the “merton prayer”


“Prayer had its great place. If so many people love and revere the “Merton Prayer”–spoken together at the beginning of many Merton gatherings and no doubt in other venues–that must be because it starts from a position of uncertainty, our position of uncertainty, and prays from THERE. Capturing in simple words the hope of an utterly uncertain human being, in later lines it discovers faith with the warm certainty of a modern psalmist. It is from his book of 1958, “Thoughts on Solitude,” but long since released from there to wander the world and find a home in many people’s minds:

‘My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.’

As Merton demonstrates without meaning to do so, the mature seeker of truth can possess wonderful, life-giving confidence: he or she has a flexible mind, a heart that has learned to respond and wait and reflect, a fund of experience at many levels from openness to the “ruach Elohim,” the spirit that blows where it will, to openness to others, creatures, plants, landscapes, skies–to all that is, including oneself.

What a joy to be so, to have earned that confidence. And yet the seeker is also acutely aware of his or her ignorance and fragility; that the end is not yet and the end is unknowable; that faith can tell us what is to be but faith must be handled like rare tea, not to be spilled in all directions, not to be wasted. The seeker loves the journey, no matter how hard.

“Can I tell you,” Merton once asked, “that I have found the answers to the questions that torment the man of our time? …When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of ‘answers.’ But as I grow old in the monastic life and advance further in solitude, I become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions…. I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts….” He need not explore alone.”

–Roger Lipsey, a longtime contributor to Parabola Magazine on the inner search of Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton from his forthcoming book “We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope: Reflections to Honor his Centenary (1915-2015).”


6 thoughts on “the “merton prayer”

  1. Those words “ruach elohim” are very powerful, as a mantra, in my experience. You kind of have to learn to pronounce if if you haven’t been hearing it in a synagogue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So true about the seeker loving the journey no matter how hard. I was also struck by the writers words on questioning and how what matters most is the experience. I used to be so sure when I was younger, so certain of so many things. That’s changed with age. In a way it’s more interesting not knowing for sure. Certainty brings with certain blindness to everything outside that circle of light.

    Liked by 1 person

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