Over the next 2-3 months, I would like to embark on a Preaching Series on what is called the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an approach to exploring personality, how they are formed and what shape our personalities take. The word Enneagram comes from two words: Ennea meaning 9, and gram meaning picture. The Enneagram suggests that there are nine basic personality types or portraits that all of us fall into, with multiple variations in between those 9 basic types.
The purpose of the Enneagram is to help people to better understand ourselves so that we can grow to greater wholeness.
It is a long held notion in many different spiritual traditions, that the more we understand ourselves, the more we can grow spiritually.
• In ancient Greece this was expressed in the aphorism: Know thyself (sometimes attributed to Plato and Heraclitus)
• In Zen –Master Dogen said “To study the Enlightened Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualised by the ten thousand things. Which I believe is another way of saying, to forget the self is to come to know God. The way of selflessness.
• Within our own Biblical tradition, on a number of occasions, the Apostle Paul encourages us to self-introspection. 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. 1 Corinthians 11:31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And so the Enneagram has been used for a long time as a tool for self-understanding as a means to spiritual self-knowledge leading to growth towards greater wholeness. And that I believe is the point of any true religion. Our Christian faith is not simply to get a ticket to heaven so that we can sit on clouds for all eternity playing our harps. That is not true salvation. True salvation is coming to greater and greater wholeness so that we have greater and greater capacity within ourselves to express the fullness of God’s life.
The more whole we are, the greater God’s ability to express God’s Life through us. For myself then, holiness and wholeness are two words that belong together. To grow in holiness is to grow in wholeness.
And so the Enneagram has been used as a tool for spiritual growth towards greater and greater wholeness, just as Jesus was whole. For me that’s what it means to say that Jesus was without sin: he was whole.
The theory of the Enneagram is when we are born into this world, our early life experiences, struggles and difficulties cause our personalities to be shaped in certain ways. And it would seem that some of that already begins to take place in the womb. In that process of early personality formation, each of us begins to gravitate to one of the 9 basic personality types as a way of coping and navigating our way through life. But each of the 9 personality types is incomplete on their own.
To be truly whole, as Jesus was whole, we need to grow more and more to be able to express the characteristics of all 9 personality types. We become dysfunctional, when we refuse to grow, like an adult whose emotional development has got stuck at the age of a 2 or 3 year old or a 13 or 14 year old. Thomas Keating says that the essence of sin is the refusal to grow.
Each week, as we explore each of the 9 personality types, I will be inviting us to see how each of these personality types is expressed in and through the person of Jesus, who is for us a model of wholeness. I will also be inviting us into a journey of self-reflection and growth as we come to know ourselves better in both our strengths and our weaknesses, as well as identify in what ways we can grow towards greater wholeness.
For the remainder of today’s sermon, I would like to very briefly describe each of the 9 personality types on the Enneagram. Hopefully over the next few weeks, each of us will be able to begin to see something of ourselves in each of these portraits.
TYPE ONE is most often known as the Reformer and sometimes as the Perfectionist. Reformers or Perfectionists have some wonderful qualities: diligent, principled, orderly, neat and dependable. But just as all personalities have a shadow, a One has a tendency towards anger and being critical.
TYPE TWO is most often called the Helper, Giver, or Caregiver who has some wonderful qualities of being warm, caring, helpful and giving. But a Two also has a tendency of being needy, and at times interfering.
TYPE THREE is the Achiever who has some wonderful qualities of being successful, optimistic, energetic, efficient and productive. But a Three can also have the tendency to be image conscious and at times a little devious.
TYPE FOUR is the Artist, sometimes also called the Romantic. The Artist or Romantic has some wonderful qualities: Creative, sensitive , expressive, intuitive and original. But Fours can also have a tendency to be moody and at times a little depressive.
TYPE FIVE: The Thinker, Observer, or Investigator. Fives have some wonderful qualities. They are observant, analytical, perceptive, wise and reflective. But a Five can also have a tendency to live in their heads and become detached and withdrawn.
TYPE SIX: The Loyalist, is also known as the Institutionalist, Loyal Guardian, the Loyal Skeptic or the Security Expert. The Six on the Enneagram has some wonderful qualities: loyal, dutiful, committed, practical and courageous. But Sixes can also tend to be anxious and worst-case-scenario thinkers.
TYPE SEVEN is the Enthusiast or Adventurer, also called the Joker. Sevens have some wonderful qualities. They can often be fun-loving, child-like, spontaneous, and adventurous. But they can also sometimes have a tendency to seem superficial and not always dependable.
TYPE EIGHT is often called the Leader. An Eight has some wonderful qualities: Just/Fair, Self-confident, earthy, resourceful and fearless. But they can also have a tendency towards being domineering and confrontational.
TYPE NINE is often called the Peacemaker or Mediator. Nines have some wonderful qualities: most often pleasant, peaceful, tolerant, calm and accommodating. But they can also become lazy and unassertive, or apathetic.
When comparing personality types, each of us naturally think that our dominant personality type is the best, just as we often think of our race, or nationality, or religion, or our gender is the best. But each personality type has its strengths and weaknesses. Often the danger in life is that we tend to compare our strengths with other people’s weaknesses. And the danger is that we can all become judge-bugs, judging those personalities that we don’t like or don’t identify with. But the truth is every personality has qualities that we need to access. If you begin judging the qualities of another personality type, it is a signal that you have disowned those qualities in yourself and are therefore not yet as whole as you might like to think. If you are judging others, then it is probably a sign that you have something that you need to learn from them in order to help you become more balanced and whole.
Hopefully a journey into self-knowledge brings with it humility. We come to know our weaknesses and our strengths, our virtues and our flaws and we come to acknowledge not just the weaknesses of those personalities we don't identify with, but also come to acknowledge their strengths as well. No-one in life is a complete demon. There are demons in each of us (and I say that figuratively). But there are also strengths within each of us too.
And in all this, our goal to to become more Christlike, to become more whole so that more and more of God’s Life, Grace and Love can be expressed through us.