Place ✝ Time

by Ivy Clark

Place and time characterize our story’s historical meanings and social and cultural coherence. They whisper our sense of belonging and hold the continuity of our identity. As much as time feels finite, tangible, measurable and chronological, and the world relates, measures, and controls it through a numeric currency of tik-tok tik-tok tik-tok, I find time’s cadence, movements, and capacity much more fluid, circular and uncertain, as it synchronizes with the heartbeat of the Holy One, who authors time and dwells in and outside it.

As a spiritual director offering holy listening with a non-anxious presence for directees, I am drawn to place and time’s ever-changing geometry and autonomy. First is the directee’s cerebral embodiment of the physicalities of their place and time that is finite. Second, paralleled by an indissolvable dimension unbridled from the metaphysics of place and time, where the past, present and future are wholly and eternally present, open for Spiritual orientation and transcendence. These two dimensions of place and time interact and correspond continuously to each other, transmitting and interpreting, renewing and reviving meanings for the directee’s identity and story sealed in God.

Witnessing my directees’ sacred stories has been a holy ground for me. In my silence, I pray for “a listening ear that can see” (Howard Thurman). I sense that the deep in God calls me to cross the boundaries of my place and time, orienting my wholeness and sensitivity toward my directee’s journey, their identity, lived experiences and worldviews, etc. Spiritual direction, in many ways, feels like a repeated voyage of crossing over to the directee and returning to myself. God’s “shamar*”is offered and received each time I return with a deeper seeing of myself, yielding a deeper seeing of the directee. I have been on a journey of patient trust, holding my directee in the unbridled Spirit, the host that shows the way. Ivy Clark Reflection Journal Entry – Aug. 2023 2 of 2

This circular, grace-filled, emancipating and expanding experience with the parallel dimensions of space and time that ground us, and liberate us, enable us to encounter the trustworthy God, impregnated with wonder, love and action for Her children, makes spiritual direction a spacious and wildly God-centered journey for those who pilgrim it.

(*Hebrew “shamar”: to exercise great care of, to guard, observe, preserve …)

Books I am deeply savouring this summer:

• Kaleidoscope – Broadening the Palette in the Art of Spiritual Direction (I am rereading it for the second time)

• Our Unforming – De-Westernizing Spiritual Formation (by Cindy Lee) (I am rereading it for the second time)

• The Land – Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith

• The Promised End – Eschatology in Theology and Literature (by Paul S. Fiddes)

• Inklings of Heaven – C.S. Lewis and Eschatology (by Sean Connolly)

• Shakespeare’s Shakespeare – How the Plays Were Made (by John C. Meagher)

• The Tempest (I studied it in junior high school. Now re-reading it with my deep curiosity about the illusive concept of space, time and the last things.)

Sorting Our Desires In Spiritual Direction

by Kate Laymon

“God writes his hopes into our desiring.” – Joseph Tetlow SJ, Choosing Christ in the World

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus said to the blind man, Bartimaeus, on his way out of Jericho. It can seem like the answer would be obvious. Here was a blind man, shouting out for mercy. And yet, Jesus asks him what it is he wants. He does not presume to know. He invites Bartimaeus to name his desire. 

There is a vulnerability in the naming of our desires, even when they are obvious. Naming our desires opens us to the possibility of disappointment or even rejection. What if God says no? What if I do follow my desire and it leads me astray? We are more often prone to protect our hearts and bury our desires. 

I learned very early to put others’ needs, desires, even preferences above my own. This was not only reinforced in my family, but in the Christian tradition I grew up in. I learned early on that Jesus served others and that I was supposed to be like Jesus. I never saw myself in the place of the blind man. I never knew that Jesus also desired to know what I wanted from him. 

I remember vividly a time that I opened myself to desire and soon found myself at the bottom of a metaphorical ditch. I cried out to God for help. And he helped me. But I concluded afterwards that my desires could not be trusted. And I concluded that God’s desires for me, must be, had to be, so very different from my own. So, I set out to try to contort myself into someone I wasn’t, but someone who I thought God wanted me to be. Someone else. 

Then, last year I journeyed through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, a 9-month intensive prayer journey, accompanied by a spiritual director. Using Joseph Tetlow’s, Choosing Christ in the World as my guide, I came upon this line: “God writes his hopes into our desiring.” Read that line again. St. Ignatiaus of Loyola, a Christian mystic and saint, believed and taught in his Exercises that it’s in excavating our deepest desires that God’s heart and hopes for us will be found. That our desires are not something to be avoided, denied, or sacrificed, but that they are the very place to turn to find out who we are in Christ and what he hopes to do our in our lives. As we name our desires, we are witnessing the Christ in us. We are recognizing the Christ who lives in each of our own unique hearts and selves. 

