- Contemplative Prayer: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century by James P. Danaher, and: Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer by Richard J. Foster
Given current interest in the practices of meditation and contemplation across the religious spectrum and in the academy, the appearance of two books on the topic from within the evangelical sphere of Christianity is noteworthy. James Danaher, author of Contemplative Prayer: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century, teaches philosophy at a Christian & Missionary Alliance College near New York City, and [End Page 281] Richard Foster, author of Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, is a popular writer, speaker, and founder of the church renewal organization, Renovaré.
Of the two, Danaher is less well known in Christian spirituality circles. His other publications such as Jesus After Modernity: A Twenty-First Century Critique of Our Modern Concept of Truth and the Truth of the Gospel (Wipf, 2011) and Eyes That See, Ears That Hear: Perceiving Jesus in a Postmodern Context (Liguori/Triumph, 2006), identify his research interests and the lens through which he examines contemplative prayer—critiques of modernism in light of a postmodern hermeneutic. Foster's contemporary classic, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (HarperCollins, 1978), launched the then young, evangelical Quaker into the forefront of evangelicals retrieving the heritage of classical spiritual disciplines largely ignored or forgotten. His more recent Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home (HarperOne,1992) is a compendium of the great variety of prayer practices within the Christian tradition.
Contemplative Prayer is Danaher's first book-length treatment of the subject of prayer. He states his aim in a straightforward manner: "This book is about prayer, and about how prayer brings us to know God" (xiii). The reader will find both less and more than this broad claim. "Less" in that the author has in mind a very particular kind of prayer, namely, spending time with God in silence; "more" in that the majority of the book deals with subjects other than prayer proper, mostly theological topics of concern to the author vis-à-vis the postmodern lens.
The first four chapters set a big-picture framework within which to understand contemplative prayer: twenty-first century postmodernism which, like the Christian mystical tradition, appreciates the limits of objective understanding and values mystery; an understanding of love as being attentive to the one with whom one is in love (drawing on the work of twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gassett); prayer as learning to be present to a God who is omnipresent, i.e., always present to us; and, given our assumed false identity based on social status, our occupation, power, or wealth, prayer as an "opportunity to assume our ultimate identity of who Jesus says we are" (37).
Chapter 5 speaks most directly to the practice of prayer as "get[ting] out of our head . . . since when we are in our head we are in control" (39) entering liminal space "when our old understanding breaks down and for a time our experience of the world may be without explanation" (40). The author offers two practical suggestions common to other books on contemplative prayer: (1) simply letting our thoughts go as they pass through our minds, not taking them seriously; (2) using a mantra to eliminate ideas.
The remaining chapters pick up themes from earlier chapters and flesh out the author's theological convictions. God has no interest in us becoming sinless, only more forgiving; this is why God "made us with hearts prone to wander" (47) so that our repeated experience of failure might turn us toward God in repentance and, experiencing forgiveness ourselves, we become more forgiving (Chapter 6). Sin is rooted in the internal things that distract us from prayer—the Sermon on the Mount provides the list—long before we exhibit sinful behavior (Chapter 7). A satisfaction theory of atonement is an...