Edging Toward Enchantment: Openness to Surprise

Building upon the work of Charles Taylor regarding how disenchantment flows out of a inwardly focused "buffered" self, in the last post I suggested that we can edge back toward enchantment by getting that buffered self to turn outward in expectant receptivity to the world.

Two years ago I wrote about just this dynamic in a series of posts about my experiences encountering the charismatic worship at Freedom Fellowship. Incidentally, my life at Freedom is a big part of my recent book Reviving Old Scratch. See especially the chapter entitled "Holy Ghost Conga Lines," a chapter inspired by that series of posts from two years ago.

In that series I was trying to map out the terrain of charismatic spirituality because I didn't grow up in a charismatic tradition. Consequently, as I recount in Reviving Old Scratch, my first experiences with Freedom threw me for a loop. I couldn't get a handle on what I was experiencing.

A resource that helped me, upon which I based my series, was the book Thinking in Tongues by James Smith, a book in which Smith tries to trace out the contours of what he calls "the pentecostal worldview."

For our purposes in talking about how we might edge toward enchantment by opening up the buffered self, Smith argues that one of the features, perhaps the defining feature, of the charismatic/pentecostal worldview is a radical openness to God, especially God doing something different or new.

According to Smith this radical openness involves "a deep sense of expectation and an openness to surprise." Pentecostal worship "makes room for the unexpected" where "the surprising comes as no surprise."

And key to this experience is a posture of receptivity. As Smith notes, "pentecostal spirituality is shaped by a fundamental mode of reception." This posture of receptivity creates the potential for surprise.

In prior posts we've talked about how Catholic spirituality gives us resources to edge back toward enchantment. But charismatic spirituality is also an enchanted spirituality, so it also holds out for us some insights about how to edge back toward enchantment. And the key insight in my estimation is the charismatic openness to surprise, an openness that combats the ruminating inwardness of the buffered self.

Prior to my life at Freedom I had God in a box. A rational, logical box in my head. That's the disenchanted faith experience of the buffered self. When you have God in a box in your head you lack the capacity to be surprised by God. And when you lack the capacity to be surprised by God you lack the capacity to experience grace.

And if you lack the capacity to surprised by grace all you have to rely on, spiritually speaking, is the junk rattling around in your head, the ruminations of the buffered self.

The charismatic worship at Freedom--in its radical openness to being surprised by God--helped me identify and name something that I've come to think is the key to Christian faith and spirituality.

Grace and enchantment flow out of an openness to surprise.

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