Edging Toward Enchantment: The Eccentric Self and the Holy Spirit

One more post about selfhood and enchantment.

Again, in the last few posts we've been talking about the relationships between the buffered self and disenchantment and the porous self and enchantment. As we've discussed, Charles Taylor's argument is that the modern experience of disenchantment has been less a matter of changing beliefs than an intrapsychic change, a change in how we experience the self in relation to the outside world.

In the enchanted experience the boundary between the self and the world is "porous," where the outside world can impinge upon, affect and invade the psyche. The porous self, we might say, is an involved, engaged and relational encounter with the world.

By contrast, in the modern, disenchanted era the self has become introverted, isolated, and closed off from the world. "Buffered" against the world. The ego is now alone with itself, disengaged, withdrawn, and no longer in relationship with the world. And according to Taylor, it is this shift from the porous to the buffered self that drives the experience disenchantment. Taylor describing this:
Here is the contrast between the modern, bounded, buffered self and the porous self of the earlier enchanted world. As a bounded self I can see the boundary as a buffer, such that the things beyond don’t need to “get to me,” to use the contemporary expression. That’s the sense to my use of the term “buffered” here...

And so the boundary between agents and forces is fuzzy in the enchanted world; and the boundary between mind and world is porous...[A] similar point can be made about the relation to spirits. The porousness of the boundary emerges here in various kinds of “possession”—all the way from a full taking over of the person, as with a medium, to various kinds of domination by or partial fusion with a spirit or God. Here again, the boundary between self and other is fuzzy, porous. And this has to be seen as a fact of experience, not a matter of “theory” or “belief.”
Given all this, in the last few posts I've been arguing that we can edge back toward enchantment by opening up the buffered self to the world. If not making the self more "porous," than at least more open, especially open to surprise. The enchanted self is a receptive rather than ruminating self.

The notion that I'd like to bring into this discussion is something I've written about before, an idea that plays a huge role in my book The Slavery of Death.

That notion is eccentricity, the idea that the "center" of selfhood is located outside of oneself. Our identity is something we receive rather than possess. For example, in the biblical imagination, our lives are "hidden in Christ." That is to say, our identity is not found within ourselves but outside of ourselves, "in Christ" rather than "in ourselves."

The point here, given what we've been discussing the last few posts, is that the experience of enchantment is driven by this eccentricity: enchantment is the experience of the porous self encountering something from outside the boundaries of the buffered self.

Connecting back to our discussions about enchantment and charismatic spirituality, and even with the sacramental ontology of our very first posts where we saw the Holy Spirit brooding over creation, we can suggest that the pneumatological encounter--the enchanted experience of the Holy Spirit in daily life--is an eccentric encounter.

As Charles Taylor argues, the porous self is an experience of risk, uncertainty and vulnerability. Eccentrically open to God, the porous self can be interrupted by the Spirit. By contrast, the introverted and buffered self is "autonomous," impervious to the interruptions of the Spirit and, thus, unable to be surprised by God.

These observations connect with what we noted in James Smith's book Thinking in Tongues, where we described the charismatic experience of the Spirit as being rooted in an openness to God, an openness which "makes room for the unexpected" and where "the surprising comes as no surprise." And again, the key feature of this eccentric openness is cultivating a posture of receptivity.

Phrased differently, to make the connection with The Slavery of Death, an open and receptive self is an eccentric self.

We edge back toward enchantment when we cultivate an eccentric identity, an identity we receive from God.

An identity not found by turning inward to plumb the depths of our buffered psyches--searching for the "real me" under layers of Freudian repression--but an identity received as gift, the enchanted, charismatic experience of the Spirit poured out upon us.

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