By Ann Boyd

Sitting with Alice: A Review of "Mirror for the Soul"

I’m going to be honest — it is nearly impossible for me to offer an unbiased review of this book. Not only has Alice Fryling loved me like a spiritual mother for half of my life, but I also view her as one of the most insightful Enneagram teachers available today. Take that as you will, I still think you need to read Mirror for the Soul.

I've been meeting with Alice Fryling for spiritual direction for the past twenty years, beginning only a few months after I finished my undergraduate degree. Alice’s influence on my life has been incalculable. She has guided me as I’ve grown in spiritual maturity, encouraged my emotional pliancy, and grown my confidence in my own ability to hear the voice of God. If you could condense these twenty years of spiritual companionship into one volume, Alice has done it here.

In Mirror for the Soul, Alice’s warmth and kindness come through  in much the same way they did for me over our two decades of spiritual direction sessions. Alice's explanation of the Enneagram — an ancient framework of nine types "that can help us puzzle out who we are" — walks the reader through the process of self-discovery with grace and patience. The journey of learning of one's hidden (but also obvious) compulsions can be painful, but Alice's words always lead us into a deeper connection with the Lover of our souls.

Some might be skeptical of the Enneagram, but I've become completely convinced of its potential to transform. Just as David Benner asserts in The Gift of Being Yourself, I believe (and have experienced) the inseparable connection between knowledge of the self and one's relationship with God (and with others). The Enneagram has helped me to grow in that self-understanding and continues to do so almost daily. My interpretation of my actions, knowing that I'm a Four, helps me to release my compulsions and frees me to love God and others more deeply.

Would you like an example? It's always a little embarrassing, but I'll try. The other day, we had a few friends over for dinner. It was to be a simple affair — we planned to order pizza, another friend was bringing salad, and I took on the role of dessert. As a Four, I have an irrepressible desire to be special, unique, and fabulous — a compulsion to which I'm terribly attached. In my life today, this often expresses itself through glorious baked goods. (A few years ago, due largely to my work with the Enneagram, I chose to fast during Lent from "recreational baking" — a practice which helped me to die to my own image of "baker" just a little bit as I purchased cookies from Trader Joe's for my family.)

Back to the dinner party. Even though I began with a plan for a simple dessert of brownies and ice cream, the concept morphed into a three-day process of making homemade ice cream (two flavors), a huge pan of freshly-baked brownies, and a quart of homemade chocolate ganache to pour over it — served in my mother-in-law's vintage dessert dishes. Through the Enneagram, I have learned that it's okay for me to put on this spectacle, but it's best if I can do it while laughing at myself (which I did) (at least a little). And I will also note that, with great difficulty, I restrained myself from offering to bake homemade cakes for a 90-person party at our church that same weekend. It's a work in progress, but I see growth.

There is a lot of attention focused on the Enneagram these days, resulting in a slew of recently published books, but I find Alice's to be unique in several ways:

The quality of her portraits. Alice has been teaching the Enneagram for over fifteen years and it shows  in her writing. Her descriptions of each Enneagram number are gracious, nuanced, and hope-filled. Alice’s natural intuition and curiosity helps her to accurately but gently point us toward our gifts and our flaws.

The connection to Scripture. Alice points us to pictures in Scripture that help us connect the process of self-understanding with the journey of spiritual growth.  She offers manageable suggestions about how to meditate on Scripture through imagery and contemplation. Throughout the book, the reader finds short, satisfying Scripture meditations to aid us in journeying more deeply with the text, the ideas, and the Holy Spirit.

The practical spiritual disciplines. Not only do we learn about the Enneagram in this book, but Alice also instructs us carefully in the development of gentle disciplines to help us continue to grow in our own understanding of the self and connection to Jesus. I especially appreciated her words about finding moments of silence and solitude in life and realizing, once again, that the regular spiritual practices of my life are deeply rooted in her influence.

Is there anything wrong with this book? Well, I suppose I wish it were longer. And I do wish that it could come with the opportunity to sit in a deep armchair in Alice's living room, a cup of Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea in hand, and talk with her about the nature of life. But in lieu of that glorious experience, this book will serve you well.


About the Author

Ann is the Women Scholars and Professionals Podcast host and the interim editor for The Well. She has worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1997, exploring her interests in community, spiritual formation, and writing. Ann has a BM in Music Education from Northwestern University and lives in Chicago, Illinois with one husband, two spunky teenage daughters, and three snuggly cats. You’ll often find Ann baking sweet treats in the kitchen while listening to a podcast or audiobook.

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