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Parables and the Enneagram.

About 25 years ago in Berkeley, Calif., when Eastern religions were taking California by storm, I was asked as a Catholic theologian to give a talk at an East-West conference. The topic assigned to me was "Jesus as a Zen Master." Zen masters taught their aspirants to meditate on a koan, a contradiction or paradox, such as, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" To prepare for my lecture, I opened the New Testament looking for a koan or two from Jesus. To my surprise, before I was halfway through Matthew, I had found almost 50 of them, for example "Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing" and "Let the dead bury their dead." I discovered that indeed Jesus was a Zen master.

In his delightfully insightful Parables and the Enneagram, Clarence Thomson, director of Credence Cassettes and editor of the newsletter Enneagram Educator, shows that Jesus is also an enneagram master. Thomson, healthy Seven that he is, has a knack for reframing familiar things, like Jesus' parables, in ways I never thought of before, so even though I have been familiar with the enneagram since my Berkeley days, and with Jesus, parables since childhood, I gleaned something new out of almost every page.

The material is so clearly presented that even an enneagram novice can jump right in. As I recognized new connections and parallels between parables and enneagram numbers, I fantasized Jesus saying to an enneagram expert, "Why didn't you ask me? I knew all about those nine numbers. Just listen to my parables."

The book begins with an introduction on the parables of Jesus, what they were intended to do, why Jesus used the parable form in his teachings and how parables are related to the enneagram. All fresh material.

Each subsequent chapter discusses a specific enneagram number in the light of certain parables. Ones need to deal with their legalism, so to wake them up Jesus told parables that challenged the law and sometimes violated it for a higher moral value. Eights, on the other hand, want fairness, that is, reward and punishment. So to wake Eights up, Jesus tells parables like the Weeds Among the Wheat or the Good Samaritan, which say that in God's kingdom justice will prevail, but, paradoxically, it is also a kingdom in which sins are not punished but freely forgiven.

Next, in each chapter, Thomson asks, "What does this enneagram number most want?" and "What does it usually settle for?" For example, Ones really want justice but will usually settle for order. Twos want to be loved for themselves but will usually settle for being appreciated. Sixes want faith but will usually settle for security.

The rest of each chapter discusses how Jesus' parables help wake people out of their enneagram trance. For example, Sevens really want satisfaction--having enough--but they usually settle for having more and more. An exploration of the Prodigal Son parable shows how the son's desire to be independently wealthy corrupts him, whereas in the kingdom everyone is dependently wealthy--God providing everything we need. Other parables teach the eternally upbeat Sevens the joy of repentance, the power of the shadow, the richness of suffering, the wealth of renunciation, the freedom of total commitment and the victory hidden in the cross.

Jesus aims the parable of the Lilies of the Field at Fours to undo their typical worldview of helplessness. The Feeding of the Five Thousand is designed to wake up Fives from their particular trance. Nines want peace and harmony but usually settle for sleep; Jesus tells them a parable about his coming not to bring peace but the sword.

Thomson closes each chapter with suggestions for each number, usually some activities directly related to biblical tradition, designed to evoke consciousness. For Threes who feel they have to earn whatever love they get, Thomson recommends watching new parents with their baby. "What does the baby do to earn their love?" the Three is told to ask himself.

Parables contradict all our expectations, explains Thomson. "Parables are not rules for living but stories that jolt us out of our culturally induced trance." For centuries, people have used parables as techniques for spiritual growth, suggestions for improving yourself or guides for moral decisions. For Thomson--and for Jesus--they "describe the nature of God."

If you're interested in theology, biblical interpretation or want to get a new slant on the parables of Jesus, this book is worth its price. If you're ready for new enneagram insights, here they are. As Richard Rohr says on the book's cover, it's "a masterly exploration of how the scriptures and the enneagram enrich each other."

I'm sorry now that I never wrote a book called Jesus: Zen Master, but I'm glad Thomson wrote a book that could have been titled Jesus: Enneagram Master.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Catholic Reporter
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Author:Savary, Louis M.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 9, 1996
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