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Holy Spirit, Self-Trancendence, Community

Reason_for_HopeThis conception of the Spirit’s relation to the human person and to human community rings true for me.

Pannenberg sees in the heightened exocentric capability of humans the basis for their uniqueness from other animal forms. In the being-with-others that characterizes their existence, they are able to transcend themselves — to look back on themselves again — and thereby to develop self-consciousness. This exocentrically based development of self-consciousness indicates [this] to him as well as the connection between humans and Spirit. Pannenberg credits the self-transcendence required for this process to the action of the Spirit, who lifts humans above themselves, so that when they are ecstatically with others they are themselves. For this reason self-transcendence cannot be accomplished by the subject itself. Rather, all knowing is possible only through the Spirit.

By extension, the same ecstatic working of the Spirit found in the individual is the basis for the building of community. In fact, community is always an experience brought by the Spirit, who lifts one above oneself.

 — Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989).

I expect worship to be an experience that lifts me out of my pre-occupation with myself. Thus, it is far more than a ritual or a form. Ritual and form may help — or not. It’s more than the music. The ritual and the music lift me beyond myself, and allow me to connect with God and with others. I am released, to a degree, from self-preoccupation. I see myself from new perspective.

And, I really think that is what people mean when they say things like: “The Spirit was really here this morning.”

And, the Spirit creates community. Real community demands that we see beyond ourselves.

In this sense I see worship as being a very basic form of therapy: it lifts us beyond preoccupation with ourselves. And, we all need this — our lives become so tightly wound around our own needs, desires and perspectives. Worship allows us to see our life as being part of a larger whole — we acknowledge One who is greater then ourselves — One who values the life next to us just as much as ours.

Some people who were brought to church throughout their childhood often relate to worship primarily as obligation. It is something they ought to do — but the reasons are unclear to them. Often, refusing to attend, or just dropping out of the routine of regular worship seems absolutely liberating to them. They have laid down a burden. It is only later — often when they sense that there is something now missing from their life — that they come to value what worship can be — and can commit themselves to it again.

Worship enables self-transcendence. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the basis of both our sense of communion with God and our communion with other people.

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