I grew up with an acquired a skepticism for anything ritualistic. Ritual = dry and dead. Liturgy = no room for the Spirit. Prayer beads = Catholics praying to Mary. Everyone knows that rosaries are for Catholics.
One of my best friends growing up was Catholic, so through our discussions (all 10 year olds stay up at slumber parties discussing theology, right?) and my occasional visits to Mass, I was exposed to some High Church. But since we disagreed on theology, we obviously couldn't practice our faith in the same way, right?
It wasn't until last year when we briefly attended an Anglican church on home leave, that I experienced the beauty of liturgy. It was a time of many transitions - moving out of our apartment, finishing language school, living in different places in the US for 8 months, having a new baby, preparing to return to China in a new apartment and new teaching position. In all this transition, my spirit felt as tumultuous as our ever shifting environment.
We weren't able to attend the Anglican church very often, but when we did, I marveled at the consistency and connection - we joined with brothers and sisters near and far reading the same passages and saying the same prayers. The repeated words and actions had more meaning each week and allowed my mind to focus. I loved kneeling to pray, taking time to confess sins and acknowledge forgiveness, and kneeling at the alter to receive communion. I loved participating in communion every week.
When we returned to China, I found myself craving liturgy. So much transition left me feeling tense and adrift. My attempts at "Quiet Time" were often vague and unfocused. I began searching for consistency and connection.
I started reading the daily lectionary. I briefly looked into prayer beads but wasn't sure how they really worked. I found the basic liturgy for the Anglican service online and read the words to myself throughout the day.
I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth...Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth...Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against You and against our neighbors...Almighty God, who forgives all who truly repent, have mercy upon you...
It wasn't quite the same as gathering with others, but it was soothing to my soul.
Over the past year, we have become much more settled, but I have not lost my love of liturgy. A few months ago, after reading a friend's post about her discovery of prayer beads, I decided this was something I really wanted to try out. I ordered a beautiful set of prayer beads from a studio called Prayerworks (actually in Oxford, Ga!), plus a chaplet for Juliana.
As I have started using prayer beads, here is what I have discovered: They aren't mystical, and they are really helpful! Protestant/Anglican prayer beads are different from a Catholic rosary in that there are not specific prayers. You have quite a bit of freedom in what prayers you want to say and how you want to use them. They are a guide, a tool, helping you to focus through kinesthetic involvement. Honestly, who doesn't have trouble concentrating during prayer?
The prayer beads form the same basic shape as the rosary. They start with the cross, then an "Invitatory Bead," an invitation into prayer. This particular studio added a "Resurrection Bead," as a reminder of the life of Christ. Four "Cruciform Beads" form the shape of the cross and in between are 7 "Week Beads." The structure and number of beads are all symbolic.
Most often when I use my beads, I follow a slight variation of a simple prayer form outlined in the brochure that came with the beads.
Cross: Loving God
Invitatory Bead: Thank you for calling me into your presence
Resurrection Bead: By the blood of your Son, Jesus, who tore the veil of separation
1st Cruciform Bead: Lord, I praise you for...
(use the first Week Beads to praise different attributes of God)
2nd Cruciform Bead: Lord, I ask forgiveness for...
(Use the second Week Beads to confess your sins. I am actually rather out of practice with daily confession of sins, but it is such a good chance to step out of the vague guilt of failure, acknowledge my sin, and then embrace forgiveness. I use the 7th bead to acknowledge the forgiveness I have received).
3rd Cruciform Bead: Lord, I pray for...
(Use the third set of Week Beads to lift up prayer concerns. Usually for me, each bead represents a different person who is on my heart that day.)
4th Cruciform Bead: Lord, I thank you for...
(Use the fourth set of Week Beads to practice gratitude, thanking God for his mercies throughout the day).
Resurrection Bead: Christ is risen, Alleluia!
Invitatory Bead: The doxology
Cross: In the name of Jesus, Amen.
I also like to use the beads to help with meditating on Scripture verses. When I do this, I generally repeat the entire verse at each Cruciform and focus on certain words as I go through each bead. In a longer verse, I will focus on one section in each set of Weeks. For Example:
1st Cruciform: God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
First Week: God is love...GOD is love...God...God IS love...Is...God is LOVE...Love.
Second Week: He who abides in love...ABIDES in love...I abide in love...Abide...Abides IN love...Abides in LOVE...Love.
When I do this, I return to the first cruciform bead at the end and repeat the whole verse once more.
Juliana also loves using her chaplet each night for a simple nightly prayer.
Cross: Dear God
Invitatory Bead: Thank you for inviting me to pray
Resurrection Bead: By the blood of Jesus
1st Cruciform: Thank you God for...
(Use each week bead to thank God for something)
2nd Cruciform: Please bless...
(Use each week bead to remember a certain person)
Resurrection Bead: Jesus is alive!
Invitatory Bead: Thank you for loving me
Cross: In Jesus' name, Amen
So simple, right? It's just like...praying. But with focus. I find that holding the beads and rolling them over in my fingers grounds me. When my thoughts drift off, it is easy to draw them back and pick up exactly where I was. The beads remind me of the reverence and beauty of prayer.