This post has been substantially updated - May 2013.
In the Spring 2013 issue of the Baptist Union Retreat Group (BURG) The Journal, Ian Green pondered whether we ‘tailor make our retreats for introverts’, and wondered what a ‘retreat for extroverts’ might look like? Well, I've done the Myers-Briggs test a few times over the years, and I consistently report as a strong 'E' - that is, I am an Extrovert, rather than an Introvert. This means I am energised by being with people, and drained when I spend time alone. I’ve been on many ‘retreats’ and ‘quiet days’ over the years, and have variously found them either draining or challenging, but never refreshing. And so I think Ian might be onto something. The question I have frequently found myself asking is whether my ‘Extroverted’ nature means that I am inherently any less 'spiritual' than those who report as strong 'Introverted' types?
In their book 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' (SPCK, 2003), Malcolm Goldsmith and Martin Wharton comment that: 'Extraverts... often feel that they are unable to pray, and they feel uneasy when prayer is being discussed... and they probably need help in realizing that their thinking and action might well be a form of prayer... Retreats and Quiet Days can leave them feeling 'outsider', and somehow 'second class' when it comes to spirituality.' (p.158)
I've done a fair bit of reading over the years on 'spirituality', and have frequently been left feeling rather inadequate. Those whom the church looks to as 'spiritual' people, the great 'spiritual' writers of past and present, seem to advocate pathways to God which are predominantly 'I' rather than 'E'. Ignatian Spirituality is predicated on the idea of retreat, with silent meditation and contemplation featuring high up the agenda. The practice of Lectio Divina is based on silent reflection upon the text and the world. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross are similarly focussed on the inner journey undertaken in solitude. When I was growing up, I was told that I should prioritise my daily Quiet Time, finding a silent place and meeting God in my solitude.
And all of this is fine, up to a point. And the point is this: For me, this is all a lot of hard work. I'm not denying it's value: I do indeed take quiet days, engage in silent reflection and meditation, and spend time alone in prayer. But, and it's a big but, this is not my naturally preferred place to be. It is tiring, draining, hard work. It's not that I'm afraid of a bit of hard work from time to time: we all have to work hard at things. But I'm not sure I want to locate my primary place of divine encounter in that place which also drains and exhausts me. Because if I do, when I am tired and stressed from the rest of my life, the last thing I'll want to do is go and meet God. Spending time with God, when understood as an Introverted exercise, can become just one more tiring task to put on the extrovert’s 'to do' list, which they then never get round to completing.
But, nontheless, 'sprituality' = Introverted has become almost de rigeur in Christian culture.
And, forgive the rant, I'm getting less and less happy with this status quo.
- What if it is just as spiritual to meet God in others as it is to meet him alone?
- What if it is just as spiritual to hang around at the end of the service talking to people, as it is to go home and contemplate the sermon?
- What if it is just as spiritual to spend the afternoon visiting, as it is to spend it in prayer?
I was talking this through (as you might expect) with my Spiritual Director, and I was complaining about my perception of 'bias' in the spiritual literature towards Introverted Spirituality. She made what is I think a good point: most people who write books are Introverts, because writing is an essentially introverted discipline. This means that most of those who have put words to their spirituality have done so from a introverted perspective. The extroverts are too busy 'out there' getting on with life.
And so I'm starting to wonder, what might an Extroverted Spirituality look like? I’m starting to wonder what spiritual disciplines would look like that offer a sustainable and nourishing challenge for extroverts, in the same way that more introverted disciplines function for more naturally introverted people? And I also wonder whether an exploration of extroverted disciplines might pose a helpful challenge to those of a more introverted disposition, in an analogous manner to the way in which the introverted disciplines challenge extroverts?
Are extroverts any less 'spiritual'? I think not. I often take encouragement from Revelation 8:1 ‘When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.’ And I think, as an extrovert, that that’s about right. Half an hour – not a morning, or a day, or a week, or a month…
So, in the interests of getting the discussion going, here is my emerging manifesto for Extroverted Spirituality:
- Intentionally seek to encounter God through interaction with others.
- Listen for the voice of Christ when talking with others.
- Seek the counsel of others when engaging in discernment.
- Believe that it is as we gather that we discern the mind of Christ.
- Practice accountability with others.
- Engage in introverted spiritual disciplines, but not daily.
- When Christ is encountered, tell someone about it.
- Seek the forgiveness of others, because it is often there that our own forgiveness by Christ will be encountered.
- Pay attention to what is encountered in the other, because it is often there that we find our inner self.
You might also enjoy: Nancy Reeves, ‘Spirituality for Extroverts (And Tips for Those Who Love Them)’, Abingdon Press, 2008.