Mystics, Moonbeams and Myers-Briggs

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You AreSeveral months ago I picked up a copy of the recently released One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I had never read her blog before, I was simply intrigued by the idea presented in the book and more than a little drawn in by the beautiful cover. Written in the rhythms of poetry the book is an invitation to discover grace in every moment, both the beautiful and the ugly, to see God in the mundane moments of our lives.

I was only a few chapters into the book when controversy erupted in the blogging world, perhaps not on the level of the controversy recently created by Rob Bell and Love Wins, but nonetheless, the parallels were there. Defenders of the faith, aghast that anyone would dare write something outside the realm of what they deemed appropriate spiritual writing, criticized the book severely for what they deemed a number of heretical ideas. It felt like a spiritual witch-hunt, complete with burning torches and the mobs in frenzied agreement.

The claims? Mostly that Voskamp dares to use mystical language to talk about spiritual matters, that she speaks of relationship with God in sexual terms, and that she doesn't see God as holy enough. Perhaps even that she lessens the sacrifice of Jesus. Illustrations of being drawn to worship God under the light of a full moon are projected into criticisms of panentheism, despite her own insistence that nature is but a reflection.

I do not know Ann. I cannot know her heart fully. But what I can say is that having begun reading her blog I see a woman who is DEEPLY in love with a holy God. I see a woman who realizes that viewing God's holiness is not limited to words left for us from centuries ago, not limited to the confines of the church building, to heads bowed in prayer. God's holiness encompasses all creation. It lives and breathes through every moment of our days and if we but take the time to stop for a moment and look we can see the artist's signature written across the world.

If one wants to question the orthodoxy of her beliefs she has spelled out beautifully in a page on her blog exactly what she believes:
I believe in Jehovah God who created the whirling galaxies, the birds soaring in the sky overhead, the endless crashing waves and all that dances within them. I believe in Father of all who knits together life, made in His very own image, in the secret quiet of our beings.
I believe in Jesus Christ, the One with no earthly Father, with the dust of this earth between His toes, and with our names etched onto the palm of His hands, right beneath the nail scars…Who now sits at the Father’s right hand making endless intercession on our behalf. I believe in the stone rolled away, in the Body being raised, in the first fruits of the dead…and us all following soon, very soon.

I believe in the Cross as our only Hope, our only Claim, and our only Foundation. I believe that in the pounding surf of life we have only one thing to cling to: the feet of our Lord, hanging on that tree, His lifeblood flowing down, washing us whiter than snow.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, moving, whispering, indwelling our very skin. I believe in living by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, and producing fruit in the Spirit…in the Spirit who helps us in our weakness with groanings that can’t be expressed in words.

I believe in the infallibility of the Bible, God’s Word – a sure Word, a pure Word, the only secure Word. I believe the words on those pages are breathed from the very throne room of heaven, are the love letter penned from the heart of the Lover of our souls; a beacon of light for stumbling feet to find sure footing on a dark path.
It seems orthodox enough to me. Not that I am the perfect judge of all that is orthodox, but I'm pretty sure she covers all of the basics.

Photo by Ben Leto
So, what of this claim of mysticism? What of the accusation that quoting mystics somehow equates with heresy? Why are some bloggers so bothered by her 'heresy' that they CANNOT LET IT GO, continuing to dig at her with little jabs designed to get their audience nodded and jabbing along with them? (And why do I keep going back to these blogs, trying to figure out what motivates them?) What is the block that seemingly keeps them from understanding a more mystical view of things, the block that keeps me from understanding their seemingly cold adherence to sola scriptura?

As I lay in bed last night pondering this for the millionth time it hit me. Personality type. I wonder if it all comes down to personality type.

If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs type indicator and the Kiersey temperament sorter then you've probably seen groups of letters tossed around: ISTJ, ENFP, ESFP, INTP, etc. Each letter of the group indicates how an individual is disposed to interact with the world around them; how they relate to others, how they process ideas, what energizes them. For example, a strong E personality is energized by their relation to people and objects in the outer world, whereas the I personality receives energy from the inner world dealing with ideas and concepts. S's prefer facts over ideas; N's prefer ideas over fact.

In a 1982 study (The Prayer and Temperament Project) Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey divided the four main temperaments into four streams of church spirituality: Ignation (SJ), Augustinian (NF), Franciscan (SP), and Thomistic (NT). Each of these temperaments deals with spirituality in a uniquely different way. I'm not going to detail the differences here although it can make for some interesting reading. Here are a few resources if you would like to learn a bit more: (Uses Corinne Ware's four quadrant approach to spiritual type) (OK, that one's mostly for fun...although once you dig deeper into the site it has some excellent suggestions on types of prayers that flow most easily from your personality type as well as suggestions for areas in which each type may need to focus additional attention.)

So, what is my point? Simply this, each of us will approach our spiritual life in a different way. Some will approach it entirely from logic; eschewing all idea that feeling might have any validity in the spiritual walk. Some will rely entirely on feeling, trusting that what they experience is real. Neither one is entirely wrong. Nor is either one entirely right. Simply because we are predisposed to relate to the world, to our spiritual life, in a certain way does not mean we should not challenge ourselves to understand from a different perspective. Most descriptions of Myers-Briggs types will also include areas of weakness for each personality type that will require effort in order to become a more balanced person.

Ultimately, my point is that more grace needs to be extended when we see someone who experiences God in a different way. If you are a realist, a person who deals in what logic and the printed word says, understand that there are people in whom God has placed a personality that is willing to embrace the unknown, a personality that is ok with some divine mystery and the creativity to express God in words that may feel awkward to you.

And if you are someone who dwells in the realm of mystery and metaphor, understand that not everyone will be able to understand that bent. Don't be quick to write off the ones who combine logic and scripture as hard-nosed, uncaring people whose only concern is using the Bible as a weapon. (And yes, I'm speaking to myself here.)

photo by amanderson
It all comes back to the heart. Only God can truly know another person's heart, only grace can make us shut up long enough to get a glimpse of it, only love can teach us to live with those whose hearts beat for the same God but whose minds express it differently.

photo by Elliott Brown

photo by Johan Hansson


  1. Glad you got your mojo back! Yep, I agree, that we are ALL one body and we need to show grace to those that operate differently than us.

  2. Good stuff. This will definitely be referenced as I teach my summer small group next month on how God has wired us to connect with Him through worship, prayer and community. Thanks!


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