I was hoping to find the same penetrating and illuminating insights to the Psalms as can be found in Merton's writings about social issues. It wasn't that kind of book, but, nevertheless, this introduction to the Psalms is a little gem.
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.
Merton's book on Praying using the Psalms is a great introduction into this fabulous book of the Bible. It's exmaples and eloquence speak volumes in the development of a Christian's prayer life. I consider this book a must have classic to be read on an annual basis.