Sanctuary of the Soul
Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer
by Richard J. Foster
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011
Reviewed by Margaret Blackie
There are books which change the way you look at the world, and there are books which articulate something you always knew but couldn’t quite express. Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer certainly falls into the latter category. This book describes my own prayer life. The language Richard J. Foster uses is oftentimes not the language I would use, but this is simply because we have been trained in different spiritual traditions. Nonetheless, I find tremendous resonance with his description of the prayer practice that he terms meditation. Foster focuses on the importance of times of stillness to facilitate hearing the word of God. He is careful to say that the problem is not that God is not communicating with us; it is that we find it hard to discern the still, small voice in the daily clamor of life.
This book will be enormously useful to any person trying to find a way into prayer. For Foster, the greatest hurdle is the quieting of the mind. This has become even more challenging in today’s world with smart phones and social networking. Foster focuses on the practice of prayer. He supports his suggestions and ideas with personal experience. I appreciated his down–to-earth approach and emphasis on the use of the imagination as a catalyst into prayer. So often, the apophatic or imageless route is promoted as being the pinnacle. But with his years of experience in ministry, Foster encourages starting with what is simple and accessible. This is noteworthy.
I was most struck by his description of his own prayer time: essentially a half-hour period in a peaceful place. He chooses a solid, but comfortable chair and takes a cup of coffee along. He spends the first fifteen minutes in a form of lectio divina, followed by an equal time of listening. It is a very simple practice, but accessible to anyone. It requires little technique other than a commitment to being present and focused—neither of which is necessarily that easy to achieve!
I think spiritual directors will want this book added to the bookshelf of great resources. The target audience is the person wanting to pray but not really knowing how to begin, thus the essential content will probably be familiar for spiritual directors. However, it will be a useful resource for everyone starting out on the journey of spiritual exploration. Foster is a Quaker who writes within the Christian tradition, and he draws from the great sources of that tradition. Recommended reading is included at the end of the book, listing books by Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, and others. The text itself is scattered with useful quotes from a wide variety of sources, which lend weight to simple, accessible prose.
Margaret (Mags) Blackie is on the faculty in the department of chemistry and polymer science at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She works as a spiritual director in her spare time and participates in the training of spiritual directors in Cape Town. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.