My Introduction to Praying with Beads

August 21st, 2013

“True, whole prayer is nothing but love.” – St. Augustine of Hippo

In 1990 my parents went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, returning with a number of great gifts for me. I loved each of them. But about 3 or 4 months later my mom came to me with a little box in her hand. She explained that she had purchased one other gift for me on the trip, though she was not sure I would like it and so had delayed giving it to me. Tentatively, she offered the box. Inside was a circle of ten wooden, hand-carved beads with a cross. I recognized that this was a kind of mini rosary. The gift was surprising on two fronts. First, we weren’t Catholic. At the time we were Presbyterians, and like all good Calvinists we had no stained glass windows in our church, no icons on our walls, and certainly no rosaries in our hands. As a result, I was a little surprised that my mom had chosen to give me a rosary, though only to a degree. By high school I had developed a passion for the church, and I had recently graduated from college with a major in Religion. This gift was an acknowledgement of what was important to me.

The second surprise was my response to it. I was captivated. I sat for the longest time, fingering the beads, studying their shapes, marveling at the craftsmanship and the beauty of the design. As I did, I realized that something deep within me was responding to this small set of beads. I felt a great sense of awe. There were no other words to explain the response. What touched me most was the thought that these beads were used to pray to God. As I held these beads, people all around the world were using similar beads to connect with God. I felt a strong connection—to God and to them. It was a moment of surprising communion. Suffice it to say, I was smitten with this gift.

I don’t remember whether I talked much about that first rosary or not, but somehow, my mom got the message that with this little rosary she had hit paydirt in terms of gift ideas for me. From then on she made sure to bring back rosaries from her travels. Soon, other friends and family were doing the same. Over time I have gathered rosaries from all over the world: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, Israel, France, England, Hungary, Ireland, and the U.S. I have a rosary blessed by the Pope as well as a rosary blessed in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. As my rosary collection grew I began to develop an interest in other things that people use to pray to God: icons, retablos, prayer ropes, milagros, holding crosses, etc. I added those to my collection, too.

While I loved to display these items and share them with people, I wasn’t using them to pray. If you want to know the truth, I wasn’t praying much at all. Even though I went on to receive a Master of Theological Studies, married a Methodist minister, and was very involved in the church, I didn’t have a prayer life to speak of. I struggled with prayer. I felt awkward. I never knew what words to say and thought surely God had better things to do than listen to me prattle on about whatever. I wonder now if I had amassed this collection of prayer tools in the hopes of living vicariously through these objects and the prayers of those who used them.

That all changed in July 2009 when I experienced a slightly quirky calling to “make rosaries.” For the next few days I pondered the experience. I even Googled “how to make a rosary.” But, mostly, I wondered if God really was calling me down this path. It seemed pretty peculiar. But I couldn’t explain the fact that this experience had named this passion for prayer tools I’d developed over the years, and was telling me to do something with it. This was even though I hadn’t paid much attention to prayer tools in a while, given that I was busy raising a son, planning Sunday School studies for my church, and working as a nonprofit consultant. Still, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I kept the experience to myself and continued to ponder and research.

A few days later I came across a website that talked about Anglican prayer beads. I was fascinated. These were, in effect, prayer beads for Protestants, yet I had never heard of them. That’s when I understood the purpose of my calling. It was not about making Catholic rosaries. It was about making and sharing these “Protestant” prayer beads.

Since then I have made, sold, or given away almost three thousand sets of prayer beads. I started a blog and began writing devotions for prayer beads and sharing their history. That led to public speaking opportunities, leading retreats and workshops on prayer beads. And that led to my book A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner's Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads.

The response has been fantastic and humbling. People can’t get enough of the prayer beads. They get a set for themselves, then come back to buy multiple sets as gifts for others. They come to me with stories—wonderful stories—of how the prayer beads have enhanced their relationship with God. The prayer beads have taken on a life of their own. It is clear that people are hungry for new (and ancient) ways of re-connecting with God.

Meanwhile, I began using the beads in prayer. I started off tentatively, holding the beads one at a time and offering up particular prayer requests and things for which I was thankful. Gaining confidence, I experimented with ways of using the beads to praise, to confess, to intercede, and to offer thanks. Eventually, I practiced listening with the beads. Over time, I realized I had become comfortable with prayer. Odds are, this was the real purpose of my calling. And the real gift of the prayer beads.

excerpted from: A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner's Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads by Kristen Vincent Copyright©2013 by Upper Room Books. Used with permission. Order information below.

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