Thomas Merton's Prayer That Anyone Can Pray

Sunday, December 28, 2014 - 6:59am

Thomas Merton's Prayer That Anyone Can Pray

"It's no stretch of the imagination to say that Thomas Merton changed my life."

Thomas Merton is one of those figures in modern life that has had a profound impact on so many Catholics and non-Catholics alike. As Fr. James Martin, our podcast guest from last week, tells it, he was working in finance when one day he came home and began watching a documentary about the Trappist monk on public television.

Like many, Martin started out by reading Merton's famous autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Inspired by his words and his imperfections, Martin joined the Jesuit order two years after that initial encounter. Martin has written and spoken at length about Thomas Merton and how he's a model for what he "hopes to do and hopes to be."

At the end of our interview, Krista Tippett asked him to read one of his favorite passages from Merton's writings. Martin chose to recite this passage from Thoughts in Solitude, which he says is "a prayer everyone can pray":

"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 that 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 will I 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."

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Trent Gilliss

is the cofounder of On Being / KTPP and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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Send to self

"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 that 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 will I 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."

This prayer, I suggest, can not be said by anyone, for there are those of us who suggest that if there is an intelligence behind the existence of the universe, it is an entity about which we know nothing, let alone whether our actions should "please" it or not. The only thing we can say with certainty is that we are the means by which the universe perceives itself. Anything else is pure speculation.

Perhaps the word are like a finger pointing to the moon, I don't think we need to take them quite so literally. They express love, longing, and faith. I will be happy to pray this way.

I agree with your point Geoffrey but it raises another question : Why are we the means by which the universe perceives itself ?

I agree. Not everyone.

Simple and true. And universal.

This is my absolute favorite prayer. I literally keep it on my bathroom mirror where it is handy for me to say when I am getting ready in the morning. I know that sounds unspiritual, but looking at myself prompts me to ask who I am, what I stand for, and what I intend to do with my life. That prayer is both a comfort and an anthem.

if i had had the words, they would have matched exactly my feelings/thoughts/prayers. exquisite. exqisitely read. thank you ...

Greatness proven and shared (again.)

On Being is by far my 2014 gem find of the year.

Ears and eyes wide open for 2015!

Been a follower of Merton's writings since 1971. Always good to read from a sojourner who is fully human. Most can identify to some degree with Merton's reflections on the states of being human while attempting to touch the reality of God.

I will share this prayer for my New Year's Intention.

I agree that this is ecumenical. Thank you for shariing.

I will print this prayer and post it where I can reflect on it as often as I can.
God Bless

I disagree with James Martin's assertion that Thomas Martin's prayer is "a prayer that everyone can pray." As an atheist, I don't pray. There are at least 12 million people in the USA who feel the same as I do.

Interesting, honest comment, Alan.
For myself, I try to be a Christian and as a believer I cannot pray as only God prays. I simply breathe back Gods prayer.
Also I don't know what atheists believe in. The God we think we know is probably not God.

I suppose I should start my response with my own denomination (solidly in the atheist camp with inclinations toward spiritual thought and experiences).

I've always considered prayer to be a solemn action - usually making a request (most often, for grace, enlightenment, or when we're honest, that thing we want), but also just a reflection of, desire for, hope.

I think that prayer can be experienced by anyone, and this one's not so hard to generalize to us nonbelievers; it has specific language about God at the onset, and then frequent usage of the word "your" indicating God-agency, which is inconsistent with an atheistic prayer, but a wide range of the fears and desires Merton invokes are not dissimilar from many humans driven to search for understanding.

And in literal honesty, we could all pray any prayer. We just won't believe it. This particular prayer seems to have, at its root, a desire to trust. I'm not so much the praying sort - I was as a youth - but reading a prayer from time to time can ground me, like a good poem. Maybe that's what I want most out of a prayer, and this one worked for me.

Matt: Your words are beautiful and profound. The atheists I know are good people. They just use different terms. I am sad that atheists are so maligned in our country. I agree prayer can be so much more than certain words or based on a certain faith. Life is such a mystery. Let's love and respect each other. Trite, maybe, but necessary.

