Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Enneagram, and Me


(system) #1

I’ve recently begun exploring the Enneagram.

If you’re not familiar with this tool, it’s like a personality test for the spiritual life. (You can learn more and take a free test at the Enneagram Institute.) Whereas most personality tests will tell you what you are—an introvert or extrovert, a sensor or an intuitive, a sanguine or a choleric—and then dust its hands of you, mission accomplished, information delivered, your static-self explained, the Enneagram wants to stay with you and help you grow.

It illuminates your true self and false self. It talks about how you grow toward health and how you devolve into disintegration. It speaks of your most besetting sin and how you find healing and transformation.

The Enneagram sets before you the spiritual task of your life.

I tell you this because on the Enneagram’s spectrum of numbers from 1 to 9, Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber is almost assuredly an 8 and I am decidedly a 5.

In other words, polar opposites.

An 8 stands in defiance of the world, ready to take it on. An 8 stands with chin jutted forth, both arms thrust forward and crossed in that all-too-clear gesture that says, “Screw you!” You know where you stand with an 8. They have no trouble telling you.

A 5, on the other hand, withdraws. A 5 pulls back into the safe cocoon of their inner world and observes everything happening in the outside world. A 5 collects data to make a sensible, coherent picture before deciding what to think or do. (And usually not deciding to think or do anything because of fear or indecision.)

I grew up with an 8. My brother is an 8, and my whole life he loomed larger than life before me. I watched in awe as he argued with my parents, kicked holes in staircase walls, and stood in defiance of his teachers. I had no idea how he did it. And I was just a little bit scared of him. I couldn’t imagine living that way. It felt dangerous. Vulnerable. Exposed.

Still, as an adult, I feel amazed—and not just a little intimidated—by people who have such a strong, bold, forthright orientation toward the world. I still can’t imagine living that way. I still feel a bit scared of it.

And then I met Nadia Bolz-Weber through the pages of her Pastrix book, and I saw how an 8 can be beautiful. I saw how an 8 can be inviting. I saw how an 8 can teach us—and especially a 5 like me—about grace.

Nadia Bolz-Weber makes no bones about her struggles and her mistakes. Right there in the pages of her book, she spins story after story of things gone wrong, her chain yanked, and how God made meaning and life from it all.

There’s the unwed teenage mother she helped. Bolz-Weber thought she was a Hurricane Katrina evacuee but later discovered she was a local girl whose mother was a prostitute and whose father of her child was a pimp, all of whom were posing as evacuees so the pimp could get free money from FEMA.

And there’s the Rally Day fiasco at Bolz-Weber’s church, intended to regain momentum and stir up attendance among the dwindling membership, only to be met with even less attendance and nearly zero help.

Or the way people in khakis and Dockers began showing up at her church, all of whom she deemed the wrong type of person to reach—they were way too normal.

Bolz-Weber says things like, “There are times when you just don’t know what to feel, because you feel things that don’t normally mix in polite company” (p. 66). Or, “I hated everyone for not doing what I thought they should have done based on how hard I was working” (p. 103).

And yet because we know the extent of her resentment, the more we feel grace rush in on the heels of it—the tears she cried when someone in her church said the young teenage mother had at least experienced love and the possibility of a different life; the realization she’d experienced a healing when her parishioners prayed for the spasms in her back at the end of the Rally Day; the young transgendered member of her congregation who said he needed the khaki-clad businesspeople at their church because they looked like his parents and could offer him the acceptance his parents never did.

When someone lives out loud, it may scare us, but at least we get to see the full story. We get to see the despair and the rescue. We get to see grace rush in.

You know how I said the Enneagram stays with us and helps us grow? How it teaches us the way toward our particularized path of wholeness?

Well, it turns out for a 5 this means becoming more like an 8—no longer withdrawn but standing more firmly in the center of life, showing up and speaking with a clear and declarative voice.

In the end, Nadia Bolz-Weber shows me the way of living into my truest self.

Christianne Squires is a writer and trained spiritual director who lives in Winter Park, FL, with her husband and their two cats. She hosts contemplative space for exploring the spiritual life at her website, Still Forming.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5902