Sunday, November 15, 2015

To Be of Perfect Use

This week I had the opportunity to revisit the Enneagram. For those unfamiliar, the Enneagram is a model that uses nine different categories to describe our personality types. While we probably have a little bit of each type influencing us, we have one basic personality type that describes us best. These types help us better understand the motivations behind our behaviors.

So, for instance, I am a One on the Enneagram, which means I am a Reformer type. The other eight are types are: Helper, Achiever, Individualist, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, Challenger, and Peacemaker. As with any personality there are plusses and minuses about each type, and we try to work our way toward becoming the healthiest parts of whatever we are.

I first encountered the Enneagram a little less than a year ago as a member of a Contemplatives Leaders in Action cohort, but I revisited it this past week as part of my monastic formation. As my teacher, a sister in our community, pointed out, God is the best parts of each personality type, and we have each of the nine types in our community here.

The reformer, as I am, is also known as an idealist or advocate depending on how that person leans in other types. Descriptors of this type include being principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic. Perfectionistic. I don't doubt that anyone who has met me, even for just five minutes, might be laughing right now reading that word. Let me in a cluttered space, and everything will return to being organized in right angles in no time. Give me a piece of paper to fold in half, and the crease will be exactly down the center; if it isn't I will ask for a second piece and discard any evidence of my first attempt. I even use the word "perfect" to describe anything that brings me slightly more than minor delight.

While not everyone buys into the Enneagram and other personality-type models like the Myers-Briggs, I think they are useful tools for self-awareness and other-awareness. When we recognize that not everyone cares about maintaining an orderly space or doesn't self-critique so much, it can help us be open to different ways of being that are not our own.

You can read more about the different types, if you'd like. As for me, and the other Ones out there: "Ones are people of practical action—they wish to be useful in the best sense of the word." But, I do think that is true for all the types - we wish to be of use. God wishes us to use our specific gifts for the greater good. Again, on Friday night, we were reminded of the need to do that after the attacks in Paris. It reminds me of the poem titled To be of use by Marge Piercy.

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Let us each listen deeply to the ways we can serve.

Let us walk in the holy presence.