It’s been a long hard road back home to myself. And also, a beautiful homecoming. Like falling back into an old comfortable couch. A relief. A rest. There’s a way in which we can be prodigals to our own hearts and to Christ who dwells there, even in the name of religion or right living. As we come home to ourselves, to our hearts and our native desires, Christ runs out to meet us saying, “Welcome home! I’ve missed you so! Let’s throw a party!”

In listening to and naming our desires we can come home to ourselves and to God in the same fell swoop. Spiritual direction can be a place where we turn towards our desires and perhaps dig through a treasure chest that’s been long buried. There might be a lot of dust and debris on top, but there are beautiful jewels waiting to be discovered, if only we keep digging. 

Even before I knew to begin naming my desires, my director began ushering me back home simply by sitting with and honoring the messy, flailing parts of my heart. This experience reassured me that God welcomes and embraces my beat up, broken, and bleeding heart and that it’s safe to bring my heart to God. This opened the way for me to receive the truth that God wants to know what I desire.

While Jeremiah’s words are often misused in chapter 17, it’s true enough, that our hearts can be deceitful, and our desires sometimes disordered. There are many desires that if followed may lead us somewhere we later wished we hadn’t gone. So how do we sort and discern what desires originate Christ? 

Janet Ruffing, in her book, Beyond the Beginnings, says this about sorting our desires:

“As each thing we think we want emerges, it takes some time to test out whether we really do want it or not. This interior sorting through requires listening to ourselves at deeper levels than many of us are accustomed… Honest prayer, in fact, structures our desires… In allowing our desires room to be – to become conscious, intelligent, and available to us, even to become enlarged and expanded – and in the process of praying we find that we and our desires ‘get sorted out.’”

As I’ve been turning towards my soul, listening to Jesus’ invitation it to tell him what I want, a desire emerged that’s been stubbornly sticky over the years. I’ve learned to pay attention to desires that don’t seem to go away and so I brought this one to my spiritual director recently. I noticed that as I’ve turned towards it more fully, that it seemed to fade a bit, almost like it became shy, and I was tempted to dismiss it.  Instead, she invited a deeper exploration. “What are the desires underneath this desire?” she asked. And I began to name things like agency (which is a desire to assert myself in my life), an enjoyment of continued learning, to use my voice and be heard, for healing of myself and others, and the enjoyment of adventure. Many of these are values and parts of me that make me, me. To see these deeper desires at work in me helped me see Christ’s own heart beating within mine. While I still don’t have a decision, I can now more clearly articulate to Jesus what it is I want and listen for how he may want to meet me in them and fulfill them in me.

Spiritual direction is a place where we can hear Jesus’ question to us personally: What do you want me to do for you? In my practice, I always begin a spiritual direction relationship asking some variation of this question: “What do you want in spiritual direction?” or even, “What do you want Jesus to do for you?” This is where we begin. With desire. And as we listen to desire, we begin to hear a faint but constant thumping: the heartbeat of God. Christ appears in our midst, beckoning us to get up and come. He’s calling. 

Third Things In Spiritual Direction

by Emily P. Freeman

Ten years ago, on the first day of Lent, I met with a spiritual director for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I held on to hope that she would somehow be able to accompany me through new, unfamiliar terrain. One of the first things she did was read from a book of reflections by Macrina Wiederkehr, and as I listened, I was grateful for the space. It allowed me to close my eyes, settle in, and focus on a third element: something that wasn’t me but also wasn’t her.

Now that I serve as a spiritual director, I have my own stack of favorite resources I like to read from in order to provide a similar third element for directees (Parker Palmer calls these “third things”). Here are a few of my favorites, starting with one my spiritual director introduced me to on that first day we met:

Seasons of Your Heart by Macrina Wiederkehr

Drawing from her experience as a Benedictine nun, Wiederkehr writes reflective meditations inspired by the seasons. Combining lyrical prose and simple poems, her writing offers accessible metaphors for faith, wonder, and the mystery of God.

Slowly she celebrated the sacrament of letting go

First she surrendered her green, then orange, yellow, and red

Finally she let go of her brown

shedding her last leaf

she stood empty and silent, stripped bare

leaning against the sky she began her vigil of trust.

