Prayer beads are a tool for prayer that many protestants are both unfamiliar with and a little skeptical of. I only came across them a couple of years ago when a friend at church started holding classes on how to make and use them. I must confess that I do not use them often as they remind me too much of the worry beads that my Greek uncle used to incessantly run between his fingers. However, I have many friends who use them on a regular basis and find them a great aid to meditation. Also, we had the kids make them at our recent Celtic retreat and there were lots of questions raised about how to use them.
Prayer beads are also known as the Anglican rosary or Christian prayer beads. It consists of a loop of 33 strung beads which are used as a focus for prayer. This particular way of using prayer beads was developed in the mid-1980s by Lynn Bauman in the United States participating in a study group dealing with methods of prayer. The beads have since been adopted or adapted by many other denominations. They blend the Orthodox Jesus Prayer Rope and the Roman Catholic Rosary.
The use of prayer beads helps to brings the user into contemplative or meditative prayer—really thinking about and being mindful of praying, of being in the presence of God—by use of mind, body, and spirit. The touching of the fingers on each successive bead is an aid in keeping our mind from wandering, and the rhythm of the prayers leads us more readily into stillness.
The prayer beads are made up of twenty-eight beads divided into four groups of seven called weeks. In the Judeo-Christian tradition the number seven represents spiritual perfection and completion. Between each week is a single bead, called a cruciform bead as the four beads form a cross. The invitatory bead between the cross and the wheel of beads brings the total to thirty-three, the number of years in Jesus’ earthly life.
Praying with the beads
To begin, hold the Cross and say the prayer you have assigned to it, then move to the Invitatory Bead. Then enter the circle of the prayer with the first Cruciform Bead, moving to the right, go through the first set of seven beads to the next Cruciform bead, continuing around the circle, saying the prayers for each bead.
It is suggested that you pray around the circle of the beads three times (which signifies the Trinity) in an unhurried pace, allowing the repetition to become a sort of lullaby of love and praise that enables your mind to rest and your heart to become quiet and still.
Praying through the beads three times and adding the crucifix at the beginning or the end, brings the total to one hundred, which is the total of the Orthodox Rosary. A period of silence should follow the prayer, for a time of reflection and listening. Listening is an important part of all prayer.
Begin praying the Anglican Prayer Beads by selecting the prayers you wish to use for the cross and each bead. Practice them until it is clear which prayer goes with which bead, and as far as possible commit the prayers to memory.
Find a quiet spot and allow your body and mind to become restful and still. After a time of silence, begin praying the prayer beads at an unhurried, intentional pace. Complete the circle of the beads three times.
When you have completed the round of the prayer beads, you should end with a period of silence. This silence allows you to center your being in an extended period of silence. It also invites reflection and listening after you have invoked the Name and Presence of God.
Here is a beautiful Celtic prayer created by Sister Brigit-Carol, S.D. that you might like to try:
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
O God make speed to save me (us),
O Lord make haste to help me (us),
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Be the eye of God dwelling with me,
The foot of Christ in guidance with me,
The shower of the Spirit pouring on me,
Richly and generously
Pray each phrase on a separate bead.
I bow before the Father who made me,
I bow before the Son who saved me,
I bow before the Spirit who guides me,
In love and adoration.
I praise the Name of the one on high.
I bow before thee Sacred Three,
The ever One, the Trinity.
For more information on prayer beads and a selection of great prayers to pray with them click here.