Every world religion recognizes that different individuals have different ways of traversing on the spiritual journey. No doubt this is due, in part, to the different ways that people with different psychological types pray, worship and serve. It’s also related to the types of charisms that individuals are blessed with.
Learning to identify your primary spiritual pathway can be helpful in many ways, as it’s most likely that you will be happiest and find the closest possible relationship with God if you are true to yourself, here. Obviously, this topic is also a good one to discuss and discern in spiritual direction.
At this point, the term, vocation, needs to be introduced. The online dictionary, http://thefreedictionary.com, defines the term as follows:
1. A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified.
2. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, especially a religious career; a calling.
Obviously, there's a relationship between vocation and spiritual pathways, although vocation implies a more specific call.
What follows are a few ways that different writers and spiritual traditions have described spiritual pathways. These are merely sketches, of course. More extensive discussion on any of these can take place on the forum, if there's interest.
Classical Christian Pathways
Throughout the course of Christian history, there have been various approaches to naming and describing spiritual pathways. For example, one can often find in the literature contrasts between the active life and the contemplative life, with various religious orders, in particular, working out of one or the other. There has also been a contrast drawn between religious and lay life, though these distinctions do not hold as clearly in Protestantism with its strong emphasis on the "priesthood of all believers."
A good synthesis of the classical approach taking into consideration contemplative, active, lay and religious possibilities has been formulated by Judith Roemer and George Schemel, SJ, in their training manual, Ignatian Spirituality and the Directed Retreat. Roemer and Schemel identify three broad pathways.
A. Monastic - highly structured communal life; contemplative focus; most introverted types would do well, here.
B. Contemplative / psychological - Dominicans, Carmelites, etc. Contemplative focus, but also somewhat active in the world. Action flowing from contemplation. Introverts and intuitive types.
C. Apostolic - Jesuits, Franciscans, Diocesan Priests, Protestantism, laity. Extraverted types.
As you can see, except for the monastic option, the other two consider both lay and religious vocations.
Hindu Yogic Pathways
Great attention is given to spiritual pathways in Hinduism, especially in its yogic disciplines, where attempts are made to correlate temperament and spiritual practice. The following four pathways are commonly described; I have left the references to Jung's psychological types for those of you who are aware of these.
1. The Way of Loving Devotion. Loving God with one's whole heart.
a. Most natural for feeling types (24%)
b. Committed relationship with the Beloved. Recognizing the
Beloved in all people and creation.
c. Ethics implicit in the demands of relationship.
d. Self-centeredness killed in love for the good of the Other.
e. Song of Songs. Devotional Christianity. Bhakti yoga.
2. The Way of Service. Loving God with one's whole strength.
a. Most natural for all extraverted and sensate types (74%).
b. Selfless action for the glory of God.
c. Ethics implicit in the demands of service and daily work.
d. Self-centeredness killed in detachment from results of service.
e. Mother Theresa. Jesuit/lay spirituality. Karma yoga.
3. The Way of Knowledge. Loving God with one's whole mind.
a. Most natural for IT and IN types (8%).
b. Discovery of God as the Source of all Truth.
c. Ethics implicit in the order of the universe.
d. Self-centeredness killed by detachment, discrimination, and
disidentification with Egoic elements.
e. St. Thomas Aquinas. Jnana yoga.
4. The Way of Insight. Loving God with one's whole soul.
a. Most natural for IN and IS types (14%).
b. Discovery of God as the Source of one's being. Intrapersonal
exploration. Somewhat impersonal mysticism.
c. Ethics implicit in the requirements of inner silence.
d. Self-centeredness killed by absorption in deep Silence.
e. Eckhart. Anthony de Mello. Trappists. Raja yoga.
Matthew Fox’s Four Pathways
Whatever might be said concerning Matthew Fox's falling out with the Dominican Order and eventually the Catholic Church, it doesn't follow that his many writings should be considered unworthy of consideration. Personally, I'm not a big fan of his, but I do find his "four pathways" to be helpful. You fill find resonances between them and some of the classical and Hindu descriptions.
1. The Via Positiva is about awe and wonder and the joy and praise that comes from truly beholding Nature and Creation. Rabbi Abraham Heschel says that if you behold God’s Creation with anything less than Radical Amazement you’re not seeing what’s really there.
2. The next path is the Via Negativa: the way of darkness, suffering, silence, letting go, and even nothingness. Resonates strongly with Carmelite spirituality, especially as expressed in St. John of the Cross.
3. In the Via Creativa we co-create with God; in our imaginative output, we trust our images enough to birth them into existence.
4. The fourth path is the Via Transformativa, the transformative way. This is a path of compassion, the relief of suffering, the combating of injustice, of speaking up for those who have no voice.
Fox notes that we all travel all of the above, but we generally tread one more significantly than the others, and may shift our emphases at different times during life. There's something to this, I believe.
In recent decades, the Enneagram has also been embraced by many as a helpful way to understand spiritual pathways. This approach cuts across all the classical distinctions, but does seem loosely correlated with personality types. I'll not go into its 9 types here, but, instead, will recommend a few links below for those who wish to learn more. One hesitation I have is that the Enneagram doesn't really present itself as a way to grow in union with God, which is in contrast to the others listed above. Indeed, it seems to be more a way of working with one's psychological issues, but as we know, there can be spiritual growth liberated from doing such work.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have from this session?
2. What spiritual pathways do you most identify with? Share some of your experiences in discerning your pathway.
When I was 14, many years ago, someone said to me "this above all, to thine own self be true, then it must follow, as night follows day, that thou can only be true to other people" from Shakespeare, Hamlet I believe. This has always stayed with me and I continue to learn how to be true to 'myself' where God is to be found. "The Kingdom of heaven is within you" and "I am with you always, even unto the ends of the earth".
I am a natural introvert and this is my way.
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