A VARIETY OF SPIRITUAL TYPES
I Corinthians 12: 4-11


A sermon by Rev. Tom VandeStadt, Congregational Church of Austin, UCC
June 12, 2011
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A VARIETY OF SPIRITUAL TYPES
I Corinthians 12: 4-11

      In our congregational meeting after worship today, you'll be hearing more about the convergence discussion that we're having with five other churches, and the vision process that we're planning for the fall. Just to make clear the distinction between the two processes, the "convergence discussion" includes our church, University Baptist Church, Highland Park Baptist Church, the Sanctuary, and Journey Imperfect Faith Community. The "vision process" will take place internally within our own church this fall, and will help us see who we are and what we're doing as a church, and how we discern our future as a church. I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about the vision process, and in particular, one aspect of the vision process.
      As you may or may not know, we currently have a committee that's been hard at work planning a rather in-depth vision process. The Committee includes Reuel Nash, Sharon Brown, Whit Bodman, Bill Mueller, Nancy Edison, Martin Garrison, and me. The first stage of the vision process will use a survey and house meetings to help us discern who we are, what we do, and how we think and feel about who we are and what we do. This first stage will cover everything from worship to outreach, stewardship to Christian education, building usage to fellowship.
      After we take this close look at ourselves, a follow-up process will help us discern our vision for the next five to ten years or even longer. In other words, once we see who we are and what we're doing, and identify what we think and how we feel about who we are and what we're doing, well move to the next stage and ask ourselves what we should do next. Toward what kind of future ministry should we focus our time, talent, money, and energy?
      I want to focus for a moment on a key element in the initial process, the process in which we ask ourselves who we are. One of the vision committee's goals for this initial process is to offer the church a process whereby we can identify the various types of spirituality represented within this church. As we read this morning from Paul's letter to the church in Corinth, different people are endowed with different types of spiritual gifts. But it's also clear that different people are endowed with different spiritual dispositions or ways of expressing their spirituality.
      To paraphrase Paul, there are a variety of ways of being spiritual within the Body of Christ. Some people love the intellectual pursuit of studying classic Christian theology and doctrine, while others would rather sit in silence for hours or days or weeks to clear all analytical thoughts from their mind. Some people love singing in a raucous gospel choir, opening all the stops, clapping their hands, and swaying to the rhythm, while others would rather serve a meal to homeless folks, lead a protest against some injustice, dig a well in El Salvador, or argue a case before a judge.
      There are countless variations and combinations of these spiritual dispositions, leading to all kinds of rich and varied human spiritual expression. And it's vitally important to understand our spiritual disposition because it helps us discern what kind of worship inspires us, what type of Christian education or spirituality ministry supports our faith development and growth as human beings, and what kind of outreach or justice ministry expresses our passion to transform the world.
      The vision committee has had a difficult time figuring out how to help the church discern the different types of spirituality represented here. We considered asking people what they either believe or don't believe within the Apostles' Creed or the UCC Statement of Faith, but upon further reflection realized this wasn't an effective means of discerning spiritual disposition because this exercise would in and of itself appeal to people of a certain disposition while not appealing at all to others. So how could we find something that did justice to the folks in our church who are attracted to creeds, theology and beliefs, those who are attracted to a silent meditation group, those who are most committed to our outreach and justice work, and those who are drawn to our more creative and artistic ministries?
      I talked to a few people about our quandary, and they all recommended the work of Corinne Ware, a spiritual director and therapist, who's written a book entitled Discover Your Spiritual Type. I read her book and found it to be helpful. I'm not sure yet whether the vision committee will want to use her process or not, but I'd like to briefly outline for you the basics of her work because it will give you a little taste of the different ways we express our spirituality. I hope this little taste will inspire you to reflect a bit on how you are spiritual, how your spirituality may differ from that of others in this church, and how we may celebrate our spiritual diversity and nurture it for the common good.
