The Sacred Enneagram, by Christopher Heuertz (Book Review)

The Sacred Enneagram, by Christopher Heuertz (Book Review) March 26, 2019

For me, the Enneagram has never been anything other than sacred. In its personality-typing popularization, though, the Enneagram is used to improve relationships in everything from business to romance. I’m not fazed by the psych-lite frenzy of the Enneagram because, after all, who wouldn’t want better relationships in business and romance? Yet this esoteric tool of cosmic and individual transformation is not always thought of in a spiritual context.  (If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, check out this Enneagram Q&A with Suzanne Stabile.)

As a student of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School, though, I learned the Enneagram in an explicit context of spiritual development. Twenty-five or so of us students spent a day at the Center in Albuquerque. We interacted with Franciscan writer and teacher Fr. Richard Rohr as he walked us through the spiritual lineages of the Enneagram and the nine personality types.

Christopher Heuertz names what I somewhat naively assumed. The Enneagram is sacred. Of course! In today’s climate of post-Christians, spiritual but not religious people, those done completely with religion, and those who simply seek another self-development tool, the Enneagram’s sacred possibilities need to be claimed as such.

Heuertz’s book The Sacred Enneagram is an Enneagram book to read and re-read. He shines a light on the Enneagram’s spiritual power by revealing that the Enneagram really can uniquely diagnose how people lose and find a sense of true identity. It’s clearly the work of many years of gestation and spiritual transformation. I’ve read it twice and the pages still contain far more wisdom for me to unearth for my life.

Framed from a contemplative perspective, the Enneagram holds the possibility of pointing the way forward to our true selves in God. First this requires receiving an Enneagram diagnosis of what in us is not of God. Heuertz writes, “Awakening to what the Enneagram exposes within us often leads to an urgent unmasking of our false identity, what has become our personality…Spiritual growth and transformation are the result of exposing the masks or illusions of personality, and getting to the core of identity” (31). The Enneagram reveals the often-humiliating truth of ourselves to ourselves, which creates room for the truth of God to be revealed in us.

The book points to spiritual transformation, I believe, through four primary ways. The first is that Heuertz has done the inner work himself to speak authoritatively about the Enneagram in the first place. I haven’t met Christopher in person, but his voice feels deeply trustworthy to me. Maybe it’s his humble admission of failure and suffering, combined with his long work in the trenches for social justice. Maybe it’s the scrupulous and helpful footnotes, his Wizard of Oz illustrations, or the short Scriptural insights, a few of which took my breath away. I don’t know. But I experienced his authorial voice as an authentic teacher, and if he were giving a retreat on the Enneagram near me, I’d be there. It’s one thing to know the material; it’s another thing for the content to flow from the teacher’s being, as it does, I believe, in this book.

Second, Heuertz’s knowledge of Enneagram lineages and teachings is vast and inclusive. I never had the sense that he was pitting one Enneagram lineage against another and claiming “the one true path.” Instead, he mines the many twists and turns in the Enneagram story of transmission, from esoteric teacher Gurdjieff to Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo to a Jesuit passing around written notes about it. Instead of choosing sides, Heuertz laments the broken confidentialities and relationships along the path of its popularization. He says, “Today there is an urgent need to heal the divide among those who assert their explanation of the Enneagran is the only authentic way of teaching it” (49). He affirms the whole of the Enneagram story in the West, while also embracing the unfolding insights the Enneagam has yet to teach.

Third, rather than focus on each type, Heuertz instead explores the Enneagram as a connected and dynamic system or, as he puts it, a “color wheel.” Specifically, a color wheel of triads. Once one learns the nine types, the wheel only expands. I must confess I didn’t catch all the nuances about triads on initial read. Here’s the gist, though: the first triad is made up of our intelligence centers. Each number corresponds to an embodied place through which one perceives the world: head, heart, or gut. Then, there are “Harmony Triads,” which tell how we engage with the world, either as “relationists, pragmatists, or idealists” (see page 145). The triads continue with “Dominant Affect Groups” (rejection, attachment, or frustration), which are the emotional development patterns from early childhood that describe why we engage with the world as we do.

And finally, Heuertz maps contemplative practices onto the Enneagram types. The result is rather astoundingly insightful. The invitation of prayer for each type looks different. For example, I identify as type number one, the perfectionist. I’m always buzzing with activity and thoughts about how to make the world a better place, how to improve my own character, how to be an effective pastor and more loving human being. It never ends. For one’s, whose intelligence center lies in the gut (along with numbers eight and nine), the contemplative gift of prayer is stillness, to simply stop striving and allow true rest. I guarantee there is a profound insight waiting for each individual reader if they follow the triads through to practice their unique prayer posture and intention.

Fr. Richard Rohr endorsed the book and says, “You will not be the same after you read this book.” I couldn’t agree more.

Image source:  Gravity Center


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