Praying with beads is a spiritual practice I have started this year. Several months ago I was introduced to making Episcopal/Anglican prayer beads by twisting and making knots out of colored twine. I was impressed with how lovely and utilitarian the other workshop attendees’ prayer beads were. Mine, on the other hand, had uneven distances between the knots. There is supposed to be seven evenly spaced knots followed by a larger space and then a larger knot.
The purpose of the mini-workshop session was to construct the string of beads, not on how to use them. I went away curious about the beads. What is their history? How are they used? Might their use be helpful to me?
The history of using objects fingered or held in the hand goes back thousands of years. In the Hebrew Bible, God instructs the Israelites to make knots on the fringes of their prayer shawls to help them remember and keep the commandments. In the early Christian church people used pebbles, and later folks tied knots in the cords round their waists.
The use of prayer beads is known around the world in many religions, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist, to name a few.
It was in the Roman Catholic Church that the rosary was developed to help people learn and tell the salvation story of Jesus Christ through three sets of mysteries: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. A recent Pope added the Luminous Mysteries. In the five decades for each mystery the Hail Mary is prayed, and the Our Father is prayed on the bead in between each decade.
The Episcopal/Anglican prayer beads have four sets of seven beads (called weeks) with a space and a single bead and another space separating the ‘weeks.’ There are thirty-three beads included in the prayer beads because Jesus lived that many years.
Kristen Vincent in the Upper Room (January-February, 2013 issue) suggests:
“The first seven beads reminded me to praise God for specific traits of actions; the second set of seven, to confess seven places where I had failed or needed God’s help; the next to intercede for seven persons or situations; and the last, seven gifts or graces for which to thank God. Over time, I experimented with using the beads, such as praying with scripture. My favorite was to choose a short verse such as ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ and repeat it as I fingered each bead in turn. This allowed me to listen to God in a way I had not before.”
When I received the January-February issue of the Upper Room, I began by using Vincent’s suggestions. As I have meditated on the Daily thoughts and scriptures for each day’s reading in the Upper Room, I have evolved my own rhythm and sequence. “The Light and Peace of Christ” is my prayer on the separating beads. With the first set of seven I finger slowly: faith; hope; love; joy; my ministry of writing; my ministry teaching; my ministry pastoral care. The next weeks vary. Asking God’s blessings, I might use each bead to pray for specific persons or situations. I may use one set to be thankful for specific blessings I received that day. There are times when I ask for guidance.
I am thankful for the practice of praying using beads. This practice enhances my prayer life, opening insights, comfort and hope.