      In your bulletin you'll find an insert with a couple of circles on it. These are illustrations from Ware's book. Ware divides her circle into four quadrants. The vertical line dividing the quadrants represents the mind and heart spectrum of spirituality, while the horizontal line represents the kataphatic and apophatic spectrum of spirituality.

  

    This will hopefully become clearer as I describe the quadrants. But very quickly, the mind end of the vertical spectrum represents a more intellectual approach to spirituality while the heart end represents a more affective or feeling end of spirituality.
      As for the horizontal line, the word kataphatic comes from the Greek Word kataphatikos which means affirmative. Kataphatic ways of knowing God affirm all the ways we imagine God to be, including all the traits, characteristics, and qualities of God that we affirm.
      For example, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten son." These opening lines of the Apostles' Creed are a classic kataphatic statement because they affirm certain things we claim to know about God. Liberation theology's claim that God has a "preferential option for the poor" is a kataphatic statement. It affirms a belief in a particular characteristic of God--God is a God of justice who prioritizes the liberation of the poor and the oppressed.
      Apophatic comes from the Greek word apophatikos which means negative. An apophatic way of knowing God is one that highlights God as mystery. It stresses what we do not know about God and the manner in which God transcends all of our human thoughts and images.
      For example, when the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, "The idea of God can become the final obstacle to God," he was making an apophatic statement. Apophatic knowing often focuses on silence. Contemporary Christian Thomas Matus writes, "Our experience of God leads us to the point where it is no longer possible to speak about God. Silence is the only proper attitude."
      Again, this will become clearer as I briefly describe the spiritual disposition that each quadrant represents. So let's go through them.
      Quadrant one is what Ware calls Speculative/Kataphatic, or head spirituality.
This is a mind-oriented thinking spirituality, one that favors intellectual understanding and concrete images. Folks of this disposition tend to be very attracted to the written word; they read a lot. They may be drawn to the study of systematic theology and the historical development of theological ideas. Within their church, they typically want high quality discussion and book study groups. They like their bible study to include historical, textual, and form criticism. They pay attention to the lyrics of hymns to discern whether they actually believe the words they're singing. They're attracted to public speakers who can offer clear, articulate, and well-thought out theological statements or an analysis and critique of a particular theology, creed, or biblical passage. These are often the folks who volunteer to formulate ethical position papers based on theological principles.
      Ware notes that folks in this group are extremely important to the church because they're the ones committed to codifying and preserving the community's theological heritage, as well as the further development of the community's theological perspectives. These are the folks who would find it really interesting to go through the Apostles' Creed line by line to discern to what extent they believe each particular statement.
      Ware calls quadrant two Affective/Kataphatic, or heart spirituality.
      Folks who tend toward this type of spirituality are drawn toward a more emotional and charismatic spirituality that stresses affirming what we do know about God through feelings and relationships. Instead of knowing things about God in the mind like the previous group, these folks are more interested in walking with the Lord and feeling God's love in their heart. These folks are drawn to experiencing the spirit in their bodies, maybe raising their hands to the sky and praising Jesus, or clapping their hands and swaying their hips and belting out a twenty minute gospel tune, or sitting still with their eyes closed as a pianist, violinist, and cellist transports their soul to a more sublime dimension. Folks in this group tend to be highly evangelical. They want to witness, to share testimony about how God or Jesus or the Spirit has changed their life and how good it makes them feel. They want everybody to feel as blessed, and loved, and saved as they feel.
      What these folks contribute to a community is the heart-felt relational quality of spirituality. They tend to be more open to spontaneity, bodily movement, and sharing their life story with others.
      Ware calls quadrant three Affective/Apophatic, or mystic spirituality.
