Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jesus: Introvert or Extrovert?

Reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, was like coming up for air! Or eating an entire box of See’s chocolates at one sitting, enjoying every morsel! As one friend said to me on Facebook, reading the book was her own “coming out” experience.

You see, I am an introvert who nonetheless manages to play the extrovert—I do enjoy people, after all—but then needs a rest, alone, in quiet, probably why I’m a promoter of contemplation. Throughout my life, however, I have felt constantly compared to what Cain calls “The Extrovert Ideal,” sometimes by my own hand, and sometimes at the hands of others, including American culture and the church. For example, I realize now that preaching or even speaking from a manuscript is not deficient, as I have been told, but my strength. Oh, for President Obama’s teleprompters!

Acknowledging the need for both extroverts and introverts, Cain, an introvert, strikes a blow (though that’s usually an extrovert’s temperament) for the necessity of introverts. Studies suggest that introverts are usually “high-reactives” to stimuli, and thus need to limit our exposure. Another word that is used is “sensitive.” We need time to observe, reflect, and consider situations, people, and events prior to speaking or taking action.

That’s why I insist on a “monastic moment” of silence when I pose a question to people in a workshop or retreat, a moment to turn inward, consult one’s own experience and feelings and thoughts, before opening general discussion. My experience has been that others are quick to express their thoughts before I have had a chance to consult my own experience. I thought Sir Thomas More’s Utopia had it right when its legislature vigorously debated a concern but waited till the next day to take action! Cain writes, “Congress…is made up of some of the least sensitive people in the country” because to get elected and re-elected virtually requires an extrovert’s temperament.

That’s also why I wrote a post two weeks ago about experiencing spiritual community outside of church, what I had thought of calling “spirituality for loners.” Several pastors took me to task on Facebook, though in previous posts I have acknowledged that church and worship are worthy spiritual disciplines.  But as I have discovered the need for silence in my own spiritual practices, I have looked for more silence in worship, and when it is interrupted or when worship gets raucous it sounds to me like fingernails scratching a chalkboard. And I reclaim words I found appealing in college, words from Alfred North Whitehead, “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.”

The post opened me to pleasant conversation with Sam Troxal, a young and gifted blogger, and with a role model pastor and author, J. Barrie Shepherd. Barrie, a regular reader of this blog (I am proud to say), has written many books of poetry whose daily rhythms encouraged me to pray regularly long ago. I appreciate the fact that in poetry, pauses are as vital as words, and an economy of words are carefully, thoughtfully selected to convey exactly what is intended. In my book of “secular” poetic meditations, Communion of Life, I called poets “secular mystics.”

Barrie sent me his recent book, Between Mirage and Miracle: Selected Poems for Seasons, Festivals, and the Occasional Revelation, urging me to read his poem about church, “Why I Still Go,” which meaningfully concludes: 
For all my weary, reasoned doubt,
the continuing disillusion and despair
of this already blood-drenched century,
for all my anger at her blind echoing
of the worst that hides in all of us,
come Sunday morning, somehow,
I still find myself in church.
I have questioned whether it is the church’s “blind echoing” of prejudice against LGBT people that prompts me to seek other counsel and other forms of worship. But it is also true that the expected conformity and the lack of silence and gentle voices are also factors. And what presents itself as teamwork, collaboration, or democratic process is too often an opportunity for extroverts—sometimes with less experience and expertise, or worse, less compassion and wisdom—to outtalk and occasionally bully others! 

So I’ve been wondering about whether Jesus was an introvert or an extrovert. Obviously I may be projecting, but I believe he was an introvert. He was certainly a “high reactive” to religious hypocrisy and “sensitive” to religious outcasts. When tempted in his solitary sojourn in the wilderness by relevance, sensationalism, and power, he resisted. Though followed by multitudes seeking healings and teachings, he found lonely places to pray or a boat from which to preach. He called 12 disciples, and taught them privately. Perhaps it was the temperament of being introverts that Jesus shared with “the disciple whom Jesus (especially) loved” who gave us the most mystical gospel. But without extroverts like Peter and Paul, the world may not have been evangelized.

