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Monday, August 15, 2016

"Human Being and Becoming" (David G. Benner)

TITLE: Human Being and Becoming: Living the Adventure of Life and Love
AUTHOR: David G. Benner
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (154 pages).

What does it mean to be human? How do we become the fullest expression of ourselves? What is the relationship between being, becoming, and doing? These questions are explored in this latest book by popular spiritual writer, David Benner. Making a distinction between "deeply human" and "more than human," the way is not to look for something beyond ourselves but to dig deeper into the essence of who we are. In a nutshell, the doing flows out of our becoming, and our becoming stems out of our sense of being. There is growth and development. He contrasts this authenticity with some wrong understanding of what human means. It is not about the faulty side of us when we say "we're only human." Neither is being human a chore to be struggled with. Instead, it is a gift to be received. Becoming human is essentially connecting the doing with the becoming, and the becoming with the essence of our beings. It is a human journey that comprises a "symphony of movement and rest, progress and regress, effort and consent, holding and releasing." Becoming human is an exciting venture. The three big themes of the book are:
  1. The Wholeness of Reality
  2. The Importance of the Human Heart
  3. Love as the Foundation of all Being and Becoming

The first theme is about the big picture of who we are and what we are created to become. Being human is about being conscious of who we are, our good as well as our flaws. Being whole means we do not simply make decisions on the basis of our thoughts but also our feelings. We need to face up to our anxieties and not ignore them. Benner lists the five levels of human existence: Spirit, Soul, Mind, Life, and Matter, calling them the "Great Nest of Being." Like the Russian nesting dolls, he uses this model as a way to describe how important it is that each is not only whole in itself, it is also made whole with reference to the rest. The meaning of wholeness is essentially having all of these five levels integrally connected. Once this happens, we have a more positive respect for "ego-based being." In contrast to many ego bashing writing happening in literature and other circles, Benner defends the purpose of ego as a form of self-identity.

The second theme of the heart brings us forward from being to becoming. This journey brings a sense of purpose and direction. He distinguishes between 'developmental' and 'evolutionary' by saying the former pulls one toward growth while the latter toward transformation. Growth is about maturing while transformation is about being made new. Through meditation and other spiritual practices, one fosters a 'heart-shaped becoming' that our purpose in life is not about fixing something but about becoming who we are created to be.

The third theme is the climax of the journey of becoming: Love. Benner even mentions that science supports the idea of love holding the universe together. Making everyday observations about the world, he lists the use of eros that pushes us toward doing what we do. I think such attempts are semi-scientific, even pseudo-scientific as there is a lack of empirical data to complement what Benner had written. He lists the three barriers that one needs to overcome in the journey of becoming: Individualism; tribalism; and perfection.

The author David Benner is a Canadian psychologist and spiritual writer. He infuses his teachings with other forms of spirituality which may make some readers uncomfortable. Since his earlier writings like "Surrender to Love" and "The Gift of Becoming Yourself," Benner has taken a notable shift more toward non-traditional forms of Christian spirituality. In fact, this book is not explicitly Christian, though it contains some references to the Bible. Benner has become more open to mystical and Eastern spiritualities in his journey of becoming. He is not afraid to push the traditional boundaries and is a keen student of other forms of spiritual practices. I find this latest offering dabbling a lot more with psychology and mystical practices. This may not go down well with some evangelical circles who may question the way he uses terms associated with Buddhism, Sufism, New Age practices, aboriginal practices, and transcendental meditation.

Positively, it shows the boldness of Benner to explore meaning making from all perspectives. This of course comes at a risk of alienating evangelicals who are uncomfortable with this stance. For me, the book is too heavy on psychology for my personal liking. Some parts of the book are also confusing, especially for readers who are not ready for the journey that Benner has taken. For those who are in the same phase of exploration like Benner, this book will be a welcome read. For others, maybe next time.

Rating: 3.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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