A Primer for Praying with Beads
By Colin Foote Burch
Within some Protestant circles, a rediscovery and recovery of ancient,
aesthetic forms of worship – candles, liturgy, icons and incense – have
attracted believers who were tired of bland hymn-and-sermon services, or
others who were equally tired of entertainment-driven worship, or others
who were moved by their study of early Church teachings and practices.
The rediscovery and recovery of liturgical worship has opened the door to
other ancient practices, including the use of prayer beads.

The story behind the emergence of prayer beads within Protestant churches
in the U.S.began in the 1980s, when “an Episcopal priest, the Reverend
Lynn Bauman, and a group of parishioners studying contemplative prayer
began to explore the age-old custom of praying with beads,” wrote Virginia
Stem Owens.

She wrote that in the introductory essay to
Praying With Beads: Daily
Prayers for the Christian Year
, co-authored with Nan Lewis Doerr and
published by Eerdmans in late August of this year.

Owens and Doerr apparently experienced this form of prayer together.
Owens wrote that Doerr, once assistant rector at Owens’ church, “taught a
group of women who pray regularly for the sick and troubled of our parish
how to use the beads to focus and hold our attention.”

With personal experience, study, and practice for references, Owens and
Doerr have filled a small, 81-page book with prayers structured for beads.
The prayers are divided into seasons, with brief explanations of the seasons
before the prayers. Part of the introduction includes a labeled illustration of
prayer beads, and another part walks the reader through holding beads and
praying with them.

The introduction has a value beyond mere instruction in prayer, explaining
as it does the history and value of prayer beads. This passage was
especially striking:

During the Reformation, Luther did not abandon the rosary, though
he shortened the Ave Maria to this form: “Hail, Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou and the fruit of thy womb,
Jesus.” In this way he eliminated the plea for Mary to pray for the
supplicant. He advised his followers to use the rosary as an aid to

Another striking and valuable introductory passage addresses Jesus’
warning against vain repetition while praying (Matthew 6:7). Here Owens
wisely divides the Word, noting that “it is vain, or useless, repetitions that
Jesus cautions against. So the issue is keeping those repetitions from
becoming mere meaningless syllables.” The deliberate focus of praying with
beads can help slow us down, allowing us to absorb their meanings.
“Similarly, reading and truly absorbing Scripture takes time,” Owens wrote.

Her introduction, I hope, will persuade some folks to consider praying with
beads. The last page lists two books for further reading and six Web sites
that sell prayer beads, providing a resourceful ending to a calm, enlightening
primer on a practice that helps us
be still and wait upon the Lord.                                      Books              
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