Sanctuary of the Soul

John Flavel, an English Puritan, said it well: The “greatest difficulty in conversion, is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God.” Communion and intimacy with God emerge out of the graces resulting from time with God, praying to God and listening to God. Richard Foster’s newest book, surely to become a go-to book for many for years to come, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, is about learning to listen to God. There is more personal story in this book by Foster than I’ve seen in any of his other books. His story of being sent to college by Quakers, just one paragraph long, is precious.

Those who have criticized meditation or contemplation need to read this book by Foster, but now I want to undo this statement. We all need to read this book because we need to learn more about prayer, about meditating (and Foster connects this to “hearing and obeying” and not to mushy mindless meanderings in the head), and about listening to God. Yet, Foster pleads with us to see that transformation is a work of God; we can desire it and pursue it but it is God who does it. We desire it by asking, listening, and obeying.

What do you have to tell us about meditative prayer?

Building on an insight from Theophan the Recluse, Foster discusses meditation (hearing and obeying) as “descending with the mind into the heart.” The masters uniformly talk about this through imagination, the sanctified imagination. In reading Scripture we used the sanctified imagination best. Lectio divina is his approach here.

Sometimes meditation occurs in groups, and Foster tells a story of his at Quaker Meadow. Mediation involves recollection, beholding the Lord, and the prayer of attentiveness in inward listening.

Foster has done so much prayer and so much teaching that he knows the difficulties, like wandering minds, Satan the roaring lion, and a potpourri of questions.

Meditative prayer is going home, going home to God.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Diane

    I’ve had the opportunity to read this book. It’s one of the best, if not the be best current book on contemplative prayer, because Foster undistractedly gets to the heart of the matter. His simple writing style matches the simplicity of his subject. He is accessible without being patronizing. He is not trendy: He is even willing to acknowledge the existence and role of Satanic influence, but not in a hyperbolic way. I would highly recommend this book. A lifetime of wisdom speaks through it.

    This gets to another question. Sometimes when I read books on contemplative or any kind of prayer, the life stories the authors include, often confessional, make me uncomfortable about following them as a spiritual guide–not that I mind the confessions, often of a very minor nature that I believe are meant to demonstrate “authenticity,” but I often do scratch my head in wonder at how they respond to their own foibles. To what extent does a person have to be spiritually mature, do you think, to write a book on prayer? Can we separate the dancer from the dance in this instance?

  • Scot McKnight

    Diane,

    Someone who writes on prayer should write from both expertise (knowing the subject intellectually) and experience (having spent lots of time in prayer). The latter gives a sense of credibility while the former a sense of fidelity.

  • http://mwerickson.wordpress.com Matt Erickson

    Thank you for posting on this latest Foster book, Scot. I’ve learned much from Foster and his Renovare group since first reading Celebration of Discipline nearly 20 years ago, and was wondering if this book was worth the look or not.

  • Terry

    I grew up in a Quaker church, and went to school at a Quaker college; Celebration of Discipline was introduced to me when I was in elementary school or junior high, Foster, in an adjunct way, while in college. I have longed for what he apparently discusses in this book and am looking forward to digesting it once it becomes available. I have long found movement forward in these thing to be challenging.

    Richard Foster is actually the guy who was a catalyst in my waking up and not buying into the fundamentalist-boogey man position any longer related to things like meditation and contemplative prayer (then Scot, you jumped in with prayer books), by being a Godly man, full of integrity in the face of often great and vicious accusations from my peers. Accusations so pronounced, that I finally knew someone was trying to slip me kool-aid, having known/known-of Richard for decades.

    September is going to be a great month for new books.

  • Mark E

    Christian’s need to get over meditations association with other discipines. The alternative to a stilled mind is a distracted one. Obediance is difficult when we are distracted. There are only so many ways to still a distracted mind, and these are naturally shared by other disciplines. Like anything else, if we approach meditation with the right attitude, we can rest assured that God is powerful enough to not only keep us from evil, but teach us to hear Him.

  • http://www.renovare.us Lyle SmithGraybeal

    Thanks much for the post, Professor McKnight! We at Renovare USA are also looking forward to the ways Richard’s latest book will be encouraging folks in their discipleship to Jesus. If I may, there is a sample chapter and preview video available at the website: http://www.renovare.us/soulparty.


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