Exploring Spiritual Styles

Posted: January 27, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Prayer

Over the last couple of teaching sessions, we have been looking at the nine styles of spirituality, as described by Christian Schwartz. There’s a whole website full of stuff if you want to check it out, but here I will attempt a brief summary of what we’ve covered.

The idea behind the spiritual styles is that we all encounter God and express our relationship with him in different ways, and it can be helpful for us to recognise what those ways are in order to explore them further and perhaps find God in new and unexpected places.

The nine styles sit on a wheel which places them in relation to three colours – green (God seen in creation – the world), red (God seen in the sacrifice of Jesus – the word) and blue (God seen in our own hearts – the spirit). It also places them in relation to three passions which overlap the three colours – the beautiful (a focus on the aesthetic), the true (a focus on the objective) and the good (a focus on the ethical).

It all looks rather neat, and of course the reality of our spirituality is far messier, but it can still be a helpful picture to start from.

So what are the nine styles? Here’s a very quick guide.

Sensory people best express their spirituality through appreciating God’s presence and work in creation and celebrating what they experience through their senses.

Rational people best express their spirituality through seeking to understand the nature of God, asking questions and thinking deeply.

Doctrinal people best express their spirituality through a clear definition of the truth, and have a desire to think correctly about God.

Scripture driven people best express their spirituality  through studying the Bible and applying its teaching.

Sharing people best express their spirituality through passing on the love and grace of God, experiencing God most profoundly in their relationships with others.

Ascetic people best express their spirituality through developing a sense of discipline for God and see sacrifice and restraint as important.

Enthusiastic people best express their spirituality through encounters with the supernatural and celebrating the power of God.

Mystical people best express their spirituality through resting in God and focusing on the Spirit at work in their inner selves. 

Sacramental people best express their spirituality through liturgy and symbolic action, seeing the spiritual as present in and expressed through the physical.

Most of us will recognise ourselves in one or two of those and have one or two others that we just can’t connect to at all, although some will have a more even spread across the styles, but I imagine that we will all connect with some of what’s there.

The styles may sound rather prescriptive, but they don’t tell us how we should be experiencing God. Instead they recognise the great diversity of ways in which we do experience God, a diversity that is of course rooted in the wonderful kaleidoscope nature of created humanity.

Each style has its strengths and weaknesses, and it’s good to be aware of both.

Sensory people have a profound sense of the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, but can risk becoming too reliant on sensations and external things.

Rational people have the ability to use logic and science to develop their faith, but can risk rejecting anything they can’t understand.

Doctrinal people have the courage of their convictions, but can risk being dogmatic and neglecting personal experiences.

Scripture driven people are faithful in following and proclaiming God’s word, but can risk reducing God’s word to Scripture and not hearing that word elsewhere.

Sharing people are great at loving and evangelising to people, but can risk focusing more on relationships to others than a direct connection to God.

Ascetic people have a sense of freedom from the world, but can risk feeling guilty about any enjoyment and developing an overly negative view of the world.

Enthusiastic people are open to the work of the Spirit, but can risk falling into emotionalism and rejecting reason.

Mystical people are able to live in and celebrate the mystery of God, but can risk a lack of discernment if they become too introverted.

Sacramental people have an ability to express their faith in physical ways, but can risk an overly methodical attitude to spirituality.

It’s worth saying that the risks come from taking any style to the extreme, and being dominant in one style doesn’t mean falling prey to that danger. They do however remind us of the importance of balance in our spiritual lives, which we shall come onto now.

Jesus taught that the most important commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”.

If heart and soul as the place of our inner selves are concerned with the good and our experience of the spirit, and mind as the centre of our rational selves is concerned with the true and our understanding of the world, and strength as an expression of our embodied selves is concerned with the beautiful and our encounter with the word, then we should surely be engaging at different points across the wheel.

It is because of this need for balance that Schwartz recommends that if we want to encounter God at a deeper level, then we should start with where we feel most comfortable, then move to experience one of our opposite styles.

It might feel strange or uncomfortable, and we may never find our spiritual home there, but we may still learn something valuable about how we express our more natural styles, and discover something about God that we never knew or expected.

Last Sunday night we started thinking about the rhythms of our lives, and how thinking about these styles might help us to develop that. I want to get to that, but this post is already on the lengthy side, so I will finish here for now and get a bit more practical in the next post.

One final word though. It was wonderful hearing people share why the different styles worked for them and what it meant to experience God in those different ways, so I would really like to encourage you to leave a comment about where you are and what you value about your spiritual style, so we can keep sharing our stories and experiences.

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