—An excerpt from The Sacrament of Letting Go

To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue

A collection of blessings that put language to some of life’s most poignant moments: desire for freedom, meeting a stranger, starting again, and saying goodbye. O’Donohue submits that blessing is a way of life, and I’ve found his offerings to be a welcome reframe of spirituality without the trigger words.

When you travel,

A new silence

Goes with you,

And if you listen,

You will hear

What your heart would

Love to say.

—An excerpt from For the Traveler

Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder

Rather than reflections or blessings, this is an entire book of prayers: for thanks, for reassurance, and for comfort to name a few. One of my favorite prayers to use in spiritual direction comes from this book. It’s called Gather Me to Be with You and I find it to be beautifully grounding, especially at the beginning of a session.

O God, gather me now

To be with you

As you are with me.

Soothe my tiredness;

Quiet my fretfulness; 

Curb my aimlessness;

Relieve my compulsiveness;

Let me be easy for a moment.

—An excerpt from Gather Me to Be With You

Beginning with a reading may not always be appropriate or necessary, and a third thing may sometimes be something other than words, like a painting, an image, or a song. I find it especially meaningful when a directee brings their own third thing into the room, sharing something that has meaning to them in their own walk with God. Mostly I’m grateful for third things, as they are a welcome reminder of the many ways God is always speaking to us.


Agnostic to Change

by Polly Baker

When walking into a spiritual direction session, a phrase that has been so helpful to remember as I offer this space of Spiritual Direction is to be “agnostic to change.”   When this phrase was first offered to me, it immediately stood out and something clicked in me.  I began to think of all the times when I was offering Spiritual Direction to others that I have felt this tension in me to want to jump in and help, solve, fix, advise and become the one who pushes for change.  And, there have been plenty of times that I did jump in,  and times that I didn’t, but regardless, there was always this struggle within me.  So, when I heard this phrase, it helped clarify why this struggle and tension I was experiencing was so prominent.  I realized that I was not being agnostic to change, I was actually looking for it.

As I have sat with this revelation,  it has been so helpful to notice that my desire to see change within my directees is actually from a place of deep longing within myself.  I have always struggled to sit in my own belovedness just as I am, and to learn that God actually loves me without an agenda. My own journey of experiencing Spiritual Direction was actually one of the first places where I was able to receive and experience this belovedness in a tangible way.  It was one of the reasons that I wanted to offer this practice to others.

And, I also believe the idea of change is a holy one.  We are all made in the image of a compassionate and loving God, and as ones who bear this image, we long to see healing, growth and expansion in ourselves and others, and I am so grateful that I long for these things in my directees.  And I can notice and hold that longing, while also acknowledging that my role as a spiritual director is not to look for change, in fact, it is to be agnostic to it.  My role is to behold their belovedness.

As I continue to learn this practice of holding this compassionate space for others, I have found that being agnostic to change actually frees me to witness the Divine within each of these humans without any agenda, and allows me to experience God holding me in my own belovedness exactly as I am.

– Polly Baker

Woman, You Are Set Free

Children walking through a labyrinth near the author's home


Recently, I preached from Luke 13 about the woman whose “spirit had crippled her for 18 years.” She was bent over and unable to stand up straight when Jesus calls to her, saying, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

The story unfolds with religious leaders complaining about Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Jesus calls them out for treating their own animals, which they give water to on the sabbath, better than this daughter of Abraham. The story ends this way— “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.” There are so many ways to read this story, but what stood out for me was the idea that in order to be set free, we need first to know and then name what we are in bondage to. 

I began to explore that question, rolling it around in my hand like dice. Saying to myself, “you are set free.” I said it over and over. For weeks. I held the story close—the importance of my voice as a woman, the invitation to stand tall, and of course, the promise of freedom. But I still wondered. What did I need to be set free from? What was I in bondage to?

More recently, for our apprenticeship gathering, instead of teaching, or praxis, we were given space for rest and renewal. If it felt right, we were encouraged to take a walk and work through a guided set of questions. Not far from my house is an Episcopal church with a labyrinth. As I headed in that direction, I felt the heaviness of the roles I play—mother, wife, pastor, daughter, friend, spiritual director, and on and on (and on). I couldn’t clear my head enough to focus on the reflection questions in our guide, and I noticed that my body was tensing.

As I slowly made my way around the path of the labyrinth, I rolled my shoulders, adjusted my posture, and stretched my neck as I prayed. As I rounded each corner, I let go of the overwhelm just a little. I felt more and more present and connected—both to self and God. As I neared the center, I realized that the tightness was loosening. I could feel my body relaxing. And then, the story of the bent-over woman in the temple came to me. I could see her; I imagined Jesus calling to her and bending over to meet her eyes. But then I stopped; I could not for the life of me remember what it was he said to her. Why couldn’t I remember? It hadn’t been that long since I turned those words into a mantra.