Alan, I respect atheists and know they can be as good or as bad as religious people. I think prayer is much broader than our understanding of it. Maybe you do pray by having good wishes or thoughts. Life and all its parts is a mystery we cannot fathom or define. I am sorry there's so much prejudice against atheists.

Alan, the key word was "can"...which means there is a the same way that you chose to read the words of Merton as offered...not forced upon you; in the same way that you chose to share your atheism, and in the same way that I chose to read your words...not forced on me...and to respond. My response is that in the same way you were offended by Merton's words, I have been offended by yours.

There is so much help and enjoyment that I get from On Being as I suspect Alan Ardanowski does, as well. I, like him, am an atheist and though I've tried, cannot find the help and comfort in believing that god is the answer. I am 81 years old with an open mind. It is man's aggressive brain that causes hatred and killings and I feel that nothing will ever change or harness that. If god exists, why doesn't he do something about that?

at the moment wish not to respond ~

God's curse of man and the world was His answer to all the hate, killing etc that stems from the evil in this world. When we could not live here without disobeying Him (and every generation struggles with this) He cursed us. Being outside the 3 dimensional world in which we live (above it, beyond it - however that looks) He sees and knows what we don't. Remember the Word tells us that He turned man out of Eden to keep him from eating of the Tree of Eternal life because then we'd be damned in our current state of disobedience (out of communion with Him). With that in mind, the whole of the Old Testament angry God (which I struggled with for years - I thought He was awfully cranky), is the story of God leading His people back to Him. The GOOD NEWS is Jesus, who came to pay the price for us so that we no longer have to rely on our own goodness (which we don't have anyway) to get to God and the Kingdom. His kingdom is not of this world, but it is real. This world is not His kingdom and at the same time it is because He saves it in a way that I don't pretend to understand, and the Word tells us that all creation groans together. CS Lewis much more eloquently states many of these ideas if you are interested in pursuing the subject. Mere Christianity is a good book to start with. When Jesus left this earthly life, He said that he "goes to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also". Clearly it is a place, and we will see Him there. Personally, I can't wait.

Ms. Doris, I will offer an answer to your question as best I understand it. Why doesn't God do something about all the hatred and killings, etc, in the world? Because it is not His to take away. What sets us apart from the Deity is the ability to exercise choice. He created us to make our own choices. Why? Well... who would want a mindless, perpetually pure drone society. In His pure love, he let us make our own decisions. So we have the choice to do good or do bad. We do both. Thankfully, most people are good. Now, why doesn't God do something about all those who suffer? He did. He created you and me. He allots grace to those of us who want to ease suffering and do good in this world. Oh, and He does answer prayers.
The answer is longer and more complicated than I can write about here.

He is talking about everyone..... who pray!

Hi Alan, I hope you find peace in what you are searching for at this site.

Alan,you have a right to your opinion on prayer but my question is what was your motive to even comment on a prayer?You had to go search for this prayer so therefore it was no way forced upon you.The only problem I have with atheists is the are constantly trying to convince everyone that they are intellectually superior because they don,t believe in the nonsense of the bible or a superior being .

This prayer has been framed and on my desk for many years.

I have always loved one of the prefaces at mass where it reads "lord our desire to thank you is itself your gift,

This prayer brings me peace of heart and mind,having confidence in God who sees all and knows all that's in my heart ,who knows me through and through,yet help me when I really need to know his will and provide the path and strenght to follow it

A prayer, I am told, is a pure thought placed into your heart for God to find. This is what Father Lewis is talking about, I feel. Though we try to follow the will of God... there is seldom proof for us to go on. Hence, the best we can do is to place ourselves in our most pure nature, into the heart of God's creation...and trust.

Thank you for your beautiful response to the Merton prayer and Father Lewis's response. "the best we can do is to place ourselves in our most pure nature, into the heart of God's creation ... and trust." I have a note on my mirror that says, "Never measure God's limitless power by your limited expectations." I have had many blessings in my 84 years, too many to be just serendipitous - so thanks be to God and for the many, many persons who have helped me find the path that continually shows me proof of an intelligence far beyond our own.

