Posted by: Philip Rushton | July 23, 2012

Thomas Merton On Why We Struggle To Connect With The Psalms

Two weeks ago I preached on the topic of meditating on God. For David, prayer is not just about asking God for things. Instead, prayer is primarily about creating space to praise God, and meditate or fix our thoughts on God. This is how prayer becomes a two-way conversation. Thomas Merton has a great excerpt on why this type of prayer is important and why we struggle to implement it. I figured I would just quote him at length this week and let his words challenge and instruct us! This is taken from Mertons short book on titled, Praying the Psalms.

“To praise God!

Do we know what it means to praise? To adore? To give glory?

Praise is cheap today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable – everything is constantly being ‘praised.’ Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is ‘praised’ with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised. Praise has become empty. Nobody really wants to use it.

Are there any superlatives left for God? They have all been wasted on foods and quack medicines. There is no word left to express our adoration of Him who alone is Holy, who alone is Lord.

So we go to Him to ask help and to get out of being punished, and to mumble that we need a better job, more money, more of the things that are praised by the advertisements. And we wonder why our prayer is so often dead – gaining its only life, borrowing its only urgency from the fact that we need these things so badly.

But we do not really think we need God. Least of all do we think we need to praise him.

It is quite possible that our lack of interest in the Psalms conceals a secret lack of interest in God. For if we have no real interest in praising Him, it shows that we have never realized who He is. For when one becomes conscious of who God really is, and when one realized that He who is Almighty, and infinitely Holy, has ‘done great things to us,’ the only possible reaction is the cry of half-articulate exultation that bursts from the depths of our being in amazement at the tremendous, inexplicable goodness of God to men. The Psalms are all made up of such cries – cries of wonder exultation, anguish or joy. The very concreteness of their passion makes some of them seem disjointed and senseless. Their spontaneity makes them songs without plan, because there are no blueprints fro ecstasy.”


  1. “There are no blueprints for ecstasy.”
    Being surprised by ecstasy from God is one of the greatest delights of being a follower of the Way.

  2. I just finished reading Max Lucado’s Traveling Light, and thought it fit here very well. I liked it so much I have just begun to read it all over again! On the off chance you have not read it, I highly recommend it go on your list!
    hugs for James!!

  3. Philip, Thank you again for your reply to my other (my first to Intersect) post relative to Thomas Merton. It is this very extract (“Thomas Merton On Why We Struggle To Connect With The Psalms”) from Merton’s book that I found useful to a Christian understanding and praying of the Psalms. I particularly liked other passages in which he described how various (believe three) types of people pray (or really read) the psalms. He clearly directs those comments at RC priests (i.e., how they read the breviary). However, I believe that they can be interpreted to apply to us all in some manner. Regards, Jim

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