I continued to walk, and after some time, a wave washed over me, and I recalled Jesus’ words: “woman, you are set free.” And at once, I felt it. The freedom of those words. I laughed out loud! I was surprised and delighted—I felt free. The burden of the roles I play cleared out, even if only for that moment as I heard it again “woman, you are set free.”

When I returned to the group, I shared my experience, and someone pointed out that Jesus called her—called me—woman. Yes, I am a mother, a friend, a pastor—but first, I am a woman, a person. First, I am me.

I don’t have these types of experiences often, and even in writing this, it’s hard to recall the details — did I really laugh out loud? Had my body really tensed and then relaxed so quickly? I suppose the details don’t matter, as much as my response. Will I choose to live as a person who has been set free? 

What am I in bondage to? Everything, I suppose. The groans of creation. My overwhelm and stress. The fear of using my voice, fear of what others might think or say, fear of not using my voice, but mostly the inability to believe I am set free.

So I write the words on a Post-it and stick it to my desk, I type it into a note on my phone, and I think about where I might tattoo the words — all in hopes of not forgetting them so quickly next time. When I go back to fear, when I hunch over in shame, when I tense up and forget who I am, may I remember those gentle words of Jesus — you are set free.


Author photo of Holly Phillips sitting in the labyrinth described in the post.
Photo credit: Whitman Phillips (the author’s son)

Holly Phillips is part of the Anam Cara Apprenticeship and comes to it with a background in church ministry. She feels called to walk alongside others and help them find the sacred in the ordinary. After years of wrestling with her place in the church and overthinking life with God, Holly has found new ways of encountering the Spirit through simply being. She currently serves as Co-Pastor at a small church in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her musician husband, their three kids, and a backyard full of birds. If you’d like to connect with her, you can do so through her Substack here.

Offer Empty

As I considered applying for the Anam Cara Apprenticeship, I asked a friend about her own training in spiritual direction. “It’s about me getting out of the way,” she said. “This is about what God is doing, not me.”

Do you know how difficult it can be to get out of the way? Personally, I keep tripping over my desire to be helpful to my now directee’s. 

This has me thinking about a woman in the Scriptures who was in dire need. Her husband died. Her debts were due. Her sons would soon be sold as slaves. Destitute, this woman cried for help to the prophet Elisha who offered what appeared to be a very strange piece of advice. Learning this woman had nothing of value in her home but a wee bit of olive oil, Elisha said: 

“Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars—and not just a few” (2 Kings 4).

When I read this, I immediately scoffed, “Empty? Seriously? How about instructing this poor woman to go around and ask all her neighbors for full jars!? And while she’s at it, for bread, spare change, and a job or two for her and her boys?” At first glance I found Elisha’s advice overwhelmingly unhelpful (which may have been the point …). 

But the prophet-of-God’s instructions were clear: what you need right now, from your neighbors, your friends, and your community, is an increase of empty. Ask them to offer you empty.


Enter the whole get-out-of-the-way theme my friend was talking about, because if my neighbor came to me in dire need, like this widow did to hers, I would move into action. In full fix-it (I want to be helpful) mode, I might just take over – gathering & giving whatever I could and piling it into her arms as if I knew what was best. It wouldn’t matter if that wasn’t what she asked for or needed.

Oof! I feel the weight of that last sentence. 

What if my friend is asking for the empty? Seeking specifically for it? I realize it’s a hard thing for me to offer. It takes great trust to offer empty.

Offering empty is not the same as offering nothing. The neighbors did not shake their heads, close their doors and turn this widow away. No, they gave, but they gave empty, enlarging the space for an outpouring of grace. For along with those empty jars, I believe they gave hope, they gave belief, they gave holy anticipation and expectation. They were with her in the wonder and the waiting.

If you’re familiar with the widow’s story, you know her small amount of olive oil miraculously stretched to fill each and every one of those borrowed empty jars. It wasn’t until the last jar was filled that the oil stopped flowing. The woman was able to sell the oil, pay off her debts, and live off the rest.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry & share our resources. But sometimes people will come to us in need of empty – in need of an enlarged space into which the Spirit can flow in ways we never could have imagined or orchestrated. Sometimes, what is needed is for us to pull back on fix-it mode and offer our empty – as much of it as we can possibly muster – and to do so with great faith, hope, and love. 

As the apostle Paul says, “In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:5 Message). 

