Friday, November 05, 2010

Spirituality for Extroverts

My friend Lisa is an off-the-charts extrovert. I'm just a mild one, and more bent towards introversion in a couple of key ways. But when I heard Lisa was doing research and writing a dissertation on spiritual practices for extroverts, I asked to tell me more. Maybe I could buy her a cup of coffee?

We got together last week. In typical extrovert fashion, we both talked a mile a minute and covered many other topics as well. As I left I realized that without taking notes or seeing something on paper I might have a hard time summing up her research with any accuracy. However, she's promised to let me read the thing at some point. I will probably have to reciprocate by following through on my promise to send her the rather pathetic little paper I wrote in hopes of laying the foundation for a book (on listening).  

While in many ways the culture we live in and the American church punish introversion and reward  extroversion, the opposite is true when in comes to spirituality. Want to hear from God? You have to go to the mountains, by yourself, with your journal. Want to grow in your faith? The "daily quiet time" is essential - American Christians think it's a sacrament. And we're not a sacramental people.

While not knocking those things - which are great, but no more mandatory than daily mass - what can we do to offer authentic, helpful models for spiritual discipline to the extroverts? I am assuming it's not impossible to have a vibrant spiritual life if you are a more extroverted, community-oriented person, not a private, keep-it-to-yourself monk in the desert. Most of us would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, right?

This is an important question to raise not just for American Christians, but people of a variety of backgrounds. I've been in quite a few cultures where people are never alone - never. Sometimes this has to do with fear; I think of the Malay guy I met, a college professor and head of household, who said he hadn't been alone in his home in years - he's that afraid of the djinn. Even without that fear I think the idea of finding and treasuring time alone would seem pretty weird and foreign to someone like him. I know it would to many of the people I've met in Central Asia or North Africa. And "How can I know God?" would be less the question, than "How can we know God?"

I think it was an Albanian girl who told one of our research teams, "We never drink tea alone." So many of the world's cultures value "togetherness" much more than "individuality." The balance of those two things has a huge effect on what discipleship looks like. If we're going to fulfill the call to disciple nations, we have to navigate these questions more thoughtfully.  

In researching spiritual discipline for extroverts, Lisa pulled together two groups of extroverted women, all mature Christians. They shared their experiences and attitudes, and tried out some variations on classic spiritual disciplines chosen and adapted for extroverts. For example, they did "lectio divina" - reading and reflecting on spiritual texts - reading and talking it all out together, in a group. They practiced confession, also together. After a discussion of traditional liturgical observances (something all of them tended to feel awkward with) they "practiced" liturgy through memorizing scriptures together. They did some silence and sabbath too - but it didn't have to be a weekend alone in the woods, and their sabbath included the "celebration" element that often gets left out.

I encouraged Lisa to take some of the best stuff out of her dissertation and write it up in an article or two, say, for Discipleship Journal. She agreed that this would be a good idea, but she doesn't want to do it, at least not now - not after so many months in the basement trying to crank out the dissertation. Writing is hard work. Maybe harder for someone who plans to reward herself, when she finishes, by hitting the road and visiting good friends and far-flung family. Yes, an extrovert's solution! I believe she'll find a way to pass on what she's learned one way or another, but more writing might be tough.

No, I didn't offer to interview her and write her article, though that would be fun. I thought about it. But these days I'm trying to do a better job at distinguishing - both to myself and to others - between recognizing a great idea and making a commitment. I hope someone does write it. Maybe the "funnest" way to get the article might be to give Lisa a chance to prepare and teach a lesson for a big group, then record and transcribe it?  

Question: Do you struggle with spiritual disciplines, and/or with expectations and models that don't fit your level of introversion or extroversion? How have you adapted? What's worked? What hasn't?

See also this previous post: Seeing God's Voice

1 comment:

Marti said...

This one got some comments, but only on Facebook. Perhaps people are more likely to contribute to a conversation if they think their words will be seen/heard!