This post is one of a four-part series on the spirituality of different MBTI preferences. See the first post here.
Sensing and Intuitive Spirituality
The second preference pair deals with how people take in information about the world around them. Sensors (Ss) place the greatest stock in what they receive through their five senses. Intuitives (Ns), on the other hand, value their ‘sixth sense’ more highly – relying on hunches, insights and gut feelings. The S is rooted in the present, practical and prefers to do something rather than simply think about it. Ns are the dreamers, imagining what could be and dwelling in the realm of ideas. The S is an inductive thinker – preferring to start with specific details and real-world examples before they can work up to models and theories. The deductive N, however, needs the big picture first, wanting to see the forest before considering the individual trees. Unlike Es and Is, which are evenly distributed in the general population, about 75% of people are Ss while only 25% are Ns. Of the four MBTI preferences, the S/N continuum is often difficult to self-diagnose and can require a formal assessment tool to identify the preference unless it is very strong.
When it comes to the spiritual life, Ss like tangible evidence that supports what they believe, practical methods for study and prayer that ‘actually work’, real-world examples of people who are truly spiritually mature, and opportunities to serve that make a difference in the here and now. Unfortunately, many churches only meet the last of those criteria (if that), resulting in the sad fact that, despite being in the majority in broader society, Ss are usually less numerous than Ns in the pews. Ns, on the other hand, find the typical church very much to their liking. They enjoy filling their spiritual lives with “symbols, imagery, the creative, the artistic, or the poetic,” all of which serve as “spurs to the imagination that provide inspiration.” They especially respond to the transcendent and mysterious aspects of God, dwelling comfortably with paradox in a way that the practical S never could. But certain expressions of the Church are challenging for Ns as well. They “struggle in environments with fixed routines, narrow interpretations, or defined methods for soulwork that leave little room for innovation.” Another, grimmer, struggle is with bipolar tendencies. The spiritual life is cyclical, with its periods of intense insight, devotion or activity followed by lulls. Ss, grounded in the present moment, ride the cycle phlegmatically. Ns, with their focus on tomorrow, tend to extrapolate their current state into the future and wrongly assume ‘it will always be thus.’ This leads to either mania (if things happen to be good right now) or depression (if they are not). Ns are also vulnerable to sensuality (due to an underdeveloped sensorial life) and psychosomatic illness (due to their focus on the mind to the neglect of the body).
For a group that is under-represented in churches, there are a surprising number of spiritual disciplines well-suited to Ss. For Scripture reading, passages that focus on the practical side of the Christian life are enjoyed by Ss: wisdom literature, Matthew (the gospel with the most ethical instruction), the hortatory second halves of Paul’s letters. Certain modes of consuming Scripture help Ss, as well, such as listening to audio Bibles or reading a well-crafted artisanal edition with a leather cover and Bible paper for a rich tactile experience. Another way suited to Ss to experience Scripture are living passages, such as a Franciscan nativity scene or a five-senses experience of the Stations of The Cross. When it comes to prayer, Ss should favor the many embodied spiritual disciplines. The many forms of asceticism – such fasting, simplicity, and vigils – are natural forms of S prayer, as are physical practices such as prayer walks, walking a labyrinth, breath prayer, and involving the body in prayer through kneeling, standing, prostrating, and making the sign of the cross. Even mysticism has its practical forms that Ss can enjoy, such as encountering Christ in the needy (Matthew 25:31-46), walking through the events of the day with God in the prayer of examen of consciousness, or Frank Laubach’s “Game with Minutes.” S worship can include liturgical practices of standing and kneeling, or even liturgical dance. Worship filled with music or taking place in nature also resonates with the S, as do sermons with practical application and worship that follows a familiar routine and rhythm. The Lord’s Supper is a quintessential act of S worship, including movement, touch and taste – but so is the practical act of giving one’s tithe. Fellowship is best experienced by Ss with others gathered around a common task, or enjoyed by extending hospitality to the other. Engaging in one of Scandrette’s shared practices would be another great group activity for Ss.
Most traditional spiritual disciplines are already well-designed for the N, but some are worthy of special note. Benedictine lectio divina relies heavily on intuition while Ignatian gospel contemplation engages the imagination, making both fruitful forms of Scripture meditation for Ns. Ns also thrive where they can study Scripture in an environment that allows them freely share their insights without needing to restrict themselves only to practical or logically provable statements. Ns can more easily get by without the words and images of discursive prayer, so they can pick up contemplative forms prayer more readily, such as centering prayer or the prayer of silence. With their future orientation, Ns can also derive benefit from the practice of meditating on one’s own death, or keeping a memento mori as a constant reminder of one’s mortality. Ns enjoy innovative worship that is rich with symbols and silence. Towards this end, Ns can seek to experience God in the arts, whether visual arts such as icons or written arts like poetry or liturgies. They also “prefer sermons that employ images and metaphors, and that leave the application to the individual listener.” Interestingly, communion can be as fruitful a worship experience for Ns as it is for Ss, only for different reasons. Instead of the physicality, it is the symbolism of the act, with its many layers of meaning, that stirs the N. For fellowship, Ns should seek out gatherings where they can practice their listening prayer in community, such as meeting with a soul friend or a peer spiritual direction group. Ns can also savor symbols with others by touring a gallery of sacred art or the soaring architecture of a cathedral together, sharing their thoughts with their companions. Maintaining connections with saints of various spiritual traditions will help feed the Ns need for innovation and diversity, enabling them to fulfill their natural role as the Church’s cross-pollinators. Ns should also be careful to have a few trusted friends in their life who can encourage them when their depression begins to set in.