First things first: whoever designed the cover of this book should be fired immediately. And yet the old saw “never judge a book by its cover” rings true. Prayer and Temperament by Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey was the most interesting, insightful, and thought-provoking book I read during my sabbatical.
Enjoying this book requires some familiarity with Roman Catholic spirituality; the primary author (Dr. Michael) is a priest who specializes in spiritual direction. So if terms like “discursive meditation” and “Ignatian spirituality” are foreign to you, this book may not scratch your itch. But if you are conversant with the Catholic tradition enough to appreciate its wisdom and separate the wheat from the chaff, there’s much here to benefit from.
The basic premise of the book is that different types of people need to pray differently. Not everyone communes with God in the same way. So the authors take the sixteen Myers-Briggs temperament types and explain the various prayer forms that will tend to resonate with each one.
Maybe you’re a Myers-Briggs hater. Or maybe you’re one of those recovering fundamentalists who’s still skeptical that God’s common grace applies to the field of psychology. But this book merely leverages a basic human insight: not everyone is “wired” the same way. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual disciplines is simplistic and short-sighted. If we insist on forcing everyone into the same mold when it comes to prayer, we will likely frustrate and discourage many people.
For example: I am an INTJ. According to Dr. Michael, “The NT prefers neat, orderly forms of the spiritual life. The type of prayer most suitable to this temperament is logical, rational, discursive meditation… INTJ’s need much time for private prayer… [their] prayer life is apt to be introspective… the Gospel of John, the Psalms, and Isaiah will probably have appeal to this type.” My wife, by contrast, is an ESFP. People of this type are “impulsive and dislike being tied down by rules… [their prayer life] will be flexible and free-flowing, totally open to the presence and voice of the Holy Spirit… They love to celebrate the goodness, greatness, love, and power of God… A prayerful SP will find that the thought of God predominates every waking moment… of all the temperaments, they have the least need for long periods of formal prayer. To force this temperament into a strict schedule or rigid routine of prayer is totally unproductive.” Light bulb! You can see why Leigh and I have always had a terribly hard time praying together.
If there’s one things the Catholics do well (and Protestants do terribly), it’s spiritual direction. We Protestants are still figuring out the difference between “sola Scriptura” and “solo Scriptura.” We tend to have a strong doctrine of Scripture and a weak doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This is where authors like Dr. Michael are very helpful, and where the Catholic tradition as a whole has some things to teach us. If you are looking to grow in your practice and discipline of prayer, and you are discerning enough to appreciate Roman Catholic spirituality without being threatened or confused by it, you may find this book tremendously helpful. You’ll just have to ignore the ugly cover.