Sunday, March 22, 2015

Prayer Beads

For Christmas, Jo gave me a set of Anglican prayer beads made by Alan Creech. Alan makes rosaries, and fishing flies; and I wanted to learn to pray in more tactile ways. This Lent, I’ve been using the beads as an aid to meditative prayer during the day. We have set aside two hours in the middle of the day as space for anyone to come in to the Minster, to sit in silence listening to God or to share whatever is on their heart with someone who will listen to them, and offer counsel or pray with them if that is desired. In particular, I’ve been using the prayer beads while preparing myself to be present for those who have taken this opportunity, and to remain in an attitude of prayer while listening to them. It takes practice …

Prayer beads are common to several world religions as an aid to prayer. I recognise that they aren’t for everybody, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t helpful for some, both as a very simple repetitive action of the body while praying and as a meditative approach to prayer. As one or two people have asked me about my experience, I thought I’d post these reflections.

In common with the Roman Catholic rosary, the prayer beads start with a crucifix. That may be unfamiliar territory for non-Romans, but it has been a rich and reverential experience, and as I have prepared to pray ‘in the name of the Father [touching Christ’s head], and of the Son [touching Christ’s feet], and of the Holy Spirit [touching Christ’s outstretched hands]’ this realisation has come to my mind:

Christ is still on the cross. For the Gospel writers point out that the cross is the throne of glory, and Christ is seated on that throne. He is no longer in agony, no longer drenched in sweat and blood, no longer held by nails; but he has not discarded the cross as you or I might discard something we have used and no longer have use of; nor has he left it as empty wood to become a sentimental totem. He has transformed what was intended for evil into a thing of beauty; the locus of pain into the locus of healing and wholeness. That is what Christ does. And he calls on us to take up our cross and follow him: to embrace and to transform, not to defeat and discard. We do not get to lay our cross down. Instead, we get to fashion it into a throne, that tells the story of God's faithful loving-kindness and covenant commitment to us. How do we fashion it so? By responding to that love, day by day.

The rosaries Alan makes are small, ‘one decade’ (one set of ten beads – RC) or ‘one week’ (one set of seven beads – Anglican), framed by three other beads, depicted in Celtic knots. The first of these is the invitatory or invitation to prayer, and here I have simply lifted the words from Morning Prayer:

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise: glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The other two Celtic knots are ‘Our Father’ beads: that is, the time of prayer is framed by the Lord’s Prayer. I find it significant that these prayers are all prompted by an empty space described by an unbroken thread, for it reminds me that I nothing and bring nothing, except that I am held together by the beauty of God’s love, and that is enough.

And then there is the ‘week’ of beads. There are no prescribed prayers to Anglican beads. Most commonly, these might be used repeating the Jesus prayer – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ – perhaps emphasising a different word or phrase within the prayer on each bead. But this Lent, as we at the Minster have been exploring themes of healing and wholeness, I have simply prayed ‘healing and wholeness’ over again – for myself, for my community, for individuals, for the wounds of the world … As I have done so, I have been stuck by the thread that holds the beads together: healing and wholeness take place most fully in the context of being held together in community.

That, then, is a little something of my experience of a practice that is new to me, but one that I’m finding worthwhile. A gift from one tradition within the Church to another.

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