Offer Empty.

Ponder: What is the difference between offering nothing, and offering empty?

Practice: Read this gorgeous poem by Christine Lore Webber about being hollowed out and emptied by God. 

Pray: Ask God to enlarge your empty, making you ready for whatever He’ll do next.

– Jenny Gehman

Burning Candles

Once you’ve heard a child cry out to heaven for help,
and go unanswered,
nothing’s ever the same again.
Even God changes.

But there is a healing hand at work
that cannot be deflected from its purpose.
I just can’t make sense of it, other than to cry.
Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk.

Out there, in the world, it can be very cold.
It seems to be about luck, good and bad,
and the distribution is absurd.

We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair,
faith and doubt, life and death,
all the opposites.

– William Brodrick


Taken from Celtic Daily Prayer Book Two Farther Up and Farther In p.888 ©2015 The Northumbria Community Trust

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Is Your Spiritual Director Certified? Probably Not.

As I write this in the early days of 2022, the tragedy and tangle of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape our world in ways both seen and unseen. Homelife and safety, public life and how we form it, mental health and our care for one another, schooling and teaching—all have undergone radical shifts for ill and for good. Counselors, therapists, social workers, all find their schedules full with those seeking care. The same is true of spiritual directors.

One of the gifts of this time comes from the shift in accessibility that we’ve seen across the globe. Forced to move online, caregivers now have more secure, effective, and safe ways to meet with clients regardless of their location. This has opened up the practice of spiritual direction to so many who simply did not have access to it before, which is a huge grace and a stunning gift.

Alongside that gift comes responsibility, and one of the ways that spiritual directors are charged with caring for their directees and the larger community is by the accurate representation of their training and credentials. As training in spiritual direction has proliferated, and spiritual direction becomes more and more known as a healing modality, I’ve begun to hear a certain kind of slippage in the language used to describe a spiritual director’s training and credentials. This is, I am completely sure, good-hearted, as most of our understanding of caring professions gets modeled after licensed professional therapy or social work. But it’s dangerous, unnecessary, and unkind to borrow language from one profession in order to bolster the distinctiveness of spiritual direction.

Spiritual directors, when presenting themselves to the public, preserve the integrity of spiritual direction by being in right relation with persons and organizations representing qualifications and affiliations accurately. —Spiritual Director’s International Guidelines for Ethical Conduct

In 2016, ESDA (Christ-Centered Spiritual Directors) published an article explaining to their members why representing themselves as a “certified spiritual director” is a problematic practice. In it author Monica Romig Green explains:

Generally, when someone uses the term “certified,” it communicates to the hearer that the person has been given a certification as opposed to just a certificate. It usually means that they possess an official designation from a qualifying professional organization that affirms they meet and uphold specific standards of their profession.

To become “certified,” one must show evidence to a certifying organization that they meet or exceed continuing professional standards. Additionally, as a professional designation, certification is usually something that can expire over time and must be renewed occasionally in order to affirm that someone is still practicing their work at a competent or high level of quality.

Contrastingly, receiving a certificate or diploma from a training program usually means that you have successfully completed your specific program’s educational requirements. It does not mean that you have met the practicing standards of a particular profession.

Regarding spiritual direction, there is, in fact, no specific and official standard for training/formation. That means that one person’s certificate of training could mean something completely different than someone else’s. For instance, I know of a program that gives a certificate after someone has spent 2 weeks studying spiritual direction, while other programs require that their students spend two to three years studying and complete hundreds of direction hours before they receive their certificate. With such variation in training, it’s easy to see why our training certificates would not automatically indicate meeting some kind of general standard.

If you’re a spiritual director or even someone exploring the practice of spiritual direction, the whole article is worth reading. As Green argues, and I concur, it isn’t just a splitting of hairs to insist that “completed a certificate in spiritual direction” is a more accurate and ethical way of representing training in spiritual direction than using the term “certified” (or, in several somewhat upsetting instances, I’ve heard spiritual directors refer to themselves as “licensed” which is both inaccurate and manipulative, as it creates a false sense of accountability and safety for the directee when the director has no such body of oversight).

As someone who also respects and honors the work that my colleagues in therapeutic and social work settings have done, I don’t want to water down the incredible amount of work and continuing education they have and continue to do, even if it appears to up my credibility.

