Indeed, the reader might hear an echo within this book: haven’t we heard this story before? Several times? Well, yes and no. In The Echo Within, Nashville native Robert Benson opens again the story of his journey as a wanderer, writer, and mystic for whom all of life is an echo of God’s primal creative word. But this time, the echo sounds across new territory.
It begins by the sea, as a young man asks Benson, “I think I am being called. … I cannot tell if it is God telling me this or if I am just talking to myself.” The rest of the book is Benson’s loosely-woven reply to the implied question, “Who am I and what am I supposed to be doing in this world?” Threaded with memories and stories, his response may at first read like a long ramble, but Benson isn’t just spinning tales: he’s weaving an autobiographical net that is strong and shapely enough to catch the reader’s own stories. His memories of years spent dazzled by his dad’s brilliance, of finding his voice after a season of diminishment, of being pegged by a stranger on an airplane — these stories spark recollections of our own moments in which someone knew us, named our peculiar treasures, and gave us hope that the sound of our own voice was possibly connected with the voice of God. Benson’s threads lace again and again around the central knot: “Vocation is about the things that shape the work before the worker even begins to work.”
This implied invitation to recall one’s own “things that shape the work” is what marks The Echo Within as a turning point in Benson’s writing. His voice sounds truer this time: he reads like a guy who has spent time on the porch shooting the breeze with Walt Whitman, Thomas Merton, and James Taylor — and even more time in silence. He’s relaxed into an easy generosity: he tells his readers as much about themselves as about himself. And most important, he knows the humble truth about vocation: “To be called is to be sent. And we are being sent to someone as much as we are being sent by Someone. To be called is to keep looking for those to whom we are being given.”
That young man on the beach is a gift to Benson and to anyone who asks questions of vocation. It’s a good read for the twenty-somethings who are choosing, and the mid-lifers who are choosing again. And for anyone who knows that gritty place between deep water and dry land, The Echo Within offers a word worth hearing.