Earlier this year I was invited to endorse Deeper Still, and opened the pdf thinking ‘I could probably zip through this in time’. Then I read the opening sentence: “How quickly can you skim this introduction to work out whether you want to read this book?”
Ah. So not a book I should dash through, then.
It looked good, though, so I requested a review copy instead, and have just worked through it in my quiet times.
And it is good.
It teaches the practice of biblical meditation, taking the reader on a very practical journey through the what, why and how of making meditating on scripture part of your regular practice.
The author, Linda Allcock, makes this sound both very enriching and very achievable, even if you’re not a 12th-Century monk with no more pressing distractions. She first began to explore the practice, she explains, when she was going through post-natal depression after the birth of her third child. There were plenty of very legitimate demands on her time, but running underneath them all, constantly, was the ‘soundtrack’ in her head: ‘guilty, worthless, useless’ – over and over again.
“The constant noise in our heads can be exhausting,” she says. “For a lot of us, we don’t like what we hear. This is why people in our culture are increasingly turning to secular meditation – they’re desperate to declutter the voices from their heads. And who can blame them?”
As she studied biblical meditation, she noticed one key difference – the soundtrack in our heads revolves, almost exclusively, around ourselves. When studying Psalm 104, however, she realised “a simple but profound truth: the psalmist doesn’t start each thought with me me me, but he, he, he.”
She goes on to look at how we can switch that internal monologue from a self-focussed, destructive echo-chamber to a stream of truth flowing from the word of God to cleanse every part of us. Sounds like it would take a miracle, right? That’s OK though, because as Linda points out, “God is in the business of working miracles.”
She then leads the reader through four stages in storing up the truth in our hearts and memories, then three tools to help us live it out.
The one area where I felt the book could have been clearer is in pointing the reader more to God’s character rather than to what he has done for us. It’s a fine line, and I’m sure Linda has chosen the examples she has because they’re less nebulous – it’s easy to see the difference between what the soundtrack in her head was telling her about herself and what God said about her, based on the work of his Son, but it was still all about her. To use her own example of Psalm 104, after the opening instruction of the psalmist to his soul to “bless the Lord,” humans are only mentioned three times in the first 32 verses. In verse 33 the psalmist next mentions himself, but even then the focus is all on God: “I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” Meditating on God’s glory and goodness is for the purpose of lifting him up, not us.
As I say, I’m sure Linda would agree, and I understand that it is hard to convince fallen humans to meditate on God’s glory just because he is worth it – we all want to know ‘what’s in it for me?’
It is good and right to say, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Ps 126:3), and “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). It is much better to get our messaging about ourselves from the Bible instead of from Netflix, Instagram or the soundtrack in our heads. I’m just noticing a lot lately how self-focussed our faith is. It’s an insidious evil, seeping into our hearts and minds, and it is so much a part of the cultural air we breathe that we have to be extra-vigilant to guard against it. So buy this book, learn its lessons, but beware of approaching it with the desire or expectation that Bible meditation will make you happy, solve your problems, or make you a better person. It’s not about you; it’s all about him.