Review: Forty Days on Being a Five

Forty Days on Being a Five, Morgan Harper Nichols (Suzanne Stabile series editor). Downers Grove: Formatio, 2021.

Summary: Forty short reflections with prayers and questions for those who are Enneagram Type Fives.

This is part of a collection of nine nicely bound books with forty reflections for each of the nine Enneagram types. Why am I reviewing the one for Fives? I could say random choice or because Five is halfway between One and Nine. But you’ve probably already figured out that it is because I am a Type Five, or as those into Enneagram would say, I’m a Five. We are variously described as the Investigator, the Thinker, the Observer. I actually think I am far more, but if the Type fits…

The introduction by series editor Suzanne Stabile encourages us to be generous with ourselves as we undergo change and transformation as we grow in self-understanding. Then Morgan Harper Nichols, a five begins with a chapter “On Being a Five.” I felt like she knew me when I read this description:

“The basic desire of the Five is to be capable and competent. We seek to understand and we fear being helpless. We are driven by a pursuit of knowledge that can at times, cause us to live in our heads. We find comfort in our safe places and reading nooks. We can spend a lot of our time thinking, compromising, and searching for insight” (p. 6).

The forty reflections that follow reflect an understanding of that desire and way of living. At different points, we are invited to notice and live in our bodies. We are invited to trust that we know enough and that God can meet us where we don’t. We’re invited to share our understanding rather than keep it to ourselves. We are encouraged to step away from being the removed observer all the time. We’re allowed to acknowledge our need to recharge and give up trying to control that and allow God to fill our cup.

Many of the reflections conclude with a prayer or a question or both. Space is allowed with the questions to jot down your own responses. One example of a question that recognizes how easily Fives compartmentalize life is “How have you compartmentalized your life? Are there ways you could zoom out and look at the whole?” A short prayer that spoke to me was this:

God,
Thank you for giving me this mind.
Thank you for the gift of wisdom.
Teach me today that to lean into your All-Knowingness
     more than I lean into my own understanding.
Give me strength to live with questions so that I
     may trust that in the space between what I have
     asked and your answer, there is abundant room
     to grow in faith.
Amen.

The reflections are short, between two and four pages. These easily may be read and reflected upon in fifteen minutes. Self-understanding and transformation are a journey of a lifetime. This little book covers just forty days of that–maybe 600 minutes. But the reflections can lead the five to trust that we are prepared enough, that we know enough, and that God is more than capable of meeting us in the gaps, and to step out on the dance floor rather than hug the wall.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation

The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation, A. J. Sherrill (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores how the Enneagram may be used as a tool for self-understanding that may serve as a guide on one’s discipleship pathway.

There is a spate of books on the Enneagram, which seems to be one of the latest “hot” things. Equally, there is a good deal of pushback around the use of the Enneagram, considering it more of a “New Age” or pagan approach that may lead Christians astray. One thing I appreciated about this book from the get-go is that A.J. Sherrill is cautious about both of these extremes. He writes:

People often ask me how I defend the Enneagram against such accusations. I tell them not to get sucked into defending it. One either finds it helpful or doesn’t. It is neither salvific nor soul-destroying. It’s simply a tool. From that standpoint it can be leveraged just as Paul leveraged “an unknown god” in Acts 17 to spur his listeners on to accept the claims of the gospel. God uses every square inch. If God can use an unknown god to amplify the name of Jesus, God can use the Enneagram.

Sherrill, pp. 13-14.

He goes on to mention four agreements he asks workshop participants to make:

  1. Remember you are not a number.
  2. Refuse to become branded as the Enneagram person, church, or organization.
  3. Resist the urge to type another person.
  4. Reclaim the Enneagram as a means and not an end.

Sherrill believes that the Enneagram is a tool to help offer self understanding that allows for the formation of our personality growing out of rooting our identity in Christ. He goes into each of the types of the Enneagram, the characteristic fault or sin of each, the lies we believe, and the truth we need for our personalities to be shaped by that identity in Christ. Sherrill argues that self-understanding rooted in Christ must lead to discipleship, which is the distinctive message of this book.

