This past December I read an amazing book called ‘The Mermaid Chair’. I loved this book because of the depth of the story. The story of the main character touched me deeply but the story of a peripheral character called me to an action that changed the way I commune with God. In a small part of the story there is a very religious woman who has a mental break. In one scene the woman is surrounded by friends who are consoling and helping her and in her hands are well worn rosary beads. In my mind the rosary beads became a character in the story. She used her rosary beads for so many years that they were worn and well loved. They come alive to strengthen her in her moment of pain.
I started to think about these beads as a ritual and about how our rituals change how we communicate with God. There are a lot of rituals in religion. In Mormonism, we are baptized, take the Sacrament and attend the temple. There are covenants and promises associated with these rituals. I started to think about how rituals deepen my relationship with God and how I can bring that to my life in small ways.. And then I thought that maybe the answer was prayer beads.
I started some basic research about rosary beads and prayer beads as they are used in all religions in the world. Nearly all religions in the world use rosary or prayer beads to aid in prayer and to keep track of repetitions or as a remembrance of what they are praying about.
A few years ago I read a book called “The Praying Life” by Paul Miller. This book really changed the way that I think about prayer and my connection to God. One of the premises of this book is that we don’t trust God enough. We don’t trust Him to answer our prayers when they are big and we don’t want to bother Him with them when they are small.
After reading this book I made a challenge to myself to start a prayer journal. I wrote down all of the things that I pray for and need. There were big giant things and little tiny things. There were friends and family on my list. And there were many things that I pleaded for myself. I filled this journal with scriptures so that my thoughts on these things would be in the language of God. I kept this notebook with me in my bag. It mostly went to church with me and I used it to write down things that came to my mind when I was in church or feeling the Spirit. I kept this book for years. It has been a great exercise but this big notebook seemed to detract from the reverence and spontaneity of the act of praying. After studying about prayer beads I decided to create some of my own and I used my prayer journal as a starting point.
I have been making jewelry for several years now and I knew all of my favorite websites for ordering beads that would be unique and would reflect my own creativity and artistry. I wish I was amazing enough to make my own beads but this worked great for what I was doing. I made a list of the things from my prayer journal that were important and added some new ones. Then I went shopping… The beads arrived a few days later and I strung them together. I love celtic knot symbols, especially circle knots and tree of life images and so I added those to the leather at the end.
When I was done, I was in love. I slid them in my pocket and felt connection to the things that I was praying for and instantly felt like I had my own special tool to connect with God. The act of something tangible in my hand was really important to me. When my kids are away from home, I know that they are only as far as a text message and I can connect with everyone I love in seconds. This is what my beads felt like to me. My tool to reach God.
My first Sunday with the beads was a special experience for me. I was a little worried about taking them to church with me. They seemed a little counter culture and obviously so but at the last minute, I threw them in my church bag and ran out the door. During the Sacrament I pulled them out and layed them in my lap. Instead of reading my scriptures or praying aimlessly I looked at my beads in my lap. I sat there and thought about each of the beads and what they represent. I thought about what they mean to me. As I got to a particular bead that represents my plea for repentance and forgiveness, I was touched deeply. I had this overwhelming feeling that God was happy with me and that He loves me. I knew that I had been forgiven.
From that day, the Sacrament has taken on new meaning to me. Every Sunday I reconnect with my goals and my prayers. Giving the desires of my heart a focal point and a concrete presence has changed me. I am more focused on what I want. My relationship with God is less esoteric and more real. They are a reminder of who I am and what I want to be. I feel God’s love from them. It has become a ritual in my life that is small and daily but has the same power of the bigger rituals of my faith.
Prayer Beads may not be a part of the orthodoxy of Mormonism but I am starting to believe they should be.