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Praying the Psalms Paperback – July 1, 1956
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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.
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.
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!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well written book on praying the Psalms. It is very short: less than 50 pages. Merton is always with good, with numerous insights.Published 2 months ago by W. Moore
Although Merton is a great Catholic mind-this booklet didn't really cover anything of great significance. Read morePublished 9 months ago by John O.
Thomas Merton is Thomas Merton You love him or you don't Anyone who enjoys thoughts on life and living and likes to dwell a while will Like Brother Merton. Read morePublished 9 months ago by linda bennett
I am very disappointed in this book by Thomas Merton. For one thing it doesn't have the depth of thought that Merton is so well known for. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Hikin Den
I liked this book. It is very much like Bonnehoeffer's book on the Psalms. I preferred Bonnehoeffer's a little bit more than Merton's, but both are worth the read. Read morePublished 16 months ago by A24AW