If there’s one glaring absence I see in the modern Catholic Church (in the west, at least), it’s that we spend far more time telling people what to do and what to believe (or, worse, telling them to do and believe what they like) than how to love God. Morality and doctrine matter, of course. After all, how can you know God if you don’t know anything about him? And how can you love God if nobody’s told you what he asks of you? But most of us—even those of us who have spent years and years following him—have never been taught how to pray. We’re told to go to Mass and possibly handed a pamphlet on the rosary and then our pastors and teachers wash their hands of it and go back to whatever good or useless lesson they were teaching.
I’m guilty of it myself. There’s so much to learn about the faith that it’s awfully hard to take time out of the classroom to spend it in the school of prayer. I always figured if I could keep them Catholic by defending the faith beyond possibility of attack, someone else would teach them. But with rare exception, nobody really does.
The trouble with teaching prayer is that it’s hard. It’s hard because prayer is hard, but also because there’s no systematic way to do it. There’s no one-size-fits-all style of prayer. And while the Mass is certainly the highest form of prayer, other devotions can’t really be ranked in effectiveness or importance. So, what? Throw everything at people and see what sticks?
Well, yes and no. For all I play up the importance of the Examen when I speak, I know that it’s not as easy as just saying, “Tell God about your day and then you’ll be a saint.” Prayer is much more complicated than that—and, as it turns out, much more individualized.
Because I’m particularly self-centered, I assume that everyone is (or ought to be) just like me. As it turns out, though, God has made all different kinds of people. And just as different kinds of people learn differently or relate differently or love differently, they also pray differently. Some people pray really well with Scripture. Others need to find God in creation. No, really—this isn’t some hippie cop-out about meeting God in nature (as I may have assumed for several years). It’s an ancient expression of spirituality and a genuine encounter with the divine, just as much as the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours.
Last fall, Fr. Stephen Billington1 handed me a copy of a book to flip through, thinking I might find it interesting. The cover of Prayer and Temperament had me thinking it might not be the most helpful book I’d ever encountered, but I flipped to my personality type to give it a shot. There I found a minute-by-minute description of my prayer regimen. So I looked at the Bible passages it recommended; I had fully half of them memorized already. That’s when I began to think this book might have something to offer.
Prayer and Temperament, by Fr. Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey, uses the Myers-Briggs personality types to explain how different people might profit more from certain types of spirituality. It’s a fascinating read, although I would recommend skipping the chapter on liturgy entirely and remembering throughout that the book was published in 1984 and is occasionally quite dated.2 It’s certainly worth picking up a copy just for the prayer suggestions, which I won’t be able to reproduce in full here.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a summary of the authors’ findings in an attempt to help you all discover styles of prayer that you’ll find more fruitful. Many of us, I think, expect prayer to follow a particular model. When that model proves frustrating and fruitless, we abandon any serious attempt at prayer. My hope is that this series (and the book, if you’re inclined to read the whole thing) will help you to find the way that you/your children/your spouse/your students/your friends pray best and that in doing so you come to a deeper love of the God who loves you more than you will ever know.
So if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs personality test recently, click over to this one (or recommend a more accurate one in the comments). According to Michael and Norrissey, there are four major schools of spirituality, determined by your MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). These types are SJ (ESFJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, ISTJ), NT (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP), SP (ESTP, ISTP, ESFP, ISFP), and NF (ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, INFP). For a little clarification on the vocabulary, S stands for sensing, perceiving via the senses rather than intuition, and N for intuition. F is for feeling as opposed to T for thinking, a distinction about how decisions are reached. Finally, J is for judging, those who tend to see situations objectively, while P (perceiving) takes people and situations into account when making a judgment call.3
Take the test to figure out where you fall, then read on and prepare to be amazed. (Or, if you can’t wait for it all to be published, listen to the podcast explaining it all.)