Sherrill believes that the self-understanding that comes from learning about one’s type enables us to move beyond a cookie-cutter discipleship to something that reflects both the flat sides and redeemed strengths of each type. He offers “downstream” and “upstream” spiritual practices that reflect each type. For example, for Fives (my type) he suggests downstream practices that go with the flow of the type of inductive Bible study and reading (both things I in fact love doing). The upstream practice for Fives is service projects on a regular basis to get out of our heads and use our hands. It’s probably why working in a garden, pulling weeds, or even digging post holes can be quite satisfying. For each type, Sherrill also includes a day or season of the church year that fits the type.

Sherrill proposes that while we cannot “type” biblical characters, we may find aspects of our types in them and so better understand how people like us encounter God. For example, he points to Nicodemus as an Investigator, like those of us who identify as Fives. We walk with him as he visits Jesus at night to investigate his teaching in John 3. In John 7:51, he vocalizes his thoughts with the chief priests and Pharisees, taking a risk. By John 19, he helps prepare the body of Jesus for burial, the act of a close follower, identifying himself closely with Jesus. Nicodemus needs time to process what he has heard, and then act, first vocally and then bodily.

One of the most interesting proposals in this book is that the Enneagram also may serve as a tool in evangelism, given the interest in the Enneagram in wider cultural circles including the corporate setting, in work teams for example. The Enneagram builds on the biblical insight of a world both beautiful and broken, exposing our need for redemption and transformation. We all have “holdings,” ways we try to stabilize reality so that we can cope with it, ways that reflect our brokenness. The Enneagram creates bridges for exploration with people turned off by or inured to churchy language but who are coming to realize that in some way, they are part of what is not right in the world.

The book concludes with a chapter on developing a rule of life based on character aspirations and practices that fit one’s type. Then the conclusion reiterates Sherrill’s approach of neither rejecting or making the Enneagram all encompassing. It isn’t Jesus, it won’t save our marriages, serve as a parenting guide, increase our profits, or save us. It can help us become Christ-like, give us insights into our relational dynamics, help us understand the uniqueness of our children, help us lead more effectively, and open conversations with those who do not yet know Christ.

This isn’t the best book to introduce one to the Enneagram or help one discover one’s own type. Sherrill offers an overview of the types and an appendix with some helpful background. He mentions other helpful works along the way, including Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron’s The Road Back to You (review), which I would commend as the best place to begin if you want to understand the Enneagram. The gap this book fills is addressing how the Enneagram may be used in Christian discipleship, how it helps us not only understand ourselves but also how we may, as unique people follow Jesus as we seek the glory of God and the good of the world.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram

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Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, Adele and Doug Calhoun, Clare and Scott Loughrige, foreword by Jerome Wagner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2019.

Summary: More than just a discussion of Enneagram numbers, this handbook utilizes “harmony triads” to lead to greater spiritual and relational transformation, and offers recommendations for spiritual practices suitable for each number and triad.

There have been a host of books published in recent years on the Enneagram, including several from this publisher. This may be both the most comprehensive resource out there on the different numbers (the term used for your type), and one that takes a novel approach using what the authors call “harmony triads.” Unlike traditional approaches that have arrows to and from a number reflecting where one goes under conditions of integration or disintegration, this approach uses triangles where each number connects to a number three ahead or behind it, allowing access to what are called the Gut, the Heart, and the Head triads. For example, someone who is Enneagram number 2, called Love here (in the Heart Triad), also has access to the Wisdom of a 5 and the Strength of an 8. The writers repeatedly emphasize that we are all more than our number, and that balancing the strengths of head (IQ), heart (EQ), and gut (GQ) helps us move toward greater integration and relational wholeness, and away from the vice of our number.

After providing a brief overview and section on key terms (important to keep a bookmark in for reference), the book devotes a chapter to each number beginning with a description and seven sections:

  1. Who am I and who am I not. Offers a list of descriptors and invites us to sit with these and how they resonate.
  2. True self and false self. Describes how we act under impulsive and compulsive reactions stemming from our own ego, and how we may act out of love of God, ourselves and others.
  3. Harmony. How to integrate Head, Heart, and Gut for our type leading to FLOW (Free, Loving, Open to head, heart, and gut), With God and reality as it is).
  4. Healing childhood hurts. Helps each number process where they were dismissed as a child and experience healing.
  5. Discernment: desolations and consolations. How to use each of our intelligences to understand how we experience the presence and absence of God.
  6. Spiritual rhythms. Practices that address each number.
  7. Empathy. This is especially for others close to a person of a particular number, helping in understanding that number with practical pointers for relating to that number.

