I’ve always been fascinated by prayer beads. I suppose that’s because I grew up Baptist, and Baptists wanted nothing to do with religious objects, much less anything so “Catholic” as prayer beads. The grass is always greener and all that. I’ve thought about making my own prayer beads for a long time, but the idea never went anywhere. But here recently, two things happened.
First, I decided that when it comes to spiritual practice, I need to build on my strengths – and one of my strongest practices has always been prayer. My evening prayers have been the one constant in my practice over the past several years. They may be long or short, focusing on gratitude or devotion or desire or all of the above, but it’s a very rare night when I don’t pray.
Second, one Sunday last month Rev. Pam Wat preached on prayer and passed out little strings of four beads. She walked us through a prayer bead exercise as part of the sermon, and as she did, the idea clicked on how I could use these in my own practice (thanks, Pam!).
I started by listing people/deities/things I wanted to pray for/to/about every day: my family, my ancestors, the spirits of Nature, peace, justice, and so forth. I came up with twenty two, which I thought was a fairly auspicious number – it’s the number of Tarot cards in the Major Arcana. I added beads for the four Elements and Directions, then three more symbolizing death, birth, and the mystery in between, for a total of twenty nine.
Then I had to decide how many times to pray. My first thought was three, since I’m a Druid and we like doing things in threes. Then I thought about six, since Muslims pray five times a day and that would go one better. In the end, the decision was a practical one – there are four times a day when I’m pretty certain to be able to stop what I’m doing and focus: when I first get up, before lunch, before dinner, and before bed.
So far they’ve worked like, well, like magic. I get up, get dressed, reach for my wallet and keys and my hand lands on the prayer beads – an instant reminder to stop and pray (the morning prayers are intentionally the shortest). I leave them in my car and when I get back in the car go to lunch I see the beads and remember to pray. I put them on my wrist to take them in when I get home and they remind me to pray before dinner. I don’t need a reminder to pray at night, but they’re there anyway, and I put them on top of my wallet and keys for the next morning.
The string is much smaller than I had imagined (about four inches in diameter) and some of the beads aren’t as nice as the others, but they work: they remind me to pray, and they remind me of what I want to pray for/to/about.
I have some Catholic friends (OK, ex-Catholic friends) who tell me that the repetition of praying the Rosary can lead to trance and a true altered state of consciousness. These beads won’t do that – the prayers are too varied and at least so far most of them are free-form. Perhaps some day I’ll find or write prayers more suited for repetition and add an interlocking string to these. Or maybe not.
If you want to make prayer a regular part of your daily spiritual practice but you’re having trouble being consistent about it, I highly recommend prayer beads.