While surfing through the World Wide Web, I recently stumbled across something that caused me to do a double take.
I must admit, with a one-and-a-half-year-old son at home I’ve become increasingly harder to surprise. (I’ve thankfully become numb to his enthusiastic exclamations that announce every single bird he sees—or walking into a kitchen that has the entire contents of our lazy Susan “neatly organized” across the floor.)
But a video of author Kristen Vincent discussing her book
“A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads”
truly threw me off.
Protestant prayer beads? Seriously? Is the rosary intimidating? Too “Catholic?” Didn’t we get the patent on this? I had to know more.
Here’s how it works: Instead of a rosary’s five sets of 10 beads, these beads boast four sets of seven beads. Add in four “cruciform” beads (like the rosary’s five “Our Father” beads) and one “invatory” bead, and you get a total of 33—a number that not-so-coincidentally symbolizes the years of Jesus’s life on earth. (If only they knew how many buttons are on a priest’s cassock…)
I asked myself: Why were the Episcopalians who came up with the idea in the 1980s motivated to essentially reinvent the rosary? I mean, seriously, they call their sets of seven beads “weeks.” Do “decades” last too long?
A rosary, of course, has a crucifix attached. Protestant prayer beads typically have a cross at the bottom, Vincent explained, although it’s not mandatory. In fact, it can be anything that “helps you feel connected to God.”
More liberties are awarded in the actual use of the prayer beads. Instead of the “formula” and “tradition” Catholics use to pray the rosary, Vincent noted that praying with her beads is much more “free form.”
With this information in hand, I realized some key differences between Protestant prayer beads and our beloved rosary.
While the clever sum of 33 beads is neat, I’m thankful that the Catholic Church has given us the mysteries of the rosary—an organized list of concrete events in Jesus’s life to be meditated upon while praying the rosary. I trust that praying deeply about Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before his passion (the first “Sorrowful Mystery” of the rosary) will bear more fruit than free styling it.
But here’s the rub: “Free styling it” during prayer is completely acceptable. Two thumbs up! In fact, God wants us to share our random thoughts, desires, pains and joys with him in prayer. I just don’t see how prayer beads trump the rosary in getting me there.
Thinking of it another way, what would be more helpful in drawing a fallen-away Christian back into a life of prayer and relationship with Jesus: Toss them a set of prayer beads and hope for the best? Or hand them a rosary, a booklet on the mysteries of the rosary and teach them the ropes?
Prayer beads are certainly not
in any way. I just want to tap the shoulder of those who use them and whisper, “There’s something more.”
A simple definition of the rosary is the simultaneous recitation of Sacred Scripture and meditation on the life of Jesus. It’s a helpful and powerful form of prayer. And thankfully, Catholics
patented the rosary. A Protestant won’t be excommunicated for praying it. In fact, I wish we were praying it together.
Thankfully, there is hope.
“The beads [themselves] are not the end,” Vincent said of her prayer beads. “They are the means to an end, which is communion with God.”
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