The last part of the book offers twelve “soul resources.” Most offer unique information for each number, for example how each number may STOP (See, Triggers, Open, Presence) in the face of stress. I found the varied responses of different numbers to silence and solitude both amusing, and painfully on the money. There are several for different types of prayer, one for examen, one for practicing the presence of God, one on work styles, a summary chart of the harmony triads, tips for finding one’s Enneagram number, and small group discussions for using the empathy section of each chapter.

This is not a book to read straight through. Reading slowly and reflectively through each number helps us exercise better empathy for each number, and can be helpful for the person who does not yet know there own number. Working section by section through one’s own number, and the other two numbers in one’s “harmony triad”  can offer much self-understanding. Woven through the seven sections in each chapter are personal testimonies of people with that number and their transformational journey. Also, each chapter has several scripture readings and prayers woven throughout.

All four of the authors (two couples) are Enneagram instructors and it is evident that this text comes out of countless seminars and personal interactions, and reflects that kind of wisdom. Because this is not an introductory Enneagram book, they only spend a brief time on background of the Enneagram and do not offer a rationale for the use of the Enneagram. I would recommend this for someone who believes the Enneagram to be a useful tool for self-understanding and spiritual growth. For me, the harmony triads, or at least the integration of head, heart, and gut made good sense. I found the adaptation of spiritual practices to each number and the empathy section on relating to each number most helpful. Overall, I think this is one of the best resources that I’ve seen in print for groups and individuals who want to go deeper with the Enneagram.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Mirror for the Soul

Mirror for the Soul

Mirror for the SoulAlice Fryling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2017.

Summary: An explanation from a Christian perspective of the Enneagram and its use in spiritual formation, helping us to live out of our gifting, recognize our blind spots, and experience the grace of God.

Perhaps all of us have asked the question asked by Alice in Alice in Wonderland: “Who in the world am I?” Alice Fryling proposes that the Enneagram is a useful tool for not only understanding ourselves but for living out of our giftedness and experiencing Christ’s grace.

Her aim in this book is to offer a thoroughly Christian treatment of the Enneagram (ennea = nine and gram = points, reflecting the nine pointed diagram that is basic to all discussions of the Enneagram). In addition to explaining the different aspects of the Enneagram, each chapter offers both questions for reflection, and a personal meditation from scripture. Most significantly, Fryling understands each of the home spaces on the Enneagram in terms of the gifted true self (the self as God intends us), the compulsion of the false self, and the grace of God enabling us to find our way back to the true self for our type.

After a brief explanation of the nine spaces, she focuses on what she sees as one of the basic insights we gain from the Enneagram, the distinction between the true and false self evident in each of the types. She writes:

“The false self is the person we think we should be but are not. It is the person we want others to think we are. The false self perpetuates the illusion that we are able to love perfectly, to be wise and all-knowing, and to be in control of life. The false self thrives on success and achievement. The problem is not that the false self is a bad person. The problem is that the false self is a façade. It is an imitation of God that we “use” to impress others. The false self languishes in pretense and in grasping for abilities and gifts that are not ours to have. The true self, on the other hand, truly expresses the gifts God has given us to love well” (p. 25).

Fryling then goes on to explain the various aspects of the Enneagram–the three triads of heart, head, and gut, how we might begin to identify our home space, and how our “wings” and “arrows” add to our self-understanding. Having read a number of Enneagram book, Fryling’s explanations of these aspects were among the clearest I’ve encountered, no doubt resulting from the many workshops the author has led on this material. In particular, I found her counsel for identifying our “home space,” often just assumed, or reduced to a questionnaire, particularly helpful:

“As happy as inventories might be to tell you your number, most of them require a good deal of self-awareness, something our false self does not want us to have. I’d like to suggest that instead of turning to inventories, you spend some time in quiet reflection, thinking about yourself and what you’ve learned about the Enneagram. Look for places where you already see yourself. Notice where there are clusters of truth about who you are. Be patient with the process. In fact, you might consider this ‘dating the Enneagram.’ You do not need to ‘marry’ the first space you think might work for you. Try it on. Live with it for a while. But let go of it if it doesn’t fit. Remember that the Enneagram is supposed to reflect who you are, not dictate who you are” (p. 98).

She also advises sharing descriptions of the different spaces with those who know us well to get their insights, discuss what makes sense and what seems confusing.