I will keep this prayer for the rest of my life as I have lived it for 81 years. I do not know what the road ahead has in store for me, but I do know He will always be with me!

thank you for that prayer

Thank you for this prayer.I need it right now in my life.Forever to try .

who is he talking to?

Pretty hard to say this out loud without shedding many tears ~ thank you for this spiritual shower tonight, maybe this New Year ( on a couple days ) will be a pleasant surprise for me as I repeat the words of trust. Thanks for being with me God ! Amen .

I'm just a grandmother searching for the words to leave my family about the true meaning of Love. This may be what I'm searching for,Thomas Merton once wrote,Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone we find it with another. Thank for the Prayer, Mrs. Bennett

I know this prayer by heart and say it every morning

Thank you!


I deeply appreciate the nurturing I receive from On Being!

Blissed out and move by the intimacy of God in prayer.. Perfect prayer to start the New year with so many directions ahead and feeling so much that I am free of worry and that it is all good

Myall-time favorite prayer!!!

To me this prayer represents the power of faith when things are uncertain. Thank you for sharing this prayer. In the past few weeks Thomas Merton's autobiography has been cited as a life changing call for others, I think this is a message for me to read it.

I have always loved the writings of Thomas Merton.....and taught many yrs. ago in a School of Nursing with his neice.....Have visited Getsemeny several times.......and live in Louisville where he had visited on many occasions...

beautiful reflection. As if saying May Your Will be done on me ....
Help me to do Your will.
Pray for us Thomas Merton.

Is this Merton or is it me? This prayer is exactly what I am feeling right now in the face of changes and challenges. Am I following His will or what voice am I following... mine, my conscience or His?I really hope He knows I am trying really hard to please Him and love Him...

I am often upset with the World News and the proliferation of hate. Mankind has often did great injustices to others for no reason except hate. How does one deal with this when their loved ones are gunned down, murdered, etc. There has to be a prayer that is universal. It may not change the world but it will change ones self. Thomas Merton's prayer is the one for me. Thank you for allowing me to express this thought.

i started reading Merton back in 1950 and his writings have always encouraged me to search for God. He stated on many occasions that if you are searching for God then you have already found Him. I have found this prayer to be a very good starting point in your search.

This prayer is so full of everything I feel. I thank Fr.Merton for his wisdom & prayers. His spirit lifts mine. All for the Glory of God..

Could I have Reflections each day please. Could I subscribe. Kerry

Early in sobriety after 42 yrs of drinking. This prayer is a description of my life and hopes today.
Thank you

I hope you are doing well.

A friend in recovery.

I have recently (this year) converted to Catholicism at the Easter Vigil. My journey to the Catholic Church included a number of Catholic writers however Thomas Merton had the greatest impact on me and continues to influence my thought and ideas with each new reading.

Great prayer.

The beautiful words in this prayer will embraced us all!

For your contemplation

About 25 years ago when I was going through a divorce I went to the library. I was looking for a book that would help me find peace and truth. I had no idea who Thomas Merton was but his books seemed to call out to me so I took a few out. Since that day my spirituality, Catholic faith and personal relationship with God has grown and has brought purpose to my life.
"This is one of my favorite Prayers - thank you"

Huge fan to Thomas Merton for many years. Have been visiting the Abbey for over forty years on both weekly and weekend retreats. What a wonderful, relaxing, spiritual, holy place. Everyone should try to get there at least once in their life.

When I began to read Thomas Merton's books many years ago, I realized that my search for God had to be outside the box.
I knew in my heart there was so much more than ritual and doctrine. As I maintain my Catholic Faith which I cherish I have found that it is in the stillness where I find God.

"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 that 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 will I 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."

