Monday, November 12, 2012

BookPastor >> "Sanctuary of the Soul" (Richard J. Foster)

TITLE: Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer
AUTHOR: Richard J. Foster
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011, (170 pages).

This is not just a book about prayer. It is a book that guides us toward a JOURNEY into meditation and prayer. Using the teachings of various spiritual pilgrims through the ages, Foster helps us to read them as guideposts in our spiritual pilgrimage. Foster calls this book as "Entering the Experience." He asks readers not to rush into the whole exercise, but to be patient to listen. Learn to recognize the still small voices outside and inside us. In three parts, Foster shows us the way by first laying the foundations of faith, stepping through meditative prayer, and finally, to deal with the difficulties of everyday distractions and problems surrounding our devotional lives.

Part One lays the foundation of learning to be still, to pause, to wait, and to listen for God who is speaking, who is teaching, and who is acting. The two Hebrew words "haga and siach" can be understood as "to mutter, to moan, to whisper, to reflect, to rehearse, to muse, and even to coo like the dove (Isa 59:11)." It calls us to cultivate a delicate familiarity of Jesus, that we are totally dependent on God to transform our heart. The central reality is this: "God is the ultimate form-er and trans-former of the human heart" (29). Three things accompany our seeking.
  1. We are always ASKING for God to change our heart to be more like Him.
  2. We are always LISTENING for the still small voice of God.
  3. We are always OBEYING the Spirit in all circumstances.
Learn to use imagination in prayer. Learn to read spiritually using practices like the Lectio Divina. Learn to affirm the centrality of Scriptures in our lives.

Part Two shows us the steps forward to meditative prayer. It is not a jump or a leap. It is a step. We begin where we are, and aim toward God with a sense of collectedness. Romano Guardini teaches:

"Prayer must begin with this collectedness. As said before, it is not easy. How little of it we normally posses becomes painfully clear as soon as we make the first attempt. When we try to compose ourselves, unrest redoubles in intensity, not unlike the manner in which at night, when we try to sleep, cares or desires assail us with a force they do not possess during the day. When we want to be truly 'present' we feel how powerful are the voices trying to call us away. As soon as we try to be unified and to obtain mastery over ourselves, we experience the full impact and meaning of distraction. . . Everything depends on this state of collectedness. No effort to obtain it is ever wasted. And even if  the whole duration of our prayer should be applied to this end only, the time thus used would have been well employed. For collectedness itself is prayer. . . Finally, if at first we achieve no more than the understanding of how much we lack in inner unity, something will have been gained, for in some way we would have made contact with that center which knows no distraction." (61-2)

It requires us to give a ready surrender, to repent and to confess of our sins. Then we learn to accept the ways of God. In our pristine humble posture, we learn to behold the presence of God. Our inward attentiveness to our soul helps us to discern God's voice and whisper, to enter into the sanctuary of God.

Part Three of the book is particularly interesting. It deals with three major themes. Firstly, it deals with the distracting or the wandering mind. For this, Foster urges us to go easy on ourselves, to be patient and wait for the dust of distractions to settle down. When that happens, we let our thoughts flow like appreciating poetry. Learn to appreciate the economy of words in poetry. Learn to go over and over again the phrases and words we read. More meaning can be gleaned through multiple readings. Learn to see a metaphor forming as we read. Move from words outside to forming a thought or an impression inside. Secondly, be aware of spiritual warfare. Learn from Jesus on how he manages the forty days being tempted in the wilderness. Totally resist the occultic practices the pagans and the demonic forces espouse. Beware of people who claim to be able to exorcise evil spirits. Do not give Satan too much credit. Pray instead for protection. Thirdly, Foster deals with some common questions about prayer and meditation. He gives practical answers like where and when to pray, and how physical demands on new parents can hinder meditative praying, how to meditate on select verses, and to recognize that every place can be sacred to God. What is most pertinent is to recognize that not every question need to be answered. Not every answer needs to be given. We need wisdom and discernment to know which question to ask, and which answer to discern for us.

My Thoughts

This is a simple but well thought out book, laid out in a way that promotes meditative reading and praying. Foster shows his deep knowledge of spiritual classics and devotional literature. Like a gentle spiritual guide, he offers easy steps to follow, and examples to illuminate the salient points. He shares a personal "Entering the Experience" to show us that the teachings are also applied to his own life. Personally, I like this book for the very inviting way it offers for readers to enter into the experience of meditative prayer. It does not list a time schedule. Instead, readers are free to plan their own. It does not fix our minds on any system. Instead, it frees us to move in or out of the practices of prayer and meditation. Above all, it is a lamp that lights up the path for us. When the path is well lit, the next step is ours to take.  Let me conclude with the words of Toyohiko Kagawa.

"Since I learned how to enter the forest of meditation, I have received sweet dewlike drops from that forest. I have found that the door to meditation is open everywhere and any time, at midnight, or at noonday, at dawn or at dusk. Everywhere, on the street, on the trolley, on the train, in the waiting room, or in a prison cell, I am given a resting place of meditation, wherein I can meditate to my heart's content on the Almighty God who abides in my heart. . . Those who draw water from the wellspring of meditation know that God dwells close to their hearts. For those who wish to discover the quietude of old amid the hustle and bustle of today's machine civilization, there is no way save to rediscover this ancient realm of meditation. Since the loss of my eyesight, I have been as delighted as if I had found a new wellspring by having arrived at this sacred precinct."


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