. Those whose Christianity affects their disposition make a home for the good spirit, inviting it into their hearts. What’s the fruit of this? The same fruits of the Spirit St Paul writes about: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. “Let us be guided by the Spirit,” Paul says.
To live a Christian disposition we can actually try and exercise these fruits in our daily interactions with others. Seek out opportunities to share love and kindness through a smile or eye contact. Choose to be gentle and patient in a frustrating moment. Have a manner of peace. The mark of a Christian disposition is love—love others can see and feel.
One of the best tools to bring ourselves to a Christian disposition is the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a personality model that groups all people into nine personality types. What’s unique about the Enneagram compared to other personality models is that its purpose is to free us from our fears and compulsions. Each type is characterised by a particular motivation like truth, perfection, or faith (to name three). And the way you strive for that goal will manifest itself in a negative or positive disposition. Let me give you an example:
I am an Eight (aka, The Challenger). The Eight’s basic desire is to be in control and also strive for truth.
At their best (consolation), Eights use their courage to try to achieve their vision for the common good, they fight for justice, and are natural leaders.
At their worst (desolation), Eights try to defy others to get their way, they can be combative, and do whatever they can to protect themselves.
Each type when they are in consolation or desolation will tend to appear like another type. When in desolation the Eight moves toward the Five and becomes insular and closes themselves off from others. When in consolation the Eight moves toward the Two (aka, The Helper) and are caring of others.
Here’s where the Ennagram helps us be freed from our worst selves. If the Eight wishes to move toward consolation, its best self, or as The Ennagram: A Journey of Self Discovery (which I highly recommend) says, be “redeemed” from its compulsion and fear, it can take on the “pride” of the Two: helping and caring. While Jesus confronted injustice like an Eight, he did it to help redeem people.
The Enneagram is an extraordinarily helpful tool for self-examination that focuses us outward to the ways we engage with one another. The book I linked to above, written by three religious, is the best book on the Ennagram I’ve ever read and even looks at the ways Jesus, the model of the perfect human, exhibits the healthy characteristics of all nine types. This way the Enneagram becomes a tool for creating a healthy Christian disposition. Even though there are quizzes online, the best and most accurate way to determine your type is by reading about them.
Here are some more resources:
- The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr, OFM
- The Enneagram Institute – Online resources and information about all the types
- The Quick Enneagram Sorting Test – A very quick way to figure out your type
Listen to an audio version of this post…
Music by Kevin MacLeod