The volume of silence

Why is a sixties rocker writing about prayer?

The year was 1967, the location was Westminster Central Hall in London, the 2500 strong audience were mostly teenagers, and the event was a Sound Vision concert, featuring the best-known Christian bands of the period. Five bands had already played, when the compere announced, “not only the best, but also the loudest Christian group – "The Pilgrims”;. That was my band – and that’s a younger version of me in the picture above. The book in the picture was published in 2017 – and that’s also mine.
Fifty years after the noise I wrote a book about prayer – how come? What turned the volume down?.

The Pilgrims were loud, but we were no strangers to prayer. We never performed without first praying, and we gave a lot of time to prayer, privately and together. But we were young, and had yet to experience many of the trials, temptations, successes, and failures of a full adult life. My prayer life developed through years of struggle, defeat, self-criticism – and times of joy and celebration. My life wasn’t hard by some people’s standards. But, it was testing, and along the way I journaled my experiences in poetic form. The poems saved on my computer were crying out to be shared, but Still Digging isn’t a poetry book. It’s a series of lessons on prayer punctuated by poems. It’s not the poetry that matters, but the experience, the joys – and the pain.

Why would prayer ever be painful? Because it expresses deep feelings. If prayer doesn’t acknowledge and engage our true feelings, it probably isn’t authentic. That was my problem, so I had a lot to unlearn; and I needed to find my true self.

I’ve often heard mature Christians say that they’re '“no good at prayer”. I think what they’re really saying is their prayers are not connecting with their true self. Or they feel they can’t live up to the standards or the methods they think are expected of them. But who’s doing the expecting?

We teach people to pray by getting them to talk to God. But a key element of prayer is listening. Silence isn’t a cop-out. When we wait wordlessly in God’s presence we’re coming to the core of the prayer experience. I knew how to be loud for God but, since my evangelistic travels with the band, the best thing I’ve learned is how to be silent.  Still Digging isn’t just about silence. In fact, it covers a wide range of prayer styles. A key quotation from the book says, “prayer is for all, but not all types of prayer are for everyone.” We each need to discover our authentic style – one that fits our individual personality and circumstances – and enjoy our conversations with God.

This book is wide ranging. The 80 chapters are arranged in 10 sections: The Journey – A time for prayer – A place for prayer – What’s it all about? – Teach us to pray – Getting to know me – Prayer patterns – Distractions – Journeying deeper – Beyond myself.  Feedback from readers says that the short chapters (mostly 2-3 pages) are a valuable feature of the book. They fit into a quiet time or a coffee break. The chapters are short because the lessons are uncomplicated. There’s nothing about prayer that’s intrinsically difficult. But it’s still hard to learn. Riding a bicycle is easy – once you can do it. But, when you learnt to ride, you didn’t immediately become a champion. That takes practice.

Am I setting myself up for a fall by writing about prayer? Am I holding myself up as an example, and thereby taking a risk? The truth is that I’ve already fallen. I’ve made lots of mistakes in my prayer life, and other aspects of my life, and it’s those mistakes that laid the foundations for this book. Many of the poems that head up the chapters were written at times of personal crisis, when my faith was shaken, and my prayer life fell apart.

I knew early-on how to be loud for God. This journey has taught me how to be quiet, and to enjoy his presence.

© Derrick Phillips - 2017