Richard Foster’s new book, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer, is a welcome addition to the wide range of choices available for learning the spiritual practice of Christian meditation. Foster’s books and his ministry through the organization Renovare have been important resources for learning Christian practice over the last four decades, especially in the evangelical communities of the faith. This book brings clarity and reassurance to those on the spiritual journey who fear that the concept and practice of meditation are not particularly Christian or that they are not connected to Scripture.
Foster comes to meditation from a clear kataphatic perspective, the way of affirmation, that stream of spirituality that values words, images, imagination, expression of the Holy, both received and given. He makes it clear that he is not writing from the apophatic tradition, the way of negation, that stream of spirituality represented by centering prayer or other forms of self-emptying. For those for whom the apophatic emphasis seems unattainable or untrustworthy, Foster will have wise words of direction and comfort.
Without being simplistic, the book is created in a very simple and accessible format—three sections: Laying the Foundation, Stepping into Meditative Prayer, and Dealing with Everyday Difficulties. Each section has thee chapters, followed by a story of Foster’s own personal meditative experience. For those who have trepidation about meditation, Foster does a helpful job of grounding the practice in Scripture, Hebrew and Christian testaments. He also brings a great cloud of witnesses into the conversation, those from many traditions of Christian faith, old and new who bear witness to the gift of meditation in their own journeys. The breadth of representatives of the community of faith is striking; Foster has brought many saints from the past into contemporary awareness in his books written with Emilie Griffin, Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics. He reiterates these references in this new book, and he is especially helpful is bringing Quaker authors and sources to the conversation.
In the section on the process of meditation, Foster begins with inner attitudes and predispositions that allow us to enter into the goal of meditation, “a familiar friendship with Jesus (Thomas a Kempis).” In his gentle invitation, he moves step by step with encouraging examples to allow the reader to experiment, examine and begin what may be a new process for them. His invitation to trust sacred imagination, to use poetry, creation, as resources in meditation are among the affirmations that are winsome and joyous, and create a sense of safety in beginning a practice of meditation in prayer.
Foster’s invitation to a life of meditative prayer is one of welcome and grace. Care would need to be taken in reading his chapter or on Satanic presence by those whose faith traditions have made them over-scrupulous or those who have suffered abuse at the hands of abusers. Nevertheless, the book as a whole, embedded in Foster’s rich ability to tell story, his own and others, de-mystifies the practice of Christian meditation and opens it up to the whole people of God, even outside a monastic tradition. Read it! Meditate on it with delight!