I’d like to tell you about my experiences and experiments using prayer beads.
First, a little about me and how I came to be drawn to prayer beads and using them.
People say that “meditation requires self-discipline”. I know that is true of course, but I also know it is not one of my strengths.
I had tried meditation during various periods of my life but never to any great success.
My mind wanders too easily, or else, I fall asleep.
(Incidentally, if you are like me and find yourself flagging in the mid-afternoon, it always sounds much more sophisticated to announce that you are “going upstairs to meditate”, rather than to say you are off for a nanna nap.)
So, although I often fell asleep while attempting to meditate, on rare occasions I felt that my meditation had been successful, and I really wanted to find a way that worked for me so I could train myself to meditate.
For several years I used rocks I had collected on lovely summers day in the early 80s. They looked so pretty that I just had to hold them and study them.
At the time I was awed by the forces of nature that had produced these rocks, probably over billions of years, to create what they had become today.
Buffeted by tides and rubbed against other rocks, each had developed its own unique identity.
A bit like each of us.
I found them inspiring, so I took them home, mainly as a reminder of a lovely day.
But over the years they have become rather special to me, especially once I began using them for meditation.
As I said, my mind wanders easily.
I am also a fiddler.
As a child I was often told to sit still on my hands, so I think my habit of fiddling, twisting my hair, pulling at threads, clicking my fingernails, must have been annoying to my family.
These rocks gave me a way to satisfy my urge to fiddle while also using that urge to relax, slow my mind and concentrate my thoughts and energy in a positive way.
Sitting before the rocks I would first contemplate their diversity and beauty.
Then I would pick them up, one by one, holding their weight in my palm, rolling them about and examining them while being aware of whatever thoughts and ideas came freely into my mind.
I found this was a useful way of beginning a meditation session because it focused and centred me.
But you can’t carry them around.
I came across a website about Anglican Prayer beads while looking for something to use for worship in a study group a few years ago.
I was intrigued, so I ordered a set of beads from a UK website called Holy Roses.
When they arrived there was a tiny slip of paper with them containing the “Come Lord Jesus Prayer”.
I enjoyed using the beads right from the moment they arrived, so I decided to learn more about them and expand my range of prayers.
I found a pretty little book at a market and used it to copy prayers into that I could use with the beads.
I find it handy to keep the book with the beads for times when I can’t think what to pray or when I just need a cheat sheet.
Everyone will be familiar with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox use of prayer beads, but possibly not familiar with their use by Anglicans.
It’s actually a very recent trend, but it has an ancient history.
Every major world religion has some tradition of counted prayer.
And in all of these religions, except one, these prayers are counted on beads.
Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants all use prayer beads. In fact, the practice forms a link between these diverse faiths and varied cultures.
The exception is Judaism. However, although they have never used beads, they do use the special knotted fringe on the Jewish prayer shawl and finger it during certain prayers.
The format for Anglican prayer beads was created in the 1980s by a group of people who wanted to recapture some of the prayer practices of the early church.
The 33 bead design was created by the Rev. Lynn Bauman through prayerful exploration and discovery of a contemplative prayer group.
Made up of a cross and four sets of seven beads, the design carries wonderful symbolism.
33 beads in total – representing Jesus’ 33 years of life on earth.
4 Cruciform Beads –
- The 4 points of an imaginary cross
- 4 points of the compass
- 4 Cardinal Virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, & temperance)
- 4 elements (earth, water, wind, and fire).
7 Week beads
- 7 days of creation
- 7 seasons of the Church year
- 7 Sacraments
- 7 Last Words from the Cross.
I was captivated, and when I began praying with the beads, I quickly discovered many benefits.
Holding them during prayer or in times of great stress, I find the weight of the beads a tangible reminder of God’s presence.
When my mind began to wander, fingering the beads helped me refocus.
Just seeing the beads, or coming across them when searching in my handbag for something else, has become a cue to pray.
A reminder that God calls to me and wants to spend time with me.
The beads provide structure to my prayer time.
I don’t worry about what to say.
I can either follow one of the hundreds of prayer formats available to me, or “go it alone”, praying and repeating prayers, as they occur to me.
As a worship pattern, the ACTS mnemonic is useful (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication)
The first seven beads reminded me to praise God – in the Lord’s Prayer this would be “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name”.
the second set of seven, to confess the places where I had failed or needed God’s help – “forgive us our sins”
the next, to give thanks – “the Kingdom and the power and the glory are yours”
the last set of seven is supplication.
Knowing that all we have, comes from God, or “give us this day our daily bread”
Using prayer beads, your prayers can be simple of complicated, as the mood feels right to you.
In addition to the 33 bead Anglican prayer beads, I have also been using the St Brigid’s chapelet – consisting of 3 sets of 3 beads and 2 cruciform beads in a straight line.
The St Brigid’s chapelet is a straight row of beads and can be nice to have on a key ring or to carry in your pocket.
Mine has the St Brigid’s cross on one end, and the other form is the St Patrick’s Chapelet with a Celtic cross on one end.
There are also smaller chapelets with 2 sets of 7 week beads and only 2 cruciform beads.
There are many personal little rituals that I have heard of people using, such as clutching the beads between your hands and breathing out deeply onto them as a centring breath.
Kissing the cross before beginning.
Holding the cross to brow, lips and heart.
One of the great things about Anglican prayer beads is that there is no one “correct” way of using them. You do whatever you feel comfortable with.
When I began using the beads I tended to follow a set pattern. But you can really use any prayer you like.
Sometimes, the mental exercise of breaking a favourite prayer down into parts so that it fits into the prayer bead groups can bring additional insights into prayers that have become very familiar.
For me, the repeated use of the prayer beads has been enormously beneficial.
I usually begin with a structured prayer, but not always.
Sometimes, and more frequently these days, I simply hold the cross and think “what am I REALLY praying about?”.
This step usually takes the longest.
It is a bit like writing a strategic plan.
It takes ages to work out the EXACT words that mean exactly what you want to say.
But once you do, repeating that prayer and others that it suggests to you, as you work around the beads, crystallises the thoughts in your mind and enables you to have an honest communication with God.