Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Sensing Lent 1: Ash

Research* into personality type of Anglican clergy has shown, in studies on both males and females, that on the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator test (MBTI) there is a markedly high proportion of clerics who tend towards the 'iNtuitive' pole rather than the 'Sensing'. 

Intuition (iN) and sensing (S) are two ends of a spectrum which offers an explanation of how we prefer to take in information. People who prefer 'sensing' will enter a room and notice all the details their senses are taking in, at face value - the peeling wallpaper, the sound of a distant hoover etc; those who prefer intuition will see patterns and abstract connections, e.g. the bookcase reminds them of a time when they browsed an antique book shop in Marlow and that red carpet there which was like wine or blood...

High end iNtuitives are happy with abstract theorising and probably come across as impossible dreamers to everyone else, so in many ways, the research has implications for how clergy teach and explain the gospel. When you're up there in the pulpit imagining for everyone the connection between sanctification and redemption, others are sitting in the congregation noticing all the cobwebs...

Frequently on a walk in the countryside I'll find myself emerging from a reverie about some abstract train of thought involving patterns and concepts, and suddenly look around and notice it's a sunny day, or there are a lot of trees, or the ground is very chalky, or I've taken a wrong turn. Taking in information through my 5 senses is not my default reaction. Even when confronted with a signpost that clearly says 'n'-town to the right, I'll follow my internal intuition which feels like it should be straight on, because that's how I imagined it in my mind, and no amount of being told it was in fact to the right, normally makes any difference (till I admit I'm lost and have to actually look at one of those oh so prosaic maps).

And so we come to Lent. As an attempt at self growth, I'm setting out to focus a bit each day on stuff - on something that caught my attention that day - something I can take in primarily through my senses which will hopefully be alive to a spiritual possibility. What does it look/sound/taste/feel/smell like? It's a spiritual challenge about realignment and a re-engagement with the ordinary things we have and hold. In short, it's an attempt at 'sensing' Lent.

First up: ash. (it became impossible to leave this as a straightforward description, and it turned itself into a poem, so I've probably failed already...)

Black, dense, powdery,
sticky now with oil, 
product of our burning,
sign of our mourning.
Ashes to ashes,
Dust to dust; or laid
in a hole in the ground,
the stuff from which we come,
the stuff to which we go.
Today in a small pot it waits
to be smeared, 
finger dirty it will
smudge the skin,
a sooty mark to the forehead
inside which we think 
and pray. A cross to recall 
identity; a witness to 
mortality; a sign of honesty.

* e.g. 'Women Priests in the Church of England: Psychological Type Profile', in Religions 2011, 2.

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