Working the Beads

A few years ago, I received an unexpected gift from an old friend. The package contained a short note written on a card, and a simple rosary he had made for me. The note described how, a few years before, he had started praying the rosary, and it had become an important spiritual practice for him. 

After he made the rosary, he told me that he had prayed a novena for me using it. We haven’t talked a lot in recent years, and we don’t know all the details of each other’s lives, but he said he felt the church was a better place because I was out there somewhere ministering in it, and he was glad to be connected with me through this simple tool for prayer. It was one of the most moving gifts and letters I have ever received.

I had never prayed the rosary before, but I was so touched by the gesture, I decided to give it a try. In the few years since, it has made a profound difference in my life, and deepend my relationship with Jesus. 

I was skeptical at first. Like most Episcopalians, my Marian piety could be described as agnostic and half-formed at best. I gladly acknowledge her importance in the scheme of salvation, but don’t feel entirely comfortable with asking for her intercession, and feel far less comfortable with popular Roman Catholic acclamations like “Queen of Heaven,” and devotion to various apparitions of Mary. Nevertheless, I was amazed at how easy the rosary prayers came to me, and how quickly the practice began to nourish my spirit. 

We meet God most fully in silence, which modern life keeps in short supply. The constant pings and pulls for out attention, the never ending stack of demands at both the office and at home, and my naturally anxious and fidgety disposition all make the stillness where we most fully encounter God difficult for me to find. The repetitive prayers of the rosary, and the feel of working the beads through my fingers, provides a rudder for my mind and body that steers my spirit into a deep and silent stillness. While I often begin the prayers in distraction, somewhere in the midst of praying through them I’m drawn into a deep calm, and by the end I’m usually simply sitting with a God who is beyond my capacity to understand or imagine, contemplating the depths and mystery of that God’s great and endless love. As those periods of stillness compound on each other day by day, I’m able to carry more and more of that stillness into my living, meeting life, and the people God gives to me, simply as they come, as a gift to be received and cherished, instead of the next thing to be managed, or checked off the list. 

And for all my Protestant squeamishness about praying to or with Mary, the prayers have, it turns out, drawn me deeper into the person of Jesus. What the rosary calls the “mysteries” of Jesus’ life, teaching, death, and resurrection allow me to spend extended periods of time contemplating, imagining, wondering about, and simply sitting with the person Jesus, bringing key moments of scripture into direct conversation with whatever neurosis, demands, griefs, or longings I’m carrying day by day. Praying the rosary has helped make Jesus more present and more real as a companion and source of strength for my moment to moment living. 

Following my friend’s example, I also often pray the rosary for a specific person or situation I’ve been asked to pray for. But more often, I simply take a few moments to offer to God all the people in my life, known and unknown, remembered or forgotten, who have some particular need to know God’s healing and grace. I don’t pray nearly as often as I should, and I’m not nearly as conscientious as I should be about praying for the people who I’ve said I would, or who have asked me to. In praying the rosary day by day, I’m trusting God to remember all those I’ve said I would remember but haven’t, and all those I love and care for whose struggles I don’t know. Praying the rosary is one more way of simply offering all I am, and all the people I either love deeply or know only casually, over to God’s loving kindness. 

Like any prayer, there are times when praying the rosary is deeply moving and profound, and times when it is simply rote, or when I’m too distracted to notice which. Ultimately, prayer doesn’t come down to what we feel about it in any given moment. Prayer, like faithful living generally, is simply about showing up, offering our whole selves—our joys and sorrows, our loved ones and those who vex us, our doubts and our hopes, our cynicism and weariness, our jealousies and generosities, our living and our dying—over fully to the God who made us, who calls us by name, who cares for us, and who longs to draw near to us, and to call us beloved, until the whole creation is made new.  

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