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.
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.