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The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling

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?I can remember the words people said that meant so much to me and my own sense of who I was and who I might become?. You know you have heard such a sentence when you hear inside a corresponding Yes. The Yes is an echo of sorts, or at least it is the same voice as is the Echo that you have come to count on. Such a sentence takes your breath away?. It tells you something about yourself that you suspected or ...

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Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling

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Overview

“I can remember the words people said that meant so much to me and my own sense of who I was and who I might become…. You know you have heard such a sentence when you hear inside a corresponding Yes. The Yes is an echo of sorts, or at least it is the same voice as is the Echo that you have come to count on. Such a sentence takes your breath away…. It tells you something about yourself that you suspected or hoped, something you glimpsed but were too shy or uncertain to name aloud.”

To Hear and Live Your Calling

When one day a friend wondered if he was being called to a certain field of work, he asked Robert Benson, “Do you think I am?”

The Echo Within is Robert’s illuminating answer, a thoughtful, honest, profoundly-affecting account of his own search and failings and eventual discovery of the Yes he describes–what it is one truly is called to do and be. Written out of a lifelong search and response to the callings on his life, The Echo Within explores:

•how to love the work you do, and the process of doing it.

•ways to sense God’s pleasure in your pursuits, both in the pursuits and in you.

•whether you fall into your vocation as a destiny or you chart that course.

•how to begin living with added dimensions of meaning and purpose.

Through the ups and downs of the changes inherent in family life, professional choice, and spiritual experience, Robert shares with wisdom, humor, and heart what he’s learned–and how you can discover your calling too.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400074341
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/6/2009
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.30 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Benson has written more than a dozen books about the discovery of the sacred in the midst of our ordinary lives, including Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, Home By Another Way, and Digging In. His work has been critically acclaimed in a wide range of publications from The New York Times and USA Today to Spirituality & Health and The Benedectine Review. He is an alumnus of The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation and was recently named a Living Spiritual Teacher by Spirituality&Practice.com. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Read an Excerpt

IT WAS EARLY FALL, and it was late afternoon, and I was walking through old Carolina pines with a new friend. We were near the ocean, near enough to hear the surf as we walked along a broad path through the forest.

I say I was with a new friend. I only spent five days with him, and I had never seen him before and have not seen him since. He and I were two of about sixty people at a retreat, and I was the speaker.

“I think I am being called to go to seminary,” my new friend said. “Do you think I am?”

He was wrestling with a question that almost always arises whenever questions of calling are being raised. He was hoping I could tell him if he was being called by God to do a particular thing or if he was wanting to do it for his own reasons and giving God the credit. (Or the blame, perhaps?) He wanted me to look into the future and tell him which choice would be the right one. He was hoping I was a lot more than a speaker; he was hoping I was a prophet.

For a while I did the wisest thing I know to do in such a situation, which is to keep my mouth shut and listen.

We walked for a bit longer, and he talked a little more, and I tried to pay careful attention to the story he was telling me. We stopped for a moment to watch the sea and to listen to the surf.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I cannot tell if it is God telling me this or if I am just talking to myself.”

We watched the sea for a while.

“Exactly what does God’s voice sound like?” I asked him. “And how do you recognize that voice when you hear it?”

My new friend looked at me as though perhaps he should not be wasting his time with a guy who suddenly did not appear to be so prophetic after all.

I had clever follow-up questions too. “Does God sound like James Earl Jones or Helen Mirren? What if God sounds like Judi Dench or George Burns? What if God’s voice is shrill and hard to listen to? What if God sounds like Truman Capote? What if the voice sounds like your own voice?”

These were not unreasonable questions to me on that day and are still not on this day. My new friend looked at me as though I had gone from being not as smart as he had hoped to being a smart-aleck instead.

But I had a reason for asking those questions.

People go away on spiritual retreat for all kinds of reasons. I am one of those people. I think it is a good idea to go away for a while to listen for, and maybe even to, God.

It was my father who taught me to love going on retreat. He led so many of them that his father once asked him if he should not go on an advance for a change.

I think a retreat can be especially helpful when you are wrestling with some particular thing in your life. Having a leader or a teacher or a speaker there is a nice bonus, but it is not always the point. As the years go by, I go to fewer and fewer retreats where there is a speaker. Sometimes it is easier to listen for the voice of God if there is not someone else talking all the time.

I do not think I am necessarily right to think this way, but there it is. And I am glad everyone does not think this way, because I do like to go and be the speaker.

Some years ago I went away to become a member of the Academy for Spiritual Formation.

In simple terms the Academy is a program you attend once a quarter for two years, spending a week each time with the same sixty or so people—a week devoted to study, prayer, silence, worship, and community. The Academy is one part retreat, one part seminar, one part camp meeting, and one part small group.

That is why I have often said that in order to get the most out of the Academy, a person should be one part monk, one part dogface recruit, one part student, and seven parts hungry to learn to pray. There are not many things in this world that turn out to be more than the sum of the parts; the Academy is one of them.

The first week I listened carefully to everything as I was supposed to. Who I listened to most was a theologian and scholar named Robert Mulholland. And I have never gotten over one thing I remember from a whole week of listening to his lectures.

Dr. Mulholland is the one who introduced me to the Hebrew word dabhar, a word meaning “God spoke.” Dabhar is the word used in Genesis, in the opening line of the beginning of the whole Story of us all. The word is most often rendered as created in our English translations.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is the way the Story has always begun for many of us. And when you say it that way, creating the heavens and the earth sounds like the sort of thing one would do with his hands in the midst of the mother of all sandboxes.

