Book Review: Sanctuary of the Soul

Book Review: Sanctuary of the Soul

By: Richard Foster ISBN: 9780830835553

Publisher: InterVarsity Press

Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer

“Tell my people, tell my children, that my heart is broken. Their distance and their preoccupation wound me… Tell them. Tell my children to come home.” (Richard Foster; Sanctuary of the Soul. pg150)

I think this, arguably, might be the heart and soul of this book; a call to slowing down and lessening the distance between ourselves and our Father, God.

I love the pace and the tone that Richard Foster shares this journey into meditative prayer. From the very opening pages of the book, Foster shares with gentleness, humility, and the patience of a wizened teacher the lessons he has learned during his years of study and experience in the discipline of meditative prayer.

The book is divided into three main sections: Part One, Laying the Foundation; Part Two, Stepping into Meditative Prayer; and Part Three, Dealing with Everyday Distractions. Each section is comprised of three chapters with an average length of nine pages. The book is a relatively quick read and moves along at an engaging pace. I didn’t have any difficulty following the flow of the book at all, but I do have a somewhat studied background on the topic of meditative (aka “centering” and “contemplative”) prayer and I am familiar with most of the sources cited by Foster in Sanctuary. I took note that it seemed as though special attention was given to avoiding esoteric terms that might be unfamiliar to a broad audience. I think this is important to making a book of this nature accessible to the masses and I think this is exactly what Sanctuary of the Soul is… accessible, readable, and understandable regardless of where a person may be with respect to their spiritual journey and maturity therein.

There were several things I appreciated at a personal level about this little exposition on meditative prayer. First, there is what I believe is a hallmark of Foster’s writing, a deep and rich sharing from the traditions, ancient and contemporary of the various streams of Christianity. These references are annotated well and there is a list of recommended resources for additional study and reading. Secondly, I appreciate and respect the decision to avoid making this book into a “how to” or “______ steps to perfecting meditative prayer.” There are several pauses throughout the book where Richard Foster is deliberate in pointing out that it is God who initiates and completes process of “listening prayer;” we are willing and surrendered partners in the process, but it is God who is the author and the facilitator of the work. Additionally, Foster reminds the reader that individual personalities vary, and experience as well as maturity plays into the equation of how God will define each individual’s journey into this style of prayer. He goes on to explain while there are some commonalities to the process and experience of meditative prayer, there is not an iron-clad rule to follow aside from the desire to grow closer to God and the discipline to provide the space to facilitate the growth. I was also encouraged (as I’ve already mentioned) by the gentle, non-threatening, and humble approach with which Foster shared his journey with the reader. It is only my opinion, but I think anyone reading the book would be encouraged to try this style of prayer without feeling intimidated.

I was thankful for chapter nine (one of the last sections of the book) as it summarized the lessons of the preceding chapters in the form of a Potpourri of Questions. Points that had already begun to fade from my memory were resurrected in this chapter. The highlights and main points were driven home again in a succinct yet inspiring fashion.

Finally, I don’t think this is the definitive work or “one-size-fits-all” book on meditative prayer; neither does Foster because he has shared the recommended resources at the end of the book. My reason for this observation is meant as another point of encouragement to continue research and to continue study and  to continue the practice of this beautiful and necessary form of prayer. To paraphrase one of my personal mentors on this topic: “There is no failure or wasted moment when we turn and surrender our hearts to God. He is delighted and continues the good work in us with every moment we turn to him and seek his face.”

This is another wonderful resource from Richard Foster and I’m sure I will be turning to it again and again. I recommend it most highly to every Christian, wherever they may be on their journey with Jesus.

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