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We cannot make the sun rise, but we can be there when it does.
This idea encapsulates Sister Suzanne Zuercher’s ideas on prayer. A Benedictine nun, she wrote several books about the spirituality of the Enneagram Personality Test, including the book Using the Enneagram in Prayer: A Contemplative Guide. Zuercher believed that everyone is called to be a contemplative. She also knew that our personalities impact our spiritual journey and method of prayer and believed that the Enneagram was a very incarnational approach to life and spirituality.
There are nine spaces on the Enneagram, separated into three triads. The 8/9/1 people are focused on being and are very feelings-oriented. The 2/3/4 people are very focused on activity and on doing things, and look toward change or goals. The 5/6/7 people are observers who search for meaning and live very interior, private lives.
“We need to be seeking life in order to approach the Enneagram intelligently,” Zuercher wrote. Being alive, awake, and open to moments of presence on our spiritual journey is at the heart of living a contemplative life. According to Zuercher, the goal of spirituality is to “be here now.”
Active contemplation allows us to prepare for the gift of divine presence, but there is only so much preparation we can do before we give way to passive contemplation, which is the surprise of presence, and can only be a gift, not a product of something we do, much like a sunrise. Zuercher said that each personality needs to identify what makes them “catch fire” — or inspires a deeper spiritual relationship.
She offered three approaches directed at each triad. At a basic level, 8/9/1 people must allow themselves to be present with the divine, but they also must watch that their relaxation is not dulled into sleepiness. People who are 2/3/4 need to carve out space to be aware of their feelings and clear their minds so they can go back to activity renewed. And 5/6/7 people need to be careful not to let their spiritual life wither in the process of accumulating information. At the same time, they must be willing to take risks and place their focus on something outside themselves — even something as simple as a candle or piece of music.
In her book, Zuercher discusses different methods of prayer, including focusing, image and symbol, nature and creation, working with dreams, and Eastern prayer. In a podcast for the National Catholic Reporter (part 1 and part 2), she clarified specific symbols that hold meaning for different personalities.
For people in the 8/9/1 triad, the symbol of being in a boat with their hand guiding the rudder is helpful to contemplate their role as they move into the divine. People in the 2/3/4 triad need to focus on their bodies and may find hatha yoga helpful as a form of prayer. (In contrast, the 8/9/1 triad sees yoga as preparation for prayer.) And people in the 5/6/7 triad need to give up the desire to solve everything, and must be open to the unknowable and to mystery.
Zuercher said we move through stages of prayer. If we outlive a method that worked in a past moment, we need to be willing to let it go. According to Zuercher, the ultimate prayer is to be in a grateful attitude as we are present with the One Who Knows No Limits.
Image via Shutterstock.