Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Echo Within

Along with all the other things I've been pondering lately, this topic/theme/issue of being the woman I was born to be, of living the life I was meant to live has come up repeatedly. I know I'm supposed to be a good wife, a great mother, a dedicated homeschooler, and the like. But that stuff is mostly about what I do and who I am in relation to other people. I've been wondering about who I am on my own, or "who I be." Isn't there a refrain somewhere that says something like, "I am 'a human being' not 'a human doing'"???

Recently I was asked to review a book by one of my favorite authors, Robert Benson. He is quite the prolific writer, having produced more than a dozen volumes. Check them out here. To say that I was honored that an author I admire has enough respect for my thoughts and my blog to ask me to read a book of his and write a response to it was... well, terrifying. At first, I was honored, and then terror took the place of honor. After receiving the book in the mail, I put off reading it for a few days, pondering the gravity of what I had committed myself to undertake. What if I say something stupid or misrepresent the book somehow? What if I'm not a good enough reader? What if he regrets asking me? What if he demands that I issue a public apology for my utterances?

I had to step back and get a grip.
Take a few deep breaths.
Consider the source of the request and the book: Robert Benson.
I have never read a book of his that I did not want to quote in its entirety in my journal or on this blog.

So I picked the book up again. Tentatively. Gingerly, I opened its cover. And I read it in less than six hours - during which time I frequently stopped to put it down, stare wildly at the cover, try to imagine how he had managed to read my mind and journal so clearly, and then I would pick it up again, hoping he would be the one who would finally answer all my soul's questions.

When I got to the final page, I found that very few of my questions had been answered. In fact, I had more questions than ever. And I couldn't have been happier. I was thrilled to discover that I am not alone in my hunger to simply "be" and not always "do." I am not alone in my yearning to listen to the Voice Without as well as the voice within. I am not alone in my love of Thomas Merton's wise words and my tendency to use them as jumping off points for much of my spiritual writing and thinking. I am not alone in my frequent urge to tell my friends, family members, and anyone else who will listen to my ramblings that the best way to get to know themselves, to identify and solidify their own voice, and to appreciate their unique vision of the world in which they live is to keep a journal.

I have since begun to read the book again, hoping I've missed something, glad I haven't, but still hungry for every meticulously chosen word and delicate turn of phrase.

I carry it with me on my daily rounds, even when I doubt I'll have time to open it. Somehow having this pithy volume in my bag has made it safer for me to pay closer attention to the Voice that resounds within.

I have copied quotes into my journal.
I have read sections to my daughter.
I have mentally composed a list of 50 or so questions that I want to ask Robert when I meet him. And I am definitely planning to meet him; after all, he has to show me the scar on his thumb that he earned while working his first job at his father and grandfather's printing company.

The Echo Within is a quiet book, a gentle book, an enthralling book, a funny book, an insightful book, an autobiograpical book, a confirming book, and a challenging book.
One of the challenges is to trust that The One who Spoke Us into being
is still speaking to us, in us, and, because He has not stopped speaking, is still creating us. It is the ongoing speaking of that Voice that creates and sustains the echo within.

Another challenge is to recognize that the voice that we hear inside our heads, our hearts, our souls - the voice that, in my case, sounds a lot like my own voice - is worthy of my attention and trust.

Early in the book, Robert writes: "Somewhere deep inside of me, perhaps in the truest and most holy part of me - that part of me that is the most me there is or ever will be - there is an echo of the Voice that spoke me into being and is still speaking the incarnate word who is Robert."

A couple of pages later, I found this gem: "We must learn to listen deeper and deeper, seeking out the true voice within us that echoes the Voice of the One Who made us." And, "We worry that we are just talking to ourselves. If it sounds like me, it cannot be God, we think. And so we are afraid to trust what we hear, afraid to trust that voice that has been within us all along."

The book leads the reader through the journey of hearing, waking up to, being, looking for, waiting for, living out, knowing, choosing, and dreaming the voice, the echo within - and determining how best to be the incarnate word that each one of us is. How to stop all the "doing" and understand our "being."

The chapter I have marked up the most (I hope Robert and his publicist weren't expecting me to return this review copy for a future sale...) is entitled "Waking." Who wouldn't draw a squiggly box around a passage like this with red ink?

"We can be awakened to our calling, drawn in the direction of it, in different ways. For some it is the smell of the paint, the feel of a page, the warmth of a stove, the sound of a tool. Others of us awakened in other ways - a conversation with a teacher, an article we read and could not forget, a photograph that showed us a place we thought we could belong to someday.

"Something that catches our attention and rings true within us. It resonates with the echo within us, one might say, and we are off, off on the journey to discover what we have been spoken into being to become."

I grew up in and have attended churches most of my life where the voices of women have been hushed, silenced, discredited. We are meant to be silent. And to mention the possibility of "listening to the voice within" was and is tantamount to heresy.

Always doubtful that God means for any of us to be silent, always certain that I have a lot to say - even if not many people want to listen - I have consistently moaned and groaned when those dominant and domineering voices bellowed, disputed and dissented as often as courage and opportunity permitted, and when none of that seemed to make an appreciable difference,
I began to simply ignore those voices and pay more attention to my own voice.
To the echo within.
To voices like Robert Benson.
And to The Voice that began all the talking in the first place.

After years of deep prayer, meditation, journaling, retreats, seminars, silence and solitude, and perhaps with a smattering of good fortune, I hope to be able to echo (pardon the pun) the words that Robert delicately and self-assuredly pens in the final pages: "But (I'll let you read the book and discover what that 'but' refers the reader back to...) according to the guy on the plane, I am a something - not a famous one or a well-known one or even one who gets to read his things with an orchestra. But I am the something I have always dreamed of being."

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