      We're still in the heart or body or intuitive orientation here but we've now moved into the apophatic way of knowing-or unknowing-God. The way of mystery. People drawn toward this type of spirituality are by nature contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on the inner world. For these folks, no image of God is satisfactory because God is ineffable and un-nameable. To the extent they do hold an image of God it is God as creative force, or spiritual energy, or love. Folks of this disposition may be attracted to a life of austerity and asceticism because simplicity quiets the distractions and enables them to attend more fully to the inner voice. Ware writes that people with this type of spirituality often feel uncomfortable and even unwelcome within Western Protestantism because Western Protestantism doesn't have a well-developed contemplative tradition. If they leave organized religion, and they frequently do, they may be attracted to Eastern religious practice.
      What these folks contribute to a community is a passion for silence and simplicity, for contemplation, meditation, and the renewal and transformation of the interior life. These are the folks who produce the works on spirituality, soul-work, the "true self" and "false self," and the relationship between spirituality and psychology.
      Ware calls the type four quadrant Speculative/Apophatic, or kingdom spirituality.
According to Ware this is the smallest group. These folks are the single-minded and deeply focused visionaries who embody a crusading type of spirituality. Their aim is to witness to God's coming reign either through word or deed or both. They have a passion for transforming society, and they can be highly assertive, even aggressive, in their efforts to implement their vision of God's kingdom on earth. They're not afraid to offend those who disagree with them, or to suffer the consequences of their actions.
      What these folks contribute is the passion to translate their faith and vision into action, to be the outspoken ones, the movers and shakers, the agents of transformation that challenge the status quo.
So, these are the four basic types of spiritual disposition that Ware identifies. It's important to understand that within this schema there's such a thing as balanced spirituality and unbalanced spirituality. A balanced spirituality will be one in which we identify aspects of ourselves within each quadrant, and that's what the bottom circle represents. Ware has developed a questionnaire in which people place spokes in the circle in response to different statements. In a well-balanced spirituality, we'll see that we have a tendency to locate ourselves more within one quadrant than the others, though hopefully we'll find aspects of ourselves in all four quadrants.
      For example, I find myself predominantly in quadrant three. My spirituality is based to large degree on meditation, intuition, and the interior life. I love long silent retreats and I have for a long time struggled with my place within Western Protestantism. But I also have a dose of quadrant four, so you'll find me out in public speaking up for workers rights and advocating for the homeless. I also have a quadrant one aspect because I do love reading and studying the written word and I never have fewer than three books going at a time. And my quadrant two side is fulfilled largely by music and other forms of art that move me deeply within and bring tears to my eyes. Knowing this helps me understand why I'd much rather sit with a meditation group than lead a discussion on the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, why I'd rather read Thomas Merton than Reinhold Niebuhr, and why I feel so passionate about defending our ministry to the homeless outside our door.
      But there is also such a thing as an unbalanced spirituality. That's where we find ourselves far too oriented towards one quadrant and under-represented in the other quadrants. People who are over-represented in quadrant one over-intellectualize their spirituality. Too much quadrant two can lead folks to crave the feelings associated with being saved. Too much quadrant three can cause folks to completely withdraw from the world. And folks over-represented in quadrant four run the risk of developing dangerous forms of self-righteous tunnel vision wherein anyone who does not share their vision becomes their enemy and is believed to be an enemy of God.
      So balanced spirituality is healthy spirituality. And a church with a balance of folks who lean toward each of the four quadrants will be a healthy church with a rich and complementary spiritual life. But just as individuals lean more toward one quadrant than the others, so do churches. And so it would be interesting to see where each one of us leans as individuals, and where we as a church find ourselves.
      I would imagine that as a church we lean rather heavily towards quadrant one, the intellectual side. However, we have a fairly well developed quadrant four justice action side. And as I've discovered in our mediation and discipleship groups, a rather healthy quadrant three contemplative and intuitive side. And then there's the love for our music and our sharing of personal joys and concerns during worship, which we could interpret as our quadrant two emotive heart and feeling side.
      At any rate, I'm looking forward to our visioning process this fall. I think it'll be fascinating and hopefully it'll be help us discern who we really are, and why we're drawn to worship and to minister in the way that we do.