There’s also an important tension to hold here, as there is a certifying body in spiritual direction and the supervision of spiritual directors (CCPC Global), through which I hold both certifications. This is an open organization, to which anyone globally can apply who meets the requirements of certification over and above having completed a certificate in spiritual direction. At the same time, the larger community of spiritual direction continues to hold a diversity of opinion about whether or not certification is necessary, beneficial, or an accurate measure of expertise in a field that holds so much Mystery. Spiritual Director’s International (SDI), for example, discourages the use of these credentials, while the professional spiritual direction associations of countries like Ireland or Australia have created even more rigorous standards and accountability structures for the practice within their borders.

As our push online since the emergence of COVID-19 has shown us, there is also great good to de-institutionalization of education. Seminary-level education is now available to those who would never be able to relocate in order to have access to educators of this quality. Systemic barriers historically operating in education because of sexism, ableism, or racism have been seriously (and thankfully) damaged by our ability to seek wisdom not just from “professionals” but from those with expertise and lived experience. Those whose voices have previously been silenced in these spaces and conversations have had the opportunity to create new and dynamic spaces for experience and education.

In the face of this wild, generative proliferation, it is nonetheless important to care for those seeking spiritual direction with an accurate and clear portrayal of education, experience, and expertise. As a practitioner, I’ve continued to sit in the “both/and” of the questions around the professionalization of spiritual direction. In churches and spiritual communities around the world, there are wisdom figures and those who listen on the margins who would never go to graduate school or seek the title of “spiritual director”—and I believe these faithful men and women are still doing the good work of spiritual direction in the world. I also believe that it is important for me and those I train in spiritual direction to continue to do the work of skills building, growth, and learning within the field and that when it is within the purview and possibility of a particular director, to seek to meet any professional standards that are helpful to their practice and serve their directees well.

The chances are that your spiritual director isn’t “certified.” How and whether that matters to a directee is in the hands of those seeking spiritual accompaniment. However, for ethical practice, spiritual directors need to represent their training, associations, and professional development in a clear, straightforward and well-thought-through manner.

A Spiritual Director’s Prayer

As I read this prayer to a directee today, I realize that God had brought it to heart and mind not just for that person, but for myself as a spiritual director. Sometimes I struggle to find a way to express the “why” of what I do as a director, but this poem by Ted Loder captures at least part of the soul behind being an anam cara*.

Bring More Of What I Dream

O God,
who out of nothing
brought everything that is,
out of what I am
bring more of what I dream
but haven’t dared;
direct my power and passion
to creating life
where there is death,
to putting flesh of action
on bare-boned intentions,
to lighting fires
against the midnight of indifference,
to throwing bridges of care
across canyons of loneliness;
so I can look on creation,
together with you,
and, behold,
call it very good;
through Jesus Christ my Lord.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle, p. 115


*Anam cara is the Gaelic word for “soul friend.”

The Enneagram & Prayer: Type Five

Type Five

The Intense, Cerebral Type:
Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated
Type Five in Brief

Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation. At their Best: visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.

  • Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless, or incapable
  • Basic Desire: To be capable and competent
  • Enneagram Five with a Four-Wing: “The Iconoclast”
  • Enneagram Five with a Six-Wing: “The Problem Solver”

Key Motivations: Want to possess knowledge, to understand the environment, to have everything figured out as a way of defending the self from threats from the environment.

The Meaning of the Arrows (in brief)

When moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), detached Fives suddenly become hyperactive and scattered at Seven. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), avaricious, detached Fives become more self-confident and decisive, like healthy Eights.

Source: The Enneagram Institute: Type Five

Type Five: The Investigator

With Type Fives, we move into the Thinking Center of the Enneagram. The Thinking or Head Center is where Type Fives, Type Sixes and Type Sevens go when they lose touch with the core of who they are. Each of the three Types in this center retreat to their heads in different ways, but each is reacting to and out a place of Fear. Where the Heart Center (2-3-4) struggle with Shame, Head Centers do their best to hide or attack the fears that plague them.

Type Fives are actually the most introverted of the nine Types. Fives are deeply motivated by the need to know or understand. They are exceptionally good at research, and will be the ones who are most able to be objective, perceptive and wise. Type Fives are trustworthy and kind; their integrity is one of the most important things for them to maintain.

Type Fives value their inner order, so much so that new information often disturbs and discomforts them. Type Fives need time to integrate new ideas, feelings or experiences into their own inner world, and will regularly withdraw in order to have space to make sense of things. Although they are stereotyped as bookish or intellectual, Type Fives are observers whose focus may be on a particular topic rather than a mode of research.