Her concluding chapters explore the Enneagram through the lens of the biblical account of creation, fall, and redemption. Then she goes a step deeper and explores the issue of our compulsions, the addictions inherent in each type, and how these drive us to the truth of scripture and the grace of God. Facing our need leads us to the hope of transformation through God’s grace, which often comes through suffering, silence, and surrender. She invites us into practices of engaging scripture that deepen this transformative process.

The strengths of this book are not only the clear explanations of the different aspects of the Enneagram, but the thoughtful Christian perspective that transforms this from a self-help tool where we try to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” to a formational resource leading us into a deeper experience of the grace of God in our lives. This book invites an unhurried process of discovering something more of an answer to Alice’s question (“Who in the world am I?”) for the reader who will take the time to work through its chapters, reflection questions, and meditations.

Review: The Path Between Us

The Path Between Us

The Path Between UsSuzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press – Formatio, 2018.

Summary: Using the tool of the Enneagram, this explores how each “number” interacts with the other numbers, how each number relates in stress, and security, and what is helpful for other “numbers” to understand about relating to a person with this number.

In The Road Back to You(review) Suzanne Stabile and her co-author Ian Cron give one of the most accessible explanations of the Enneagram that I have read. In this sequel, Suzanne Stabile builds on the insights of how each of the nine “numbers” on the Enneagram views and engages with the world uniquely and how this shapes the ways we build and maintain relationships with others, both those who share our “number” and those who differ (Enneagram types are summarized by the number for that type).

She begins by reviewing briefly the different numbers, the different Triads (Gut – 8, 9, 1; Heart – 2, 3, 4; Head – 5, 6, 7), the Wings (adjacent numbers to ours), and our Stress and Security numbers (those whose qualities we may draw on when we are under stress or feeling secure) and the three Stances (Aggressive – 3, 7, 8; Dependent – 1, 2, 6; and Withdrawing – 4, 5, 9). These are elaborated much more fully in The Road Back to You but also covered in the context of relationships in the following chapters.

Before discussing relationships for each number, Stabile offers very helpful advice for those concerned about the misuse of the Enneagram:

“First, please don’t use your Enneagram number as an excuse for your behavior. Second, don’t use what you’ve learned about the other numbers to make fun of, criticize, or stereotype, or in any way disrespect them. Ever. Third, it would be great if you would spend your energy observing and working on yourself as opposed to observing and working on others. And going forward, I hope you will share my desire that we all grow in our ability to accept, love, and walk beside one another on the path with loads of compassion and respect” (p. 13).

The next nine chapters are devoted to looking at each number beginning with Eights (the Gut Triad). Each chapter begins with a story of an interaction involving a person with the number being considered. This is followed by a description of the world of this number, how they respond in relationships under stress and security, and the path together with this number. A sidebar in each chapter considers relationships between this number and each of the other numbers, including those sharing the same number. The chapter concludes with two summaries, one focused on key things a person with this number need to remember that they can, and can’t do in relationships and what they need to accept; and one focused on what others need to keep in mind in their relationships with a person with this number.

I found this book extremely helpful both for self-understanding, and understanding the ways I relate with others. In my case, I’m a Five. I value competence that comes through knowing, independence, privacy, and guarding my energies. I listen and observe well, but I’m not always good at communicating my feelings. Instead, I will tell you what I think. I learned that I’m not always good at picking up innuendo or indirect communication (true). Being laid up for a couple of months at the end of 2016 told me how hard it is for me to let others care for me, and the truth that the best way to live is neither dependent nor independent, but interdependent. Stabile’s title for my number really fit: “My Fences Have Gates.”

One critique I would offer of this book is that it assumes that a person knows their Enneagram number and doesn’t give much direction to the person who does not. There is a resource advertised at the end of the book on knowing your number but little guidance given about how one may go about discerning this. Stabile has been trained by Fr. Richard Rohr, whose approach is that one discerns one’s number as one reads the different types and finds one that makes you uncomfortably squeamish, saying “how did you know that about me?” That one is probably yours.

