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Praying the Psalms Paperback – July 1, 1956

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Editorial Reviews


Merton shows us how to draw out the richness of worship from the psalter and to use it to achieve the peace that comes from submission to God's will and from perfect confidence in him. --Catholic Review Service.

About the Author

Thomas Merton (1915–1968), Catholic convert, Cistercian monk and hermit, poet, contemplative, social critic, and pioneer of interreligious dialogue, was a seminal figure of twentieth-century American Christianity. The one hundredth anniversary of his birth is being celebrated in 2015.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Liturgical Press (July 1, 1956)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814605486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814605486
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.2 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has millions of copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism and entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960's. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States." For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk's trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dali Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Bauer on December 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
I was hoping to find the same penetrating and illuminating insights to the Psalms as can be found in Merton's writings about social issues. It wasn't that kind of book, but, nevertheless, this introduction to the Psalms is a little gem.
The beginning starts off like a set of frequently asked questions about the Psalms-an old fashioned catechism of sorts. At worst, some parts read like theological pious platitudes. The book was written in 1955, and much of it has a pre-Vatican II veneer. Merton seems to address Roman Catholics only. When he mentions the church, he means the institutional church, and he stresses obedience. He doesn't overdo these things. I just noticed them.
Merton centers the Psalms on Christ and the church. He extracts teachings about the Psalms from Saint Augustine as well as Saint Ambrose. Defying the repressive stereotype of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, Merton addresses the issue of emotion, both in the Psalms and in the one who prays them. What I did find very insightful was the idea that controlled emotion, because it is controlled, is often experienced as more intense than otherwise. This idea is a good counterweight to the unhinged emotion of some members of the post-Vatican II, Charismatic movement.

In the second half of the book, Merton delves into individual as well as groups and categories of Psalms. The main thrust of the book is to prepare the devout to begin to cultivate the interior life. What I did find illuminating is Merton's explanation of why we should praise God. He claims that, in doing so, we can help sense and cultivate an appreciation for God's love for us. I think there is certain emotion logic to that statement. It would be immensely therapeutic for anyone. Lastly, Merton holds hold up Mary, the mother Jesus, as a model of the interior life, for us to emulate. And that is a nice counterweight to the masculine harshness of obedience.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Even though Mertons work is 44 years old it is very for today. This book helps you focus and understand the Psalms and outs them in a today view. I highly recommend this book for focusing on the Psalms and relating themt o today. In addition I have found all of Mertons work to be very realastic and one the layperson can put into daily use.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Anchoress on October 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book answered many questions I had for years about the Psalms and difficulties I had in praying the Psalms. It was a real eye-opener for me! I won't go into detail because I don't want to spoil the beauty of the surprise awaiting the readers of this wonderful little book. It is a short and easy read and opens the beautiful world of the Psalms to those seeking a deeper understanding. I discovered it when my spiritual director loaned me his copy to read, and I am ever grateful for the revelations gained from this little book. So when I found it at, I had to purchase a copy to share when the occasion arises...and it has!
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Smith VINE VOICE on July 8, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This slim volume is an introduction to praying the psalms; it is not an introduction to praying the psalms within the Liturgy of the Hours. The intended audience is unclear - it begins with a recommendation to read a book in French ... a task not all of us are up to. In introducing the benefits of praying the psalms, Merton notes "The words and thoughts of the Psalms spring not only from the unsearchable depts of God, but also from the inmost heart of the Church..."
In discussing how we should pray the psalms, he notes "But the subjective fruit of this divine and universal prayer, ... depends on how faithfully we make the sentiments of the Psalms our own." In this discussion, Merton makes two statements that fix him in time. First, he states that the father of a family should lead family prayer. Second, his view of praying the psalms is monastic - focusing inward/God-ward - rather than lay which is focused on the world and God. (See Charles E. Miller's Together in Prayer for a dicussion of the outward/apostolic focus.)
Merton's discussion on how to pray the psalms focuses on classifying the psalms: psalms delighting in the law of the Lord, psalms of luminous peace, psalms of the journey to the New Jerusalem ...
The strength of this book is the translation of the psalms that he uses - The Psalms, A Prayer Book published by the Benzinger Brothers, Inc. It is also a book of interest to diehard Merton fans. For others, there are better introductions to praying the psalms available.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Steven Isaak on December 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Merton's book on Praying using the Psalms is a great introduction into this fabulous book of the Bible. It's exmaples and eloquence speak volumes in the development of a Christian's prayer life. I consider this book a must have classic to be read on an annual basis.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By SBM on January 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
As one who has recently discovered the beauty of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, I have found Thomas Merton's little treatise on praying the Psalms to be both enriching and encouraging... encouraging me to look to the whole Psalm for the fullness of the meaning intended by each Psalmist (the LofH often uses only part of a psalm for the daily reading.)

His listing of the various types of psalms by number makes it an easy reference for choosing a particular theme for one's prayer.

Typical of the meditational writers of the 1950s (before Vatican II) he does speak of obedience and paternal leadership in prayer,etc, but are these qualities too old fashioned for our troubled times? Maybe not!
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