I’ve been blessed to sit near Robert Benson and savor his words and wisdom in a variety of settings over the past ten years. On one such occasion Robert said, “The only story I have the right to write is my own. I try to write it artfully enough, and with enough wit and enough honesty and heart, to keep you reading it, so that you will remember your story.” This is precisely what he has done in his latest work The Echo Within.
Writing His Story
The Echo Within is drawn from Robert’s story and the most personal of Robert’s books since Between the Dreaming and the Coming True. (I am told by a good friend of Robert’s that Echo is the book he intended to follow Between the Dreaming.) Indeed, Robert does tell his story artfully. He is a master storyteller, and his finest work is self-portrait. “My work as a writer,” Robert once said to a group of us, “is to write my story/stories so that I can read them and see how well I paid attention to what I saw.” The Echo Within is what happens when Robert writes down his story and then pays attention to it. In fact, that’s the point of the book.
He begins by telling the story of a young man who was trying to discern if he was called to go to seminary. In order to help his friend begin to answer his question, Robert retraces the steps of his own vocational journey through stories that date back to his childhood. He tells us the stories and then tells us what he thinks they have meant and mean as he listens for the voice of his Creator echo within his soul, sounding out his call to be a writer. “There is within each of us an echo of the Voice of the One Who whispered us into being. We must listen for that echo and to that echo; we must listen fiercely and faithfully and fearlessly. Within the echo of the Voice that spoke us into being is the sound of our own true voice” (page 19).
Artfully, With Wit, Honesty, and Heart
Robert Benson is an artist whose pen is a paintbrush and whose words are watercolors. Some of the most wonderfully wielded colors on Robert’s palette are wit, honesty, and heart.
As in his other books, Robert’s sense of humor snuck up on me and put a smile on my face in most chapters. One particular story about an airplane ride had me laughing out loud, and then looking around red-faced to see who heard me. But Robert doesn’t waste a drop of wit for the sake of a cheap laugh or attention-getting. He uses humor to highlight some hue in his story of God’s work in his soul that would otherwise go unseen or under appreciated.
In this book, Robert has honed honesty and heart to a level of transparency I’ve not seen in his other works. Not that his books to this point have lacked transparency, but this one unveils more of Robert’s own personal and vocational brokenness than the others. Without succumbing to “emotional streaking” Robert expresses the darkness of his own heart and life to shed light on his story. These stories of personal triumph and tragedy help illuminate what he means by listening to the echo within. Robert, like Parker Palmer before him, has learned, and now teaches others, to “let your life speak.”
To Keep You Reading…So That You Remember Your Story
As a writer, Robert Benson aims to keep me reading long enough for his story to encourage me to hear mine. Mission accomplished. I couldn’t put it down. Captured by a delightful work of art, I couldn’t take my eyes off of The Echo Within. I couldn’t help but listen to and lean into Robert’s voice as he told the story of how he has come to hear the Voice of his Master. Hearing his story enabled me to begin to listen to mine and to the One whose Voice echoes in me, calling me through each dark and delightful stroke with which my story is brushed.
If you are listening for the Creator’s call on your life, put your ear to The Echo Within and let Robert Benson show you how to hear the voice of vocation in the sound of your own story.
On Monday, April 20th, 2009, I will announce the winner of the drawing for a free copy of The Echo Within. To enter the drawing you must be an email subscriber to this blog. To subscribe to receive The Cruciform Life Blog by email, go to the top of the side bar on the right of this page and click on the “RECEIVE BY EMAIL” link. I will draw one winner from a list of all of my email subscribers on Sunday, April 19th, 2009, and then post the results at 12am on Monday. Once I’ve made contact with the winner and have verified a shipping address, I will have the book signed by Robert Benson and shipped to them.