Who needs another book about prayer when there’s already so many? But this one’s got a chapter called, “Yellow Card”, and others called, “Lord, I can’t find you”, “Not about duty”, and “Let it all out”, so there’s something different about it. This book doesn’t tell you the right way to pray. Rather it describes lots of different ways, and deals with awkward questions like,”Why bother?”, “How can I deal with distractions?”, and “Why doesn’t it work for me?” Prayer, you see, is an individual matter and what feels ideal for one person doesn’t feel right at all to someone with a different personality.
The thing that makes this book different is that the author learnt the hard way, made lots of mistakes, and kept notes about his difficulties and discoveries along the way. I know him very well, because it was me! Yes, this blog is me writing about one of my own books. Is that cheeky? Maybe; but this is not so much a review as an explanation. What does the book say? And how did I come to write it? It’s not for me to say whether it’s a good book, although every comment I’ve seen or heard has been favourable.
I should explain the funny title, which makes it sound more like a gardening book. I’m aware that there’s also an archaeology book with the same title, but don’t let that confuse you. The name comes from a poem – this poem:
I tried to dig down
To the bottom of God’s love.
I am still digging
You may recognise the format (it’s a haiku) and I wrote it during a camping holiday in 1978. It’s not the first poem I ever wrote, but it’s the oldest one that I have kept – and the title felt right to describe a journey of discovery, for that’s what it is. Finding my own way in prayer involved trying many different things, and struggling with the issues. I wrote notes about my journey, and many of those notes were in the form of poems. Poetry is a good format for expressing emotion, and prayer can’t be separated from emotion.
This book has eighty chapters, but don’t let that put you off. Many readers have appreciated the shortness of the chapters. They are short enough to read in a coffee break or (as some readers have told me) to include in daily devotions. And there’s no need to read the chapters in order. A key point of the book is that, whilst prayer is for everyone, many types of prayer don’t suit everyone. Different personalities benefit from different prayer styles. That’s why there are so many chapters. Choose your style.
However long readers took to read the book, it was short compared with the time I took to write it. I was unknowingly constructing it for more than twenty years as I struggled to get to grips with my spiritual life (including prayer), and expressed my feelings in poetry. Then, one day, I looked at all those poems and realised that my faltering faith journey could be helpful to other people. It’s not a poetry book, though the poems gave me something to hang the narrative on. That’s how the book came together.
I was attracted to prayer almost from the start of my Christian life- but I was no good at it! On rare occasions I benefited from good teaching about prayer, but most of the time my training came from falling over, picking myself up, making more mistakes, and sometimes despairing of myself. That’s silly, isn’t it? We can talk to one another, so why not to God? We can think, so why is silent prayer a problem? The truth is that many people find prayer difficult, because they’re afraid that they’re doing it wrong. There is no universally “right” way to pray. There is a right way for this person, another right way for that person, and another right way for you.
Prayer becomes easier when we know ourselves (and “Getting to know me” is another of the chapter titles), but knowing ourselves can be harder than knowing God. But it’s worth the effort, because it’s a healing process. Prayer is worth pursuing, and making a habit, because prayer changes things – and the greatest change is in ourselves.
By the way, I don’t consider myself to be an expert. I’ve made progress over the years, but I’m Still Digging.
© Derrick Phillips 2021