I can imagine God down on holy knees somewhere in central Oklahoma scooping out the Mississippi until it gets to the Gulf of Mexico. Then God takes a handful or two of the extra dirt and pushes forward and to the right, and soon we have the Appalachians running all the way up to where Canada will be, once we need a place called Canada. The earth gives way under the left knee, and God decides the Rockies have a kind of majestic look to them after all of that flat land that is going to be Kansas. Kansas is going to be beautiful when all the grasses have been planted there and they have time to learn to go golden in the sun. Somebody will write songs about these flatlands someday, about amber waves of grain and purple mountains, once somebodies have been made, and once they have had time to learn to write songs.

Then there are oceans to be made and more mountains on the other side of the earth. There are stars to be hung in the night sky, “God’s sweet lanterns,” as James Taylor once described them. And on and on. Thinking about the creation of the universe in this way makes me smile.

Here is another thing that makes me smile: after all of this time, we do not really understand the ways of God, do we? Not even after all of these years of telling each other this Story and having people try and explain the Story to us. All of our theology and scholarship and imagination notwithstanding, we do not even have a good handle on the way the whole thing started.

Saint Augustine once said to a group of people, “We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, it is not God.”

We keep trying though. We keep trying to understand the mysterious ways of God. Which is why the word dabhar caught my attention and has never quite let it go. I am still trying to hold the wonder of the word and how the word itself has changed the way I have come to see the way we were made.

According to the people who told this Story first, in the Hebrew language and not the king’s English, the making of the heavens and the earth, and all that came to be, for that matter, was for God a thing done with the voice rather than the hands. Dabhar suggests an understanding of the way God creates that is very different from my vision of God in a sandbox.

Dabhar means we are more accurate if we say, “In the beginning God spoke the heavens and the earth.” Dabhar means God spoke the mountains and the seas. God spoke the mornings and the trees and the streams and the songbirds. God spoke the stars, those sweet lanterns, and God spoke the plains and the amber waves of grain. God spoke the roses that climb up on the roof of my studio, and God spoke the breeze that tells me the rain is soon to come, the rain God spoke into being this morning when God said let there be light all over again.

In those days when I was listening to Bob Mulholland, I was also learning to pray the Psalms. I have not gotten over what the Psalmists said any more than I have gotten over what Bob Mulholland said.

In the ninety-fifth one, the Psalmist writes, “We will know your power and presence this day, if we will but listen for your voice.” I had always taken the phrase to mean we are to listen for the voice of the God without. And it is true. We are to listen for the way God speaks to us through the breeze and through the rain, through the voice of a friend and the laughter of a child, through the thousand other ways God speaks into our lives.

But we are to learn to listen for and to recognize the voice of God within us as well.

We are, said Bob Mulholland, “an incarnate word, spoken by God, still being spoken by God.” And because we are still being spoken, the questions we have about calling are, in part, questions about listening for the incarnate word being whispered into us. They are questions about learning to open up to and becoming the word that was whispered into us. And is still being whispered into us.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great gem from Benson

    This weekend I read Robert Benson's wonderful little gem, The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling. The jacket cover description would lead you to believe that this is a helpful "how to" type of book that may give you the advice you need to improve your life. I suppose that this book could be that for some people but I feel like that description missed the mark. Benson will be the first to tell you that there is probably not much he can say that will give you the blueprint for finding your way. And that is exactly why this book is such a great read. Rather than map out the 3, 6, or 12 steps to better living, Benson tells a powerful story that invites the reader to listen to the familiar voice that knows you better than the self-help gurus. Instead of advice on what to do or not do, Benson gives us permission to find our true calling by recognizing that our calling is a moving target. Since this calling can only belong to us we cannot follow anyone else's footsteps as we pursue it. When we set our sights on that target and learn to follow it where ever it leads we will discover that we are at our best when we live into the story of who we are.

    The book has the feel of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and is easy to read. The conversational feel of the narrative is disarming and helps let some of the subtle strength of the book sink in. While there is a lot of talk about spiritual themes, the book is far from being "preachy." Benson is not trying to evangelize or proselytize anyone. He is more concerned with helping you hear your own echo within than amplify his for others to hear.

    There are a lot of things I loved about this book that tie into my own ecclesial dreams. I wish I could have read it 20 years ago. In fact, if you are looking for a good, affordable gift for a graduate this spring Benson's book would be a great option. Benson encourages all of us to learn to value the totality of our journey -not just the good things, but the mistakes, wrong turns, course corrections, and failures as well. Perhaps the best way to summarize the book is to restate one of the quotes from Thomas Merton that Benson scatters throughout the book:

    Jesus lived the ordinary life
    of the men of His time,
    in order to sanctify the ordinary lives
    of men of all time.
    If we want to be spiritual, then,
    let us first of all live our lives.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 28, 2008

    Written with great wisdom¿

    The Echo Within<BR/>Robert Benson<BR/>WaterBrook, Press, 2008<BR/>ISBN: 9781400074341<BR/>Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com, 12/08<BR/>5 Stars<BR/>Written with great wisdom¿<BR/>Robert Benson begins The Echo Within by asking a friend, ¿What does God sound like?¿ I have been pondering this question since reading it. Like Benson¿s friend, I have often wondered if I was following God¿s calling or did it come from me. ¿We will know your power and presence this day, if we will but listen for your voice. (Psalm 95)¿ <BR/>Not everyone is called to go to seminary, but we are all called to serve where we are. ¿Whatever work you do, whatever your calling, whatever are the specific details of living out the incarnate word spoken into you¿the details you must work out with fear and trembling¿¿Whatever our craft, we are called to do our work in ¿truth and beauty and for the common good¿¿ Benson shares his story with an open heart. He writes with wisdom. The Echo Within would make a great gift for a graduate.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2011

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