On my journey of exploring contemplative prayer tools, I've tried many things. Naturally, some prayer disciplines work for me better than others (I wrote a little about my prayer struggles recently at MinistryMatters.com). Some prayer disciplines work for me in seasons. One thing I've learned about me and my personality (that remains consistent - in an ironic way) is that I like variety in my prayer life. And I'm realizing this is true for many others as well. How we connect can't be nearly as important as our desire to connect! As Psalm 145:28 reminds us, when our motive is sincerely to connect with God, God is indeed as close as a whisper. And, I'm certain the tools we use to connect with God are much more about us than they are about God. So, while I have my favorite ways to pray, I believe being open to trying new tools is a great way to grow my prayer life.
So, it was with openness and excitement that I discovered a book from the Upper Room about Prayer Beads by Kristen Vincent. The book caught my eye after an experience I had on a silent retreat at a local convent with my spiritual director. I am an extrovert, so silent retreats may seem difficult for those of us who use words more than others. However, I love my times of silent retreat. I find they help me deepen my other senses and tap into parts of my soul that often get ignored. As I sat in the chapel on the first night of our retreat, I noticed that one of the Sisters had left her rosary on the chair. I sat and held the beads in my hand and thought of the hands that had held those beads and the prayers that had been prayed over the years. I found myself wishing this discipline had been one that was part of my own faith and was curious to learn more. Kristen's book on Prayer Beads answered my questions and it filled me with a longing to share this tool with others. Turns out, prayer beads are not just for Catholics and I was excited to learn more.
Prayer Beads are used as a tool. They help us focus while praying. I'm not sure about you, but I'm (oh look, it's snack time...) easily distracted! Prayer Beads (like hand crosses, prayer rocks, etc.) give us a tangible reminder that we are approaching God in prayer. I knew that beads had been used for centuries as a tool for prayer. I was excited to discover from Kristen that the modern English word for "bead" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "bede" which means "prayer." And while I'm often seen with my beaded keychain or bracelet(s), this understanding deepens my appreciation for my love of beads.
Kristen's model for praying with beads includes 34 beads (33 beads symbolize the years of Christ's life on earth and a 34th bead symbolizes his resurrection). Each bead has a meaning and my favorite part of her prayer model for the beads is that while they are designed with meaning and purpose, there is no right or wrong way to use the beads. For those who do enjoy structured prayer time, Kristen includes devotional prayers to use with your beads in her book as well as on her blog.
The prayer beads in the photo are from a prayer bead retreat I recently led and the women loved creating them. The beads are a special reminder to us that God is as close as our whisper. The symbolism and order of the beads is meaningful for our faith. The beads are even beautiful. But, the time on retreat creating these sets of 34 beads may have been the best gift of all - the time together was holy.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, unless otherwise indicated.
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