It's similar to the Prayer of Surrender of St. Philaret of Moscow:

O Lord, I know not what to ask of Thee.
Thou alone knowest what are my true needs.
Thou lovest me more than I myself know how to love.
Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me.
I dare not ask either a cross or consolation. I can only wait on Thee.
My heart is open to Thee.
Visit and help me, for Thy great mercy's sake.
Strike me, and heal me; cast me down, and raise me up.
I worship in silence Thy holy will and Thy inscrutable ways.
I offer myself as a sacrifice to Thee.
I put all my trust in Thee.
I have no other desire that to fulfill Thy will
Teach me how to pray.
Pray Thou Thyself in me. Amen -- St. Philaret of Moscow

Then there's this one:

My God,

I frankly do not understand your ways with me.
You fill me with desires that people have been canonized for having and for carrying out.
Then you tell me not to carry them out, and you tell me in such a way that it would seem to be a sin if I carried them out.
Then you make the desires grow more and more until they consume the very foundations of my life.
Are you trying to kill me?


My family is in some deep distress right now and it seems God is silent. This prayer is very helpful.

Certainly doesn't sound like anything I would be comfortable in praying. "Lord God"? Really? Sounds medieval. And the rest sounds like begging. My preference is to merge with the infinite, not grovel before some unproven dictatorial overlord. This would only work for some Christians and possibly Muslims. Bad headline.

Very insightful

I found myself wondering why God would create a person (literally from the same dirt that makes up our planet) and imbue him with a spirit. The spirit is seldom at peace with the flesh. What possible reason could the creator of the universe have for making such a creature AND give him the will and right to love Him or fully reject Him. Why put up with the aggravation? Satan surly must have been apoplectic with rage. After all, Lucifer was God's most beautiful and cunning creation. Certainly, he would have felt that he was greater in all respects to these half-animals imbued with a spirit. Then, it dawned on me that He created us for the same reason (but more so) that we chose to have children. To have someone to love, and in return, hope to be loved. There is no certainty (as a parent) that the child that we lavish with our love will return that love. They have the ability and the will to love you or reject you completely. Is there a parent of a teenager that has not experienced the rage of a teenager when they look you in the eye and say the most stinging words a parent can hear, "I HATE YOU!" How much must God's heart break with His billions of adopted children spitting out those three words at Him. In the end, a parent responds in the only way that we can. Forgive them and try to reassure them that they are loved more deeply that they can understand. If we mere creatures can do that for our children, how much greater must God's love be for us. He already knows that we will try, and fail, over and over and over again but He still persists with infinite love and forgiveness. Non-believers insist that there is no God. Often, as proof they will argue that a loving and omnipotent creator that allows death and destruction is no god at all. A real deity, if there were such a being would "do something about it." I'm not certain what more proof is required than a God who Himself entered into our broken world and allowed Himself to suffer OUR judgement and OUR condemnation and was beaten, spit on, and nailed to a tree and died a horrible death to graphically demonstrate the limit of His love for us. If that example doesn't suffice, I can only conclude that NO amount of evidence would satisfy. Which doesn't make my angry, rather it makes me sad. All of us have our doubts and anxiety, it's part of what makes us humans. If you doubt the existence of God, the only humble advice I can offer is, sincerely look for Him. You may not like what you find but find Him you will.

Wonderful man, Thomas Merton! He travelled in the Himalays, and was well known to Indian people as a holy man. He taught and supported the Berrigan Brothers, whose opposition to the Vietnam was landed them in prison for some time. Though never having met Merton in person, I love him!

When my 43-year-old brother died of cancer, I was asked to give the eulogy, and included Thomas Merton's prayer. It was meant to offer solace to my brother's soul, and it gave me refuge and solace as well. God bless and love you, Father Louis!

This prayer resonates very deeply in my heart. I have chosen a path of not-knowing where the path or course in this deep ocean of love will take me. It is not always pleasant, but it is always rewarding. There is no destination; there is just swimming on and on.

Lord I don't know what to do but my eyes are upon you. Help me to do the next right thing. I have let your lamp upon my path dim. Forgive me. I crave your lantern for my small steps through the misty flats.
Praise you my Precious Advocate.

What a nice contemplation (prayer)! I loved it, thank you!

