In that moment Saul ceased to exist and a new man, Paul, was born. The new man was as radically committed to the promotion of the church as the old man had once been committed to its destruction. The man who had come to the city to arrest Christians was transformed into a man who was to spend the rest of his life as the early church's most tireless and fearless advocate.

I have worked on the reduction of ethnic hatred in the war zones associated with the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and know how difficult it is to make even small dents in entrenched patterns of prejudice and hostility, especially once they become established parts of identity. But this was no small dent. This was a dramatic re-formation of attitudes, values, character, and behavior. Obviously Saul needed a new name to accommodate the magnitude of these changes. He was a new man. Nothing less than the metaphor of being born again could adequately describe the significance of Saul's awakening.

Christians have usually referred to this awakening as conversion. Although this is certainly an appropriate term, it casts the change in overly narrow religious terms. It implies that what is involved is essentially a change of religions, or the adoption of the beliefs and practices of a particular religion. Saul's change involved much more than this. The biblical account of the story points us to the broader implications of the transformation by its focus on seeing. At the core of the experience was his movement from blindness to sight. But his blindness was far deeper than the temporary three-day absence of sight. What he had been blind to was the reality of and his relationship to Christ. When the scales fell off his eyes, what he saw was not just his surroundings but also the truth behind the words of those he had sought to silence—that Jesus was indeed the Light of the world.

Saul's personal encounter with the Light was the core of his awakening, and his subsequent enlightenment was the central dynamic of the new man that he became. New life began to surge through parts of his self that had shriveled under the weight of hate and murderous zeal. Love began to seep into his soul. He didn't simply switch causes and retain the same self: his mind and his heart were transformed, his spirit realigned, and his life reorganized.

Awakenings are not always this dramatic, nor do they always involve a recognizable encounter with the Divine. But when we offer our consent to the awakening that either external or internal circumstances may provide, those circumstances can be a gateway to a rebirth—not just in a theological sense but also in a psychological and spiritual one. They can lead to dramatic new life that is grounded in profound changes in the self.

Losing Our Mind and Coming to Our Senses

We have recognized that Paul's awakening was more a matter of seeing than simply a change of beliefs. But it is not just seeing that is involved in awakening. Awakening can come through any of the senses.

Gestalt therapy is built entirely on this power of awakening. Fritz Perls, the founder of this approach to psychotherapy, calls it "awareness" and describes the way in which awareness draws us back into our bodies, in touch with our senses, and mobilizes us for action. He argues that in order to be truly alive, we must be aware of our impulses and yearnings, of the here and now, of our sensory experience, and of what he calls our unfinished business. Then and only then is real change possible.