Because they fear being hurt, Fives strive to reduce their vulnerabilities. Although they can often articulate their feelings quite perceptively, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually in touch with those feelings as they compartmentalize with great skill. Type Fives are often the most difficult to engage with on an emotional level because they value their privacy so highly—they simply won’t share how they are feeling until they feel completely safe with you. Fives have a passion for absorbing information; they often feel like they have a bottomless pit inside of them that they seek to fill with knowledge, resources, observations and collections. More than other types, Fives are collectors—stamps, wine, books, pictures or simply odds and ends that seem important to they.

That bottomless pit inside of a Type Five leads them to feel like they are unwanted and they often experience a great deal of emptiness inside. This leads to their voracious consumption of information and observation. (Type Fives often need glasses earlier than other types, and can often be either casual or professional photographers because “taking” pictures fills them, even temporarily.) Because they take a long time to process, people close to a Type Five can feel ignored or cocooned in silence as the Five assimilates new information and attempts to make a decision by themselves. Fives are afraid that if you give people an inch they will take a mile, so they often refuse to give even a millimeter. The root sin of Type Fives is avarice, which, unlike gluttony, doesn’t have to do with material goods or worldly possessions, but rather an insatiable desire to hold on to what you have, not sharing or giving to others. Type Fives are often seen as “takers” rather than “givers”, and find parental roles particularly difficult.

Type Fives are a particular gift to communities and to the world. When they are operating in a healthy, balanced place, Fives let go of their fear of being vulnerable and offer their considerable powers of observation and reflection to the world. Type Fives make excellent counselors or support people—they have the ability to listen to others for hours on end, taking in information, synthesizing and absorbing all that they other person is giving. And then, with their great stores of knowledge and wisdom, Fives will shift the perspective in such a way as to bring truth and freedom to others. At their best, Fives help others make wise, whole-hearted and objective movements into the world and into relationship.

Type Fives & Prayer

Although Type Fives will enter spiritual direction as a way of learning more about God and about themselves, they are a particularly difficult Type for most directors to journey with. This is because Type Fives are so interior and private that the very thing that makes spiritual direction most successful—vulnerability and transparency—is deeply threatening and frightening to an average Five. Those in relationship with a Five have to be careful to give them space to incorporate new ideas and information without rushing them into a response, while still encouraging them to open up and share the raw places within themselves. Some prayer types that are most useful for a Type Five:

  • Prayers of Compassion
  • Prayer of the Senses
  • Prayer of Belovedness
  • Conversational Prayer
  • Prayer in Groups

Prayers of Compassion

Although Type Fives can be incredibly perceptive of the feelings and responses of others, their fear tends to drive them away from truly encountering the suffering of others. A particular practice of prayer that is helpful for this type is a prayer of compassion—prayer that engages the imagination on behalf of those who are struggling, in pain or in grief. Type Fives might start this type of prayer by imagining the experience of those far away from them (women sold into sexual trafficking in South East Asia, families who have lost everything in political conflict in unstable countries), calling to mind in vivid detail what it might look like and feel like to be with that person or people in those circumstances. While this imagination can seem exploitative if left at this point, Type Fives need to take their imagination first to heart (to feel and experience the suffering) and then to God in prayer.

Eventually, Type Fives will be able to transition this prayer to those are are in their immediate surroundings, as imaginative prayer for those in their circles and communities who are experiencing heartbreak, sickness, oppression and loss. As they do this, Type Fives will be motivated to move toward their area of integration and move into the world like an average Eight, as their prayers shift to compassionate action on behalf of others.

For Type Fives, this type of prayer can be summarized in these words: “Lord, break my heart for the things that break Your heart.”

Prayer of the Senses

As Observers, Type Fives like to take in the world through their eyes. They read, they watch, they take pictures. Prayers that integrate their whole selves into communion with God (and with all their other parts) are therefore deeply valuable—and sometimes very difficult and frustrating for a Type Five. Prayers of the Senses are prayers that use the senses as a form of attending to God and His goodness in the world. To pray this way, we engage all of our various ways of absorbing the gifts around us—taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing—in a holistic experience of the present moment. An easy way to start this type of prayer is to eat meals mindfully, to intentionally slow down your eating so that you can absorb all the various tastes of the food in your mouth, the smell of the nourishment that is coming to you, the way things feel in your mouth. Paying attention in this way naturally leads to wonder, thanksgiving and praise—have you ever really tasted a fresh raspberry? It’s hard to not turn toward God in worship.

Prayers of the senses are an engaged form of prayer that focuses on the gift of the now, releasing problems and worries, and, most importantly for a Type Five, fears. To be in the present moment with God, engaging the senses right now rather than analyzing or worrying, helps a Type Five to receive God’s love and overwhelming care for them in their places of emptiness.

