I don't read much non-fiction these days, at least not if I have the choice. It all seems so intent on making sure I "get it" that after about five pages I've "had it." But there is a short-list of non-fiction writers I'll shell out my hard earned greenbacks to read. Robert Benson is worth the day's wage.
Mr. Benson (he's a little older than I am, so I'll be respectful and all) has written more than a dozen books about the discovery of the sacred in the midst of our ordinary lives; titles such as Between the Dreaming and the Coming True and Digging In. January of this fine year witnessed the release of The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling, published by the folks at Waterbrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
When I received a copy to review, I immediately turned to the table of contents. If you were to purchase this book and begin in the same way, which I heartily recommend, you would find ten chapter titles, words like Listening and Walking and Dreaming. All of these words are gerunds, from the Latin gerundus meaning "to bear" or "carry on." These titles seem fitting for this book as Mr. Benson's intent is to help us bear with who we've been called to be and carry on toward the reason we're here. Lofty intent, huh? It's a good thing Mr. Benson is our amicus, from the Latin for "friend."
My review of Mr. Benson's book will follow the old sweaty sermon structure of three points and a poem.
1. The words contained in these 192 pages seek to illumine rather than instruct. I believe when it comes to this thing known as "calling" that each person has to ask, seek, and knock for themselves. Mr. Benson agrees; his own has been a crooked, little path. Rather than giving us steps to ascend or boxes to check, Benson drops hints like Perhaps you should listen to that voice within that sounds so much like your own and Calling is not always static; it is not always a one-time event. If koans like these have a tendency to frustrate you, then so will this book. However, if you've the mettle to endure a little frustration, you might just start hearing a still, small Voice... that may sound a lot like your own.
2. Martin Luther King reminded us that "we all live in the red." In other words, each and every one of us are indebted to those who give encouragement in due season, words that help us see the person we could be and maybe the next step to take. Benson lives humbly in such a hue. He gives credit where it's due to such influential characters as Mac and Ben and Phyllis and Fred. Probably most of all, and rightly so, Benson obeys the fifth commandment by honoring his father, a rather colorful character in his own right. We are surrounded by mentors in our lives if we've the ears to hear and eyes to see and heart to trust.
3. Although he doesn't use the exact wording, Mr. Benson is an advocate of the arrogance of belonging, that belief that we, all of us, are something. And as such, we, all of us, are given the chance to dream. He poses the last-chapter question - Can we become something or another simply by dreaming it and believing in the dream hard enough and long enough? There is white space on the page after that question. A new paragraph follows it, with the grammatically correct indented spaces. Those combined spaces are enough for me to see the bearded face of this amicus, grinning a maybe...yes, maybe so...
Three points. Oh yes, the poem. Near the end of this book, Mr. Benson gently invokes the name of Rod McKuen. My own father spun McKuen love songs on the phonograph when I was young. That same father later gifted me with several books that housed his poems. I, like Benson, always knew many thought McKuen to be nothing but sappy. But there is a nuance between syrupy and sweet. The former will rot your teeth and mind. The later, if well-crafted, can rekindle something that we lost somehow, somewhere along the way in that region known as the cordis, from the Latin for "heart." The Echo Within hits the sweet spot.
For if you don't know where
It is you came from it's hard
to ascertain just where you might be
heading -in life or down the block.
A friend can help you sort that out
-Rod McKuen, "Nightwalker"