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Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer
Richard J. Foster
IVP Books, 2011
165 pp., $17.00
"An Open Wound of Love"
This was a hard book review to write. You can only read so much elegant prose inviting you to pray before you feel guilty for not actually praying. Richard Foster notes this difficulty, quoting Thomas Merton: "You cannot learn meditation from a book. You just have to meditate."
True enough, but good books help, and Sanctuary of the Soul is a good one. Not a sentence is misplaced, each drives you to the next with the expectation that good things will be waiting. Like all of Foster's work since his landmark book The Celebration of Discipline, this one presents the spiritual disciplines to an evangelical audience as disciplines that are (not paradoxically) grace-filled. If Ron Sider and Tony Campolo made it possible for evangelicals to speak of social justice, Richard Foster has done the same for spiritual disciplines.
I wish I could say Foster's work has actually changed the evangelical world. Speaking of meditation in particular, "Today," Foster himself laments, "serious teaching and practice from a Christian perspective is minimal, if present at all." He finds worship more commonly to be an experience of distractions strung together rather than an invitation to contemplation. This despite his own publishing success, the extensive conferencing and speaking circuit of his Renovaré organization, and the efforts of such gifted co-conspirators as Dallas Willard and the late Robert Webber. Foster and others may have changed the publishing landscape of evangelicals and offered arguments about why the spiritual disciplines are good things. But until evangelical churches are known for the depth and power of their meditative practices, his work remains incomplete.
The church I'm now privileged to pastor is an example. We have a longtime prayer ministry built on the American revivalist model. Dedicated prayer team members train and wait to pray with people after worship if they want a prayer partner. But hardly anyone ever comes for prayer. Why would they, unless they ...