Spirituality and the Awakening Self

The Sacred Journey of Transformation

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Being human is a lifelong journey of becoming. This journey defines our humanity, for it is a journey toward our source and our fulfillment, described in Christian theology as union with God. If we remain open to God as our sense of self awakens, we experience a deeper consciousness of being in him. The self that emerges during this process is larger, more enlightened, and whole.

David Benner has spent thirty-five years integrating psychology and spirituality. Following his acclaimed book Soulful Spirituality, Benner offers readers a deeper understanding of the self and its spiritual development in Spirituality and the Awakening Self. Drawing on a broad range of Christian traditions, he shows that the transformation of self is foundational to Christian spirituality.

This book will appeal to professors and students in ministry development and spiritual formation courses; professionals engaged in pastoral care, counseling, and spiritual direction; and readers interested in a psychologically grounded, fresh exploration of Christian spirituality. Questions and answers for individual or group use are included at the end of each chapter.
1. Human Awakening
2. Mapping the Unfolding Self
3. Growth and the Lines of Development
4. Transformation and the Levels of Development
5. Learning from the Christian Mystics
6. The Body-Centered Self
7. The Mind-Centered Self
8. The Soul-Centered Self
9. The Spirit-Centered Self
10. Spirituality and Awakening
11. The Communal Context of Transformation
12. Transformation and Transcendence
Appendix 1: Dreamwork for Growth and Transformation
Appendix 2: Meditation, Prayer, and Awakening


"In Spirituality and the Awakening Self David Benner offers deep insight about the sacred journey of transformation of the unfolding self, emphasizing learning from the Christian mystics and the essential nature of contemplative stillness. There are also helpful appendixes on dreamwork, meditation, prayer, and awakening."

Siang-Yang Tan, professor of psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary; author of Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Christian Perspective

"Spirituality and the Awakening Self is a deeply thoughtful book to be kept and savored. Once again David Benner has seamlessly woven together his gifts and skills as psychotherapist and spiritual guide. As one of the wise voices of our time, his words deserve to be kept and savored."

Margaret Guenther, professor emerita of ascetical theology and former director of the Center for Christian Spirituality, General Theological Seminary

"In this book David Benner shows himself to be one of the most mature and needed spiritual elders of our time. He offers us a profound synthesis of the human journey toward ever-widening consciousness and mutual indwelling with God in Christ. He rightly draws on the concrete experience of great Christian mystics as those who provide us with the fullest framework for understanding and nurturing the Spirit-led unfolding self over a lifetime. He also draws on his long experience as a psychologist and on other areas of learning and Scripture that show the integral connections between all the dimensions of our evolving humanness. His personal quest for the deepest awareness and truth of human life as it is lived in relation to the transcendent feeds the authenticity and insights of this book. I could not recommend it more highly as a framework for understanding the transformative levels of our journey into the way, the truth, and the life."

Tilden Edwards, founder and senior fellow, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

"Benner offers us a highly readable book--grounded in historic Christology and developmental psychology--in which he develops a psycho-theology of growth. He charts our development from the primitive awakenings of childhood to mystical participation in the Divine Spirit in maturity through repeated awakenings to our authentic selves and to God. Sell your bed and buy this best of Benner's books!"

J. Harold Ellens, author of numerous books, including The Healing Power of Spirituality and Christian Perspectives on Human Development

"David Benner is a trusted companion who helps us navigate the complex possibilities of personal awakening, of becoming more than we are, of movement beyond changed behaviors into changed being. This book guides us into life as truer persons and communities immersed in God."

John Kiemele, founder and executive director, Selah Center, Woodway, Washington

"Threaded through the ever busy life of Western Christian tradition are certain voices that have always had some difficulty in being heard. They are those voices that try to tell us about 'being' rather than 'doing' and they are called--sometimes alas dismissed--as mystics. We meet them in these pages, men and women remarkably like us yet remarkably different, people rich with the presence of God yet very aware of being as poor in their humanity as the rest of us. The great worth of this book is that it is offered to us at a time in Western Christian experience when we can no longer afford to be cavalier about our rich mystical tradition. Among the many voices in these pages is that of Karl Rahner who tells us 'Tomorrow's devout person will either be a mystic--someone who has experienced something--or else they will not be devout at all.'"

Herbert O'Driscoll, Anglican priest, author, preacher

The Author

  1. David G. Benner PhD

    David G. Benner PhD

    David G. Benner (PhD, York University; postdoctoral studies, Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis) is an internationally known depth psychologist, author, spiritual guide, and personal transformation coach who lives in Toronto, Ontario. Benner has authored or...

