Reviews of the Merton Prayer: An Exercise in Authencity

By Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore, Dallastown, PA

(1st Short Review)

The Merton Prayer: An Exercise in AuthenticitySteven Denny (ACTA Publications) $19.95OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

It isn’t every day that a conversation I share with somebody ends as a footnote, but it’s fun to see here my story of an older friend who knew Tom Merton. Much more importantly, this book is a groundbreaking work, reflecting on how the famous “Merton Prayer” influenced the author in his own struggles and complex journey in life. Somewhat like the more famous “Serenity Prayer” many people know the basic gist, but not the full prayer and backstory. Steve Denny explains the spirituality of Father Merton when he prayed for the grace to desire to follow God’s will, even though it isn’t fully revealed. This “unknowing” can be a comfort, as Steven explains, and forms us in the deep art of listening and trusting.

In each chapter of The Merton Prayer Mr. Denny offers the Biblical basis for and some personal stories about each phrase of the prayer. I hope to write about it more but wanted to suggest it here, now. Let’s face it —many college grads, especially these days, have no idea what is coming next. This could help.

Congrats to my friend Steve Denny for getting this book published and to ACTA for doing such a nice job — glossy paper and all. Kudos.

Here is the prayer itself, taken from Merton’s book Thoughts in Solitude.

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.

By the way, for real fans or those wanting to give a somewhat nicer edition, we can order this also in hardback. It goes for $24.95.

By Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore, Dallastown, PA

(2nd Long Review)

The Merton Prayer: An Exercise in Authenticity  Steven A. Denny (ACTA) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

I have mentioned this before, but it might have been missed as I was suggesting it on one of our BookNote newsletters about books to give to college graduates or maybe in one about deepening our capacities for spiritual discernment. It is such a fine and interesting and informative (and formative) book, it fits here nicely on this list. It isn’t your typical Christian self-help formulaic book and doesn’t offer jazzy talk about having more faith.

My friend Steven Denny is a former pastor and seminary prof who became a lawyer. Let’s just say he’s seen some stuff, experienced some ups and downs. At some point in his life, he discovered the famous one-page chapter in Thomas Merton’s wonderful book Thoughts in Solitude that (you will remember if you’ve seen it) contains nothing but the prayer. Many know (or maybe have seen a Facebook meme) with a line from it, perhaps the part about not knowing where we are going or not seeing the road ahead. Or maybe the part about not knowing how to please God but how maybe the desire to please God actually pleases God. The prayer is honest, searching, clear, and powerful. It changed Steven’s life.

This book looks at the often-cited prayer and, or so it seems to me, makes a valuable contribution to Merton studies because there isn’t anything like it. Merton fan or not, though, it is a tremendous resource to help you explore your own interior life, your motivations, your desires. There are professionally done photographs to enhance the book and a good section introducing the life and ministry of the Kentucky Trappist monk. Merton really was a fascinating figure (we have a lot of books by and about him) and you’ll love Mr. Denny’s overview. He wants you to know something about the young monk who wrote the prayer, and then he wants you to embrace it for yourself.

To do that, you learn a bit about Steven’s own journey and how he used and was transformed by this deceptively simple prayer. 

As I noted in my earlier review, the book not only includes the artful photos for visual imagery but six Scriptural studies that stood out to the author and confirm Merton’s words as “Biblical”. (He’s a former preacher, a teacher of New Testament Greek and a practicing trial attorney, so he knows how to see connections and make a point.) Only such a guy would talk about “exegeting” Merton’s words and get away with it. But exegete them he does, helping us understand and more deeply appreciate their real meaning — as he puts it, “ask and keep on asking about, making your asking a matter of daily habitual behavior.” Keep turning it, the Rabbis used to say.  He even has discussion questions to help you process this or even use it in a small group of trusted friends on the journey.

As artful, spiritual formation writer Judith Valente puts it,

Steven Denny provides us with a long overdue exploration of The Merton Prayer, using a kind of lectio divina — a slow, contemplative, sacred reading — of each phrase


By Mary K. Doyle, Author — Seven Principles of Sainthood, The Rosary Prayer by Prayer, Young in the Spirit, Navigating Alzheimers, The Alzheimer’s Spouse

Steven Denny, author of The Merton Prayer: An Exercise in Authenticity illustrates how words are powerful, both the ones we say out loud and those that ramble in our heads. Author Steven Denny claims that a group of words written by Thomas Merton that begin with “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going” changed his life. And he isn’t the only one. Denny offers fourteen reflections on this prayer with color photographs, scriptural passages, personal stories, and questions designed to stimulate serious and deep reflection on the profound words of the Merton Prayer.

By a Reader to the Publisher

I was away over the weekend when the The Merton Prayer:  An Exercise in Authenticity arrived.  After a very long day I opened the book.  First, I must tell you, I did not know the words to Merton’s prayer.  When I read the first two lines (“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going”) my mouth dropped open and I was “God-Smacked.”  The last words my mother said before she died were “I don’t know where I am going.”  This is a great book.  The Holy Spirit is moving among us with this prayer.