That may be the power of the Spirit, that gives even introverts the gift of speech. Yet it is also the Spirit’s gift to hear God’s voice in “the sound of sheer silence” that follows the storm, the earthquake, and the fire.

Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite.

This blog is entirely supported by your donations. Thank you!

Posts you may have missed:


  1. I share your comments on QUIET. However, my awakening as an Introvert occurred over 25 years ago when I attended a Myers-Briggs workshop. There I discovered why I had felt so "different" during high school and college.I don't know whether it matters much whether Jesus was Introvert or Extrovert, but I certainly appreciate that fact that he liked silence and invited people to silence. Our little Presbyterian Church in Cape May, N.J. has just begun a period of prayer that begins with soft music, then continues for 2-3 actual minutes of silence, followed by verbal prayers. It is a very spiritual time in worship.

  2. Sounds wonderful! An oasis of silence, giving words and music more meaning, I would think. I've known about being an introvert for most of my life, but this book I found liberating because I realized it more than ever as a gift and the book questions the so-called "Extrovert Ideal."

  3. Taize worship allows me that silence, that community, the meditation and repetitve song allow a space of holy in the midst of music, word, and voice.

  4. Yes, I love Taize worship! That and Quaker meetings allow for prolonged shared silence, which is very powerful.

  5. I believe we are brothers in temperament, Chris. Sounds like a book I should read some day, if I ever stop being "ubiquitous." !

    1. Brothers we are, in many ways! It's a fast read because it's so interesting, and Susan Cain is an excellent writer.

  6. I always come out way toward the "I" side on any test of Extraversion/Introversion.

    The research shows that at least 50% of the differences between people on extraversion/introversion are the result of genetic differences.

    The USA has the highest average level of extraversion in the world, so it's no wonder our culture sometimes devalues introversion and associates it with negative characteristics like "sneakiness" and "aloofness." In Japanese culture, it's the opposite -- extraverts are less trusted there than introverts and their culture has more of an "Introvert Ideal."

    I do think it's important not to confuse extraversion with "need for affiliation" or "need for intimacy", however. I/E is primarily a matter of how much outside stimulation of any kind one enjoys. Introverts don't like crowds because they don't like having to deal with all those people at once. That doesn't mean they don't like or need to be around other people on a one-to-one basis. I see myself as an introvert with a high need for intimacy -- I get depressed and lonely if I don't have close friends to interact with, but I much prefer to just interact with them one or two at a time!

    My guess about Jesus is that he was probably pretty much in the middle of the extraversion-introversion continuum. But maybe that's just because I perceive Him as being able to relate well to anyone no matter where they are "coming from."

    1. Yes,Cleve, Susan Cain talks about the research suggesting genetic and cultural differences, and research that indicates an introvert may offer more intimacy than an extrovert. She's intent on seeing I/E as complementary to one another, and finding ways to relate while appreciating our differences. And Jesus, I believe, can be argued either way, and he certainly was/is--as you say--able to reach both I&E. Thanks for writing, and thanks for your many columns about names--fascinating stuff. Good to be in touch again.

  7. Introvert here! I am Catholic but I am deeply disillusioned with the Vatican's continual negative stance against American nuns, women's health issues, and LGBT, so I have "taken a break" from church. However, I do miss the peace that the Mass can provide (and I too love Taize, as well as Gregorian chant). Whenever I see video of evangelical mega-churches, the thought of attending one of those services just seems so frightening. Too loud! Too unstructured! I'm glad it works for many people, but definitely not for me!

    As I wrestle with finding a way for my political beliefs and my religious practice to coexist, I appreciate reading your thoughtful blog posts. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, PageTurner! I appreciate your response! I too find Catholic Mass and prayer services throughout the day at monasteries peaceful and more inspiring than what transpires in many other churches. And they inspire us toward justice, including around the issues you name. If only the Vatican or those within it who are restraining it could be so inspired!Thanks for writing.