I know there are some who are critical of the Enneagram. I won’t try to defend this tool, except to say it has been useful for me and those I work with. Those who work with the Enneagram often like to say that the purpose of the Enneagram is not to put us in a box, but rather to help us understand the box we are in. Often, I’m tripped up by the things I don’t understand about myself. As I grow in self-understanding this opens up new dimensions in relationships with both people and God, and frees me to more skillfully use my gifts and pursue the things I care about. Only Jesus fully knows me, and can form me to be the person he envisions, both fully who I am, and in his image. The Enneagram has been one way among many he has used in this process. Stabile’s work is a great introduction to this way, this tool.

The Path Between Us Study Guide is a companion guide for both individuals and groups who want to pursue this material further. The six studies are titled:

  1. The Best Part of You Is the Worst Part of You
  2. What We Want
  3. What We Fear
  4. What We Offer
  5. Keeping Each Other Forgiven and Free
  6. Ways to Help Ourselves and Others

There is a section for those facilitating group discussions with a plan for each session. I have not used this guide so I cannot evaluate it. It appears that it can be used independently of reading the book, though I’m sure the book content will enrich discussions and insights.

The author has also recorded eight short YouTube clips accessible via the publisher’s website or through this link. I have to confess that the author photo gave me the impression of a stern school principal, an impression immediately dispelled in listening to her on the videos!

Stabile’s book and accompanying guide are the best resources I’ve seen for extending the framework of the Enneagram to our relationships and giving practical insights for relationships between the different numbers. As she has written, we all probably have much room to “grow in our ability to accept, love, and walk beside one another on the path with loads of compassion and respect.” In her work, we have a wise and gracious guide for the journey.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: The Road Back to You

the-road-back-to-you

The Road Back to YouIan Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: Describes the Enneagram and each of the nine types, and how these may be helpful in Self-discovery, uncovering one’s true self and experiencing spiritual growth.

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Enneagram Diagram

John Calvin, and many others have observed that knowledge of God and knowledge of self often go hand in hand. Often, what we do not know or knowledge that has been colored by the wounds of our upbringing deflect us from knowing God and ourselves truly. One of the tools that has been found increasingly helpful by many spiritual directors and others who work with spiritual formation is the Enneagram. It’s roots go back to a fourth century Christian mystic, Evagrius, who developed a system based on the seven deadly sins, plus an overarching sin of self-love. G.I. Gurdjieff first developed the Enneagram figure and two personality psychologists, Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo developed the modern theory that underlies the Enneagram. It was introduced into spiritual formation circles by Catholic retreat leader Richard Rohr and several other Jesuit priests.

Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile provide a readable and witty introduction to the Enneagram with chapters on each of the nine types. They begin by giving some of the background of the Enneagram and list each of the nine types and the corresponding deadly sin each type is most susceptible to. They are

  1. The Perfectionist (Anger)
  2. The Helper (Pride)
  3. The Performer (Deceit)
  4. The Romantic (Envy)
  5. The Investigator (Avarice)
  6. The Loyalist (Fear)
  7. The Enthusiast (Gluttony)
  8. The Challenger (Lust)
  9. The Peacemaker (Sloth)

They explain that these come in three triads of three: Anger or Gut: 8, 9, 1 ; Feeling or Heart 2, 3, 4; and Fear or Head: 5, 6, 7. Also each type is modified by one or both of their wings (the types adjacent to them) and have a type the gravitate to under stress and when they are secure. Sound a little confusing? Cron and Stabile walk us through all this both in introduction and the survey of each type.

Starting with the Anger or Gut triad and Type 8, they devote a chapter to each type, beginning with a list of 20 points of what it is like to be that type, describing the type in its healthy, average, and unhealthy expressions, and talk about its deadly sin. Then they give a more detailed description, talk about the type as a child, in their relationships and at work. Then they explore how the “wings” and the types they tend toward when feeling stressed or secure shape the expression of their type. They conclude with what spiritual transformation looks like for the type and ten steps for each type to take in transformation.

Throughout, they give examples of the type from people they know (including themselves and their families) as well as famous individuals (I discovered that Oliver Sacks, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were/are likely the same type as I am–except they are all far more intelligent!). I found myself laughing as they describe the different types, until I got to my own, where I found myself alternately saying “yes” and “ouch!”

