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Spiritual classic “Soul Feast” updated for a new generation

After 20 years, one of my favorite spirituality books has been refreshed for a new generation of readers. Author Marjorie Thompson explains why.

0664239242I’m an avid fan of Marjorie Thompson. Her book Soul Feast introduced thousands of people to Christian practices like fasting, hospitality, sacred reading, and developing a Rule of Life.

She writes with such simplicity and clarity. This virtue may appear obvious – what book worth reading doesn’t? But clarity is actually much harder than it sounds, especially when writers are trying to communicate about abstract topics like faith, God, and spiritual growth. Few do it as well as Thompson, which is why I quote from Soul Feast in my newest book, the devotional Flunking Sainthood Every Day.

I’m delighted that after 20 years, a gorgeous new edition of Thompson’s gem is now available. I interviewed her to find out what readers can look for in this updated version.


RNS: The first edition of Soul Feast became a spiritual classic. Why do you think the book has resonated with so many people?

Marjorie Thompson: I attempt to answer this question in the revised Introduction to the new edition, but frankly there’s a mystery to the book’s success I can only attribute to Grace. To the extent that I can analyze its success, it was “the right book at the right time.”  [Richard] Foster’s Celebration of Discipline had already been around for 18 years, crossing boundaries between evangelical and mainline readership, whetting appetites for more. Soul Feast was written primarily for a mainline Protestant audience still largely uninformed about such practices, at a time when more church leaders were seeing our need to reconnect with larger streams of Christian spirituality. I could only write the book with the ecumenical breadth that shaped my own spiritual journey, which helps account for its resonance with people of different backgrounds.

Readers tell me that part of the book’s success is the style of my language — invitational rather than imperative (avoiding the shoulds, oughts, and musts that have characterized Christian teaching for centuries), which fits the postmodern mindset. The greatest compliment I ever received was that this book represents “simplicity on the other side of complexity.” People respond best to profound truths expressed with clarity and simplicity, which I hope I achieved to some degree here. Finally, I suspect the emphasis on giving readers concrete ways to approach and test each spiritual practice has been part of the book’s enduring value and appeal.


RNS: What has changed for this new edition, and why?

MT: Big changes are the addition of a whole new chapter, “Reclaiming Sabbath Time,” and a substantial expansion of the final chapter on Rule of Life. In my retreat work and teaching, the subject of Sabbath Time has elicited increasing interest over the past 20 years — hardly surprising, given our culture’s loss of “free time” and resistance to valuing contemplative space in human life. I see Sabbath time as a larger container within which particular spiritual practices can be given space for nurture.

The expanded final chapter comes in response to many readers’ expressed desire for more guidance in developing a personal rule of life.

Beyond these chunks of new material, I’ve expanded the Introduction to take account of certain developments, particularly the sharp rise of people unaffiliated with any denomination/tradition, and the “emerging church” that offers shoots of hope amid the crumbling institutional forms we have known. I’m thrilled that Barbara Brown Taylor has provided a new Foreword to the book, and delighted that this new edition has restored the wider margins for readers’ journal notes, along with evocative artwork.


RNS: What’s next for you in your writing and speaking?

MT: I am just beginning to recover from the unexpected loss of my beloved husband, not five months ago. Slowly I will be moving back into a teaching ministry in 2015, starting with keynotes on corporate and personal spiritual practice at Georgetown College in early January. Teaching a class for Columbia Seminary’s spirituality program in March will give me a chance to develop initial ideas for a book I’ve had in mind for several years, exploring “the non-dominant divine.”

I’m excited that I will finally have a chance to start co-facilitating a Seasonal Series of retreats in the Circles of Trust model developed by Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal, beginning in April and continuing quarterly through April of 2016, at St. Mary’s Sewanee. I have also been invited to teach the first Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation in Singapore next October, my third trip to this fascinating city-state where I have developed some lovely friendships.

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