    Continue reading about David G. Benner PhD


"A challenging multidisciplinary analysis of psychological change and spiritual development. . . . Blending insights from psychology, theology, anthropology, his own clinical practice, and other disciplines, the author suggests that the adventurous journey of the 'awakening self' is one of experiencing the possibility of 'radical' transformation leading to oneness with God. Throughout the book, stories from the Christian mystics and other spiritual tutors provide a rich array of examples of communion with the divine as the writer presents his vision of the self as it moves from one stage of consciousness to the next. . . . [Readers] will find this profound journey into spiritual and psychological growth provocative, enriching, and full of insights that will stay with them after they have put down the book."

Publishers Weekly

"This book is the fruit of much experience, both personal and professional, and reflects a great deal of reading, thought, and reflection. It is rich in condensed material regarding deep change, not just behaviors or even beliefs, but deep awareness of our relationship to God. It is an integrative piece attempting to give an overview of profound changes in a deeper awareness of 'our being in God,' something that is central to the Christian faith, but not often explicated. . . . This book is complex and intense. I do not mean that [Benner's] writing is complex; his writing is clear; the concepts have the complexity. He is helpful with illustrations. He has a section at the end of each chapter that addresses specific questions and he makes excellent clarifications. . . . It is a rich synthesis of transformational change and worthy of a careful reading."--Nancy Duvall, Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care

Nancy Duvall,

Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care

"There was a time, not long ago, when few Christians spoke of spirituality and even fewer knew about Christian mysticism--the tradition within Christianity emphasizing awareness, spiritual transformation, and union with God. Today, there is a revival of interest in the mystical, bringing with it a need to better understand how spirituality, psychology, and theology converge. David Benner's Spirituality and the Awakening Self meets that need. . . . He writes in a highly accessible manner, drawing from his experience as psychologist, spiritual director, and occasional church consultant. . . . Benner uses personal stories and case studies to illustrate how we can soar or get stuck in the midst of each stage of the journey. Beautiful images and concepts also permeate the book. . . . Spirituality and the Awakening Self is an insightful and thorough introduction to Christian mysticism for clergy, church leaders, spiritual directors, retreat leaders, and Christian educators. Spiritual seekers and those who place themselves in the ubiquitous 'spiritual but not religious' category will also appreciate this book."

Teresa Blythe,


"A clear, articulate guide to the journey of human transformation and the mystical path to an awareness of union with God. . . . Benner offers a helpful corrective to some of the self-centered road maps that are popular in our individualistic culture. . . . He surveys the landscape with a breadth and openness that offers a healthy corrective to many of the narrowly focused, exclusivist spiritualities that have dominated some Christian churches of the past fifty years. The heart Benner reveals in this book is deeply integrative. . . . At the end of each of his twelve chapters, Benner includes an illuminating section of 'Dialogue and Reflection.'. . . . This is a courageous and helpful addition to the book. The questions are often challenging and the answers probe more deeply into the material covered in the chapter. Benner writes in an easily-accessible style. His book is well organized and offers an illuminating resource for anyone interested in the journey of awakening. He is a master of synthesis and integration. The writing is enlivened throughout by stories drawn from his extensive experience guiding individuals on their spiritual journey. Anyone interested in exploring further the transformative journey of the mystic tradition will find a faithful guide and an encouraging voice in David Benner's Spirituality and the Awakening Self."

Anglican Journal

"[An] outstanding book on transformation. . . . I found Spirituality and the Awakening Self to be a remarkably powerful and hopeful book. It did not burden me as some spirituality books unwittingly burden us readers, by placing the onus of transformation squarely on our shoulders. Instead, Benner repeatedly emphasizes that transformation is not something that we can engineer by our own power. Our spiritual practices can sometimes prepare us for transformation, but they do not conjure it. It is a gift from God."

Jana Riess,

Flunking Sainthood blog

"Benner's use of case studies from his own psychotherapeutic practice is helpful and thickens the relationship between religious transformation and human development, at least in a Western context. Additionally, each chapter ends with a series of questions, whether hypothetical or actually posed by former students or clients, and his answers. He does a good job of recapitulating the most important kernels from each chapter while also using his answers to draw the conversation forward. . . . This is a welcome addition to the literature on psychology and transformation and is appropriate both for academic work and for personal development."

Patrick Cousins,

Catholic Books Review