Learning to Pray with Prayer Beads

When I pray, my mind wanders everywhere.

I start praying for a friend or something about my job…. A few minutes later, I’m planning a trip or a sermon—Hey, was I praying? Sorry about that, God. Uh, where was I? Back to reverence and focus…then, another creative spark or mental meandering. Argh!

My 8th-grade woodshop teacher engraved me with two mottoes: “Measure twice; cut once.” “The right tool for the right job.” I have pounded in nails with many objects, but a hammer works best. I have stirred an egg with a spoon, but I prefer a fork.

Prayer, however, is spiritual. Tools are unnecessary—even suspect. A couple weeks ago I was wrapping up a several sessions on the Lord’s Prayer with a junior high/high school group. I was at a loss on presenting the conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” The rest of the Lord’s Prayer had been easy, but I had two problems with this section: The lesson template that I work from was anemic on this lesson. Doing a direct biblical study on the last section of the Lord’s Prayer is not an option because this section is not part of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in the New Testament.

I had an idea, but it did not feel right—prayer beads. Prayer beads are rosaries. Rosaries are Catholic. Rosaries emphasize the veneration of Mary. I thought and prayed and dared myself to color outside my lines.

The young people and I opened several small bins of beads and cut lengths of transparent beading cord. I suggested that they choose beads that will remind them of different people and things to talk about to God.

The cycle of my bracelet makes easy sense to me (going counter-clockwise from the top): The first bead is purple, reminding me of royalty, and has three rings for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I speak some of the attributes of God and offer him specific thanks. My family members are represented by favorite colors. Red, white and blue tell me to pray for my community, my nation, and needs around the world. The coin alters between thanks and requests regarding my family’s material needs. There are several more beads, but I’ll point out only two. Black calls me to confession. The smallest bead reminds me of people who are sick or in need.

Getting prayer out of my head and into my fingers with prayer beads has expanded praying into a holistic experience. I chose most of the beads for color, but I didn’t realize that they were also different shapes. These beads have become an intuitive, eyes open or closed, tool for prayer. Because I can pray through this cycle by touch, I take my prayer beads to bed. Generally I’m slow at falling asleep, but sometimes I’m in dreamland before I can pray through my cycle.

The prayer beads have also helped my wandering mind. Rather than ricocheting from thought to past event to future event to lyric, the beads give me a path. Because some of the beads correlate to a broad concept, I have plenty of space in my prayer cycle to talk to God about anything that comes to mind. Because many of the beads tie to something more specific, I always find my way back from my wandering.

I dare you: Create your own cycle of prayer beads!

Tell us how it works for you.

About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in theology, Uncategorized, worship and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Learning to Pray with Prayer Beads

  1. Carla says:

    Thanks for this blog post, I really enjoyed it. When I was in college I felt the same way, that my mind wandered too easily during prayer. I was also trying to fill my mind with prayer rather than random other things which too often turned to the “un-holy” during my daily life. So I was thinking about prayer beads. Our president gave a chapel sermon on how un-godly it was to use “forms” in worship, so I wrote him an email asking what he thought about prayer beads. He wrote back
    that prayer beads are Catholic, venerate Mary, and are a hollow representation of what prayer should be. I was confused, because that’s not how I wanted to use the beads. I never did get or make any beads, but this blog post makes me think it’s time to go back to that. Lately, I feel like my prayers have been getting as far as “Dear God…” I also like your idea of using different colors or shapes to represent things because I don’t always have my list of things to pray for.

    Another thing I learned to do at that time, which I’ll share with you because it is also part of “holistic” prayer, is to use my body during prayer. I like to stand and lift my hands when I am worshiping, kneel with upraised hands for thanksgiving, prostrate my head to the ground to confess my sins, and then kneel again to make requests to God. I got the idea from the way Muslims pray, and once again, I’m sure the president of my college would not have appreciated it, but I can pray much more clearly when my whole body is involved.

    So, thanks for this, it was very encouraging!

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