Prayers of Belovedness

That place of emptiness in a Type Five can lead to further withdrawal and isolation. Type Fives need a long time to assimilate new information; they can often be skeptical or cynical until they’ve done their own research. Prayers of Belovedness, prayers that acknowledge the One who hung the stars also deeply cares for the Type Fives specifically help to move Type Fives away from filling their own emptiness toward letting God fill them.

This prayer can take the simple form of breathing in and out the words, “I am the beloved of God.” This can start with just a few moments of this prayer, but it even more transformative if it stretches into minutes or long periods where this prayer simply moves through all parts of yourself in deep communion with God.

Another way to practice this prayer is to take the words of the Father in Matthew 3:17 (And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”) and allow God to speak them to you specifically. This involves spending time with the passage, allowing the words to penetrate. God does say of you that you are His child, whom He loves, with whom He is well pleased.

Conversational Prayer

Because they spend a lot of time in their heads in an introverted, alone space, Type Fives often benefit from developing a conversational prayer life with God. This is different from simply giving God a laundry list and going—which isn’t a good relational strategy for any relationship, let alone that with God. Instead, this type of prayer takes the time to dialogue with God about what God is feeling or thinking about a particular issue or topic, and responding conversationally.

For those who haven’t had experience of a conversational relationship with God, some suggestions I make for beginning are things like starting out this type of prayer by journaling. Explore your thoughts and feelings about something on paper, and then invite God to speak into the situation. Write down the words or ideas that you feel like you hear from God; don’t worry about getting it “wrong” or “right”, just allow the voice of the Divine to share. I particularly recommend Frank Laubach’s book, Letters from A Modern Mystic, if you’re looking for a way to begin the conversational journey with God.

If writing out your prayers feels artificial, simply set aside some time to have a real conversation with God. Ask God questions, aloud or silently, about what God feels about simple things. It’s helpful to chose things that you know the answer to, because if you hear something other than some version of “yes” to a question like, “Do you love me, God?”, you know that there are voices other than God’s speaking. Be creative in this type of conversation, and practice patience as you wait for God to speak. It may take a while to get used to, but it will be fruitful.

Prayer in Groups

The most introverted of the types, Fives find sharing their prayer life with others particularly fearful and difficult. Thus, prayer in groups is a huge stretch for a Five, whose interior world is a place where very few are allowed to visit. Praying in groups of safe people, even if the prayer is silent, is a very helpful exercise for Type Fives. The ability to be with others as they speak to God helps a Five to stay in the moment and to release the fear of being judged or praying “wrong.” It also develops in a Five the ability to enter into the conversation with God by overhearing how others speak to Christ. Sharing this intimate space may be a long, slow journey for a Five, but doing so opens them to intimacy with others and with God. Starting with simple presence—attentive silence without needing to add words—is a helpful beginning, as it takes the pressure off of a Five to articulate what’s going on inside. Once a certain comfort level has been reached, Fives can be encouraged to share their prayers with the group in a more ad hoc manner. Praying in groups is particularly helpful in situations where no feedback is given after the prayer. This time without response allows the Five to assimilate all that she or he has experienced in a way that feels life-giving instead of threatening.

Another Note On Prayer:

Type Fives cope with their feelings of inadequacy or incompetence by retreating from the world and defending themselves against it. This response to their perceived powerlessness actually serves to increase their distance from reality, rather than inviting them into the world to move and shape things and discover how they in particular are a vital expression of the Kingdom of God. In prayer, anything that grounds a Type Five in the present moment—the experience of the now—is deeply important, because it takes them out of their minds and into the spaces where they can most readily experience God’s love and provision for them. Because of their defenses, Type Fives often feel uncared for by God. Type Fives do well to remember that God is their protection and their provision, to hear God’s words to Abram as God’s words to them, as well: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1, NIV)


Type Five Playlist

(developed by Jennifer Brukiewa of Attending Grace Ministries)

Now it’s your turn.
Are you a Five?
What prayer forms have proven most helpful for you?
What ways do you struggle with prayer and your relationship with God?
Share with us in the comments.

Sources: The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram and Spiritual Direction: Nine Paths to Spiritual Guidance by James Empereur, The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele, and Using the Enneagram in Prayer by Suzanne Zuercher.  

 Interested in more? You can read about the other types by clicking on the image below.



PS If you haven’t joined us already, please consider signing up for Anam Cara’s newest eCourse, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, which starts on July 7. There are only a two days left to register!