Like other writers like Richard Rohr, they don’t offer a test to find your type. Rather, here is what they recommend:

“If while reading a description you begin to feel squeamish because it’s captured your inner world in a way only someone who hacked into the server where you back up your personality could know about, then you are probably zeroing in on your number. When I first read my number I felt humiliated. It’s not pleasant to be the rat in a dark kitchen who is so focused on devouring crumbs that he doesn’t hear the stealthy homeowners approaching and therefore doesn’t have time to take cover before they suddenly switch on the light and catch the rat in the act with a bagel in its mouth. On the other hand I felt consoled. I didn’t know there were other rats like me. So if this happens, don’t despair. Remember each number has its assets and liabilities, blessings and blights. The embarrassment will pass, but in the words of novelist David Foster Wallace, ‘The truth will set you free, but not until it’s done with you.’ “

That gives you a pretty fair picture of what you are in for, both in terms of writing and your experience as you read this book. The one thing worse than knowing this stuff about ourselves is for it to be present in our lives and to not know it. Knowing helps us pursue paths of growth along the lines of who we are rather than who we aren’t. And it helps us to be gentler with all those other types, whose unique predicament parallels our own. Most of all, it begins to help us understand the depths of the grace of God that meets each of us uniquely and in the depths of our own deadly sins. If you are ready for and hungry for that kind of knowledge, then this book is a good place to begin.

Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf

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Charles William Elliot (Public Domain)

I recently came across a post announcing that I could “Read the World’s Best Books for Free with the Harvard Classics“. Actually, the article is quite useful in giving the background, contents, strengths and deficiencies of this selection of great works assembled by Harvard President Charles William Elliot in 1909. The reason we can now access this collection for free (in electronic form) is that it is now in the public domain, its copyright having expired. The article also gives links to sites where The Harvard Classics are available and tips for reading this collection on an assortment of e-readers.  All in all, quite helpful.

The Harvard Classics, published for many years by P.F. Collier occupies five feet on one’s shelves and Elliot maintained that by reading from this collection for 15 minutes a day, one could attain to the elements of a liberal education. I figured out that if you followed Dr. Elliot’s advice and read 10 pages a day from this 22,000 page collection, you could finish this project in just over six years. My brother bought a print set years ago. I have to ask him if he ever was able to get anywhere close to reading through it.

The article explored the underlying attraction of acquiring sets like this or the more extensive “Great Books of the Western World” assembled by University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, and professor Mortimer Adler. For any of us who love to read, there is this daunting, and maybe depressing awareness, that we cannot hope to read even the tiniest fraction of the books published, and even books that might be considered of note. “So many books, so little time.” These might not be all the greatest books, but it is a great start and can certainly keep us occupied for some time. And as the article mentions, it saves me from the nagging question of what to read next.

I also wonder if there is an attraction, exacerbated by the internet, and all the sources of free great books, of succumbing to the temptation to hoard knowledge. It is an alluring temptation indeed to think that one might have access with the flip of a switch, a touch of a screen, to the libraries of the world and the knowledge of the ages.

I know in times past I’ve been tempted to acquire one of these sets by the thought that by reading these I could be wiser, more literate, more understanding of the existential realities of life. Then my wife, the practical one,says to me, “we have no place for another five foot shelf of books (or more with the Great Books), and besides, if you have that much time for reading, I’ve got work around the house for you!”

There is a personality typing system called the Enneagram that consists of nine types. Each type has certain strengths and an “underside”. Type five is the observer. They are curious, insightful, and sometimes at their best visionary and innovative.  Their underside is hoarding–of knowledge, of energy, and even of physical objects. I’ve wondered if many bibliophiles (myself included) fit into this type.

Hoarding is a way we make ourselves feel secure, and perhaps even godlike, when what is healthier is a life of giving and sharing and mutually interdependent relationships. Writing about the books I read is a way of giving away what I learned and sharing the goodness I’ve found. And in recent years, there has been a certain liberation in boxing up and giving away or selling hundreds of books.

One of the gifts of growing older is realizing our limitations and to treasure what we have rather than building illusionary “castles in the air”. Even a freely downloaded Harvard Classics is not a temptation for me. I know I won’t read all that is in it, and I will read a number of other things, many of which I will enjoy and profit from and share with others.

Colossians 2:2-3 speaks of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge being hidden in Christ. As a Christ-follower, I don’t have to pursue these hubristic dreams of literacy and great knowledge. It is clear that there is one who has these qualities–and it isn’t me!

None of this is to discourage you from acquiring such a collection. I wonder about the reading of such books on e-readers. Yet I do believe in the value of great works of writing, both classic and contemporary. I just hope you won’t look to them to do what books alone cannot do in your life.