I have been blessed to know my Creator's presence since I was very young, I am 77 years old now.
When fearful, I often open my hand then hold on. Sadly I have often wondered why hard times, earthquakes, typhoons, tornados, etc. always seem to happen to those who are poor and have so little to start with, even while I understand that each occasion is an opportunity for others to help, still it seems those whose lives are a constant struggle seem to be the ones, who continue to have additional trials. All I know is that I don't know, but I will continue to trust God, I believe God is love and I know I cannot know the mind of God, no matter how I try. So as I know there is love, I must trust.

My Dad had Merton's Prayer on his wall. He started to study Merton's works in the early 60s. He introduce his children to Merton and we will be forever thankful for this help us discover our true self and in doing that discover God inour very being.

I saw this the first time in the Monastery of the Holly Spirit at Conyers, GA during a retreat and it left a lasting impression on me and has been with me ever since.

There are three prayers that are key to the grief counseling, children's counseling and the recovery work I do with addicts, and these are 1. The Serenity Prayer, 2. The Lord's Prayer, and 3. Merton's 'Mortal' Prayer as I call it. I agree with Fr. James Martin when he says that 'anyone can pray Merton's Prayer', and I would add, 'at any time'!

The words are a source of reassurance and peace for those who have made conscious contact with the God of our understanding, seek to answer that call, and long to fulfill our purpose. All about a walk in faith.... Thank you Fr. Louis.

Thank you for this honest prayer. I have already shared it with a new aquaintance. I am eager to read more of Thomas Merton. I have been hearing his name frequently recently and consider it a call to action or an awakening to read more in depth about my faith. My soul thanks you for writing and sharing this eloquent piece.

I was adopted from Ireland, specifically, a Srs. of the Sacred Heart Convent/Orphanage back in Sept. of 1955. A condition of my adoption, which my adoptive mother (raised Lutheran) obsessively adhered to, was that I be raised Catholic. My Catholic education began in 1st grade and continued, unabated, through HS graduation. While I've never had a problem, per se, with the will of God. I've had plenty of inner struggles with those (priests and nuns) who would 'interpret' that Will, on my behalf?
Dr. Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds cast) seems to have some significant struggles of his own. Thomas Merton seems to have played a role in the development of Spencer Reid's out look on life. One of the reasons I watch the show.
Thanks for the opportunity to express

Thomas Merton was a mystic who, in my very humble opinion, had and still has beyond his death, the power of influence to change lives as he has opened the door to the necessity of having a spiritual life for me.
I am not a Roman Catholic but I am open to the teaching of God's love from whomever God's appointed teacher may be.

Father Santa sent me to this prayer.I suffer scrupulosity 66 years ago(did the general confession more 30 times;did the confession 4 times a day.....always fear....doubt if I have offended GOD).Now I feel better with this prayer.THANKS A LOT.

I found the following little prayer about 36 years. It was the last prayer in a small yellow booklet containing just 4 prayers; one prayer on each page, the first, a prayer of Saint Francis Assisi. This last little prayer appeared as though it were by an Anonymous writer. It has been my strength through incredible hardships over the years and continues to be today. I just went onto a search engine with a few words from the beginning of the prayer to see if I could by some chance find the author... and while the words are not exact, I think it fair to say that it was inspired by the above passage from the writing of Thomas Merton or perhaps or perhaps it was Thomas Merton that was inspired by the words of this little prayer; I have no way to authenticate my version, thus no way to know for certain who inspired who. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to have found this very similar prayer by Thomas Merton. Both are very beautiful, but the humility and poetic simplicity of the version that's been at my side all these years will remain as such.

I just wanted to share this version with all who might have an interest:

Dear God,

I am not sure where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead.
I cannot be certain
Where it will end.

I do not really know myself.
Sometimes I fool myself
Pretending to follow Your will
Yet knowing I do not.

But I believe this
That the desire to please You
Does in fact,
Please You.

I hope I have that desire
in everything I do.

And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may not know it
At the time.

Therefore I will trust You always
And when I seem to be lost
I will never be afraid

Because I know You will never
Leave me to face my troubles

Thank You, dear God
For all You have given me
For all You have taken from me
For all You have left me.