Making Prayers out of Beads

We’re off to a dazzling start here at Velvet Ashes this third week of the New Year. We chatted through the passages and prayers we’re holding onto for the year, and this week we’re exploring practices because we need a way to embody these prayers and passages and work them out.

One of my favorite, but ninja-level hard, practices is to Slow Down. I desire to live each moment rather than rushing ahead to the next one so that I can rush on to the one after that. To so inhabit the present grants each moment an integrity of its own. I hope to notice that my jar of stirred up river water settles a little better, that the agitation that so easily entangles me would have to work a little harder to get through my door.

The first place to slow is in prayer – to regularly slow enough to pray, and then to linger in the Presence that transforms.

In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor makes the point that there are real things we can do to pray. Prayer beads have become an altar for me. A line of one of my favorite prayers says, “Wing me through earthly forms to Thy immediate Presence.” Prayer beads are a tool. Handling them, I bring my body to prayer. Moving from bead to bead, I engage my mind. Slowing, listening, practicing, I encounter God, spirit to Spirit.

Prayer beads have a long and fascinating history in many church traditions, and like everything material are neither inherently good nor evil. For an intriguing history of prayer beads, see A Bead and a Prayer by Kristen Vincent. Hint: if you get the sample of the Kindle book, you will get that part in the introduction (and that will make you want to read the rest).

I made my first set of beads a couple of years ago. New to prayer beads, I needed a guide. I found a brilliant one in Kristen through her book and her blog. Her mark on the craft is the addition of a “resurrection bead” to the otherwise already polished structure of most Protestant prayer beads.

The basic structure is a cross, which is the entry point, followed by the resurrection bead. Then there’s a circle comprised of four sets of seven beads positioned in between four larger beads. The structure itself is as meaningful for a believer as it is lovely.

Making and using prayer beads nurtures creativity, but it does not demand it. I dream of gathering beads from around the world to create another strand. What an expressive element that would bring to praying for the world!

My two young boys are taken with their chaplets, a half strand of beads that they assembled themselves from beads they picked out. They use them to “Please bless” the important people in their lives, to “thank You for…,” and for “I want to tell you about…” when they talk with God. It’s amazing to me what comes out of their mouths from their hearts when they have a tool in their hands to guide them. I imagine God feels the same way about me when I pray with mine.

It’s not a stretch to say that there is an infinite number of ways prayer beads can be used. To conclude I’ve included one example below. As I aim to slow, this prayer settles my agitated river water:

Holding the cross: “Immanuel, God with us.”

Holding the resurrection bead: “Be still and know that I AM God.”

Holding the first large bead: “Be still”

Holding each of the first set of seven beads in turn: Take a deep breath.

Holding the second large bead: “and know that”

Holding each of the second set of seven beads in turn: Take a deep breath.

Holding the third large bead: “I AM”

Holding each of the third set of seven beads in turn: Call to mind an attribute of God.

Holding the fourth large bead: “God.”

Holding each of the fourth set of seven beads in turn: Take a deep breath.

Holding the resurrection bead: “Be still and know that I AM God.”

Holding the cross: “Immanuel, God with us, Amen.”

What unique ways have you discovered to pray?

Photo Credit: NamastePrayerBeads via Compfight cc

18 Comments

  1. Ruth January 5, 2015

    I love your prayer beads prayer and am re-inspired to try out prayer beads.  I looked into it last year when I was in my own place of crazy transition and longing for the stability and focus of liturgy.  (I don’t guess prayer beads are exactly liturgy, but they seem to work in the same way).  I never actually got around to buying some, though, and I wasn’t quite sure how to use them.  It’s hard to get away from the idea that “this is just a Catholic thing.”  I love that you made your prayer beads.  I guess I’ll have to look into buying them [Unless there will be beading at our conference??   A special making-prayer-beads session, anyone? 🙂 ].  Where did you get the boys’ beads?  I’d love to start that with Juliana too.  Thanks for sharing and for giving us a great example prayer to start with.

    1. Kimberly Todd January 6, 2015

      Just this past weekend, I noticed that there is a small arts and crafts store facing a Michael’s just a walk across the parking lot. It made me feel oddly at home, like going to tongxin lu to visit shop after shop selling exactly the same staples. I don’t know how there’s enough business to go around when the stores are as massive as Michael’s, but they do stock quite the overwhelming selection of beads. It took us awhile, but we got what we went for. Happy bead hunting (or buying), Ruth!

  2. Brittany January 5, 2015

    I have such a hard time being held back by what’s “weird” — in this instance, I’m referring to Spiritual practices that are different from how I was raised.  Not that I come from a narrow minded home at all, it’s just that I had a great home life that was very much Bible focused.  So as I’m growing into myself and realizing that now my husband and I are responsible for the Spiritual atmosphere in which our littles are raised.  “…like everything material [they] are neither good nor evil.”  I will seek the Lord regarding this and see how He might use it to transform my prayer life as well.  My OneWord for this year is “Focus”.  Prayer is one of the big areas of my life that needs focusing.  Sometimes it’s really hard to focus on specific prayers with littles around constantly interrupting (even when I wake up early).  Maybe this is what I need to help me focus.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about.  I love that VA has challenged me on my perception of the “right” way to do things.  May I ever grow more into the likeness of the Son.

    1. Kimberly Todd January 6, 2015

      Brittany, this is such an important thought. I think those of us that come from really rich spiritual homes and heritages can have a hurdle to realize that we don’t have it ALL, and that with discernment there can be much to glean from other traditions. I’ve also found it fascinating to notice that beliefs and practices ebb and flow out of our own traditions over the centuries, and when they come back it’s both brand new and rooted. What a God! Rock of Ages. And I love your blessing: may I grow ever more into the likeness of the Son. Amen. That makes a nice beaded prayer. 😉

  3. laura r January 5, 2015

    Love this idea!  The creative act of making the beads- and yes, using beads collected on the journey is such a beautiful idea- followed by using them to  slow down and breathe.  Looking forward to trying this out.

    1. Kimberly Todd January 6, 2015

      Cheers, Laura! Years ago at a conference, Michael Card said that the closest sound for the name of God that can’t be pronounced (YHWH) is probably the sound of our breath. (Were you there? Do you remember?) How good of Him to build His name into our life source. How good it is to stop and notice it.

  4. Monica January 5, 2015

    I love this, thank you for sharing, and inspiring me.  I love the idea of doing this with my children… especially as we move into another time of transition.  They have friends scattered all over the world, and I feel like some prayer beads for their friends names would be a neat way for them to pray.

    1. Kimberly Todd January 6, 2015

      I love the idea of “fixing” names to the beads. I’ve found that what can start to feel repetitive and meaningless to me doesn’t have the same effect on my kids. It’s like they go deeper into the memory and connection. It’s probably the same effect as reading that beloved book AGAIN when there are shelves spilling all sorts of newness. Both, they need both. Blessings on you and yours as you transition.

  5. Amy Young January 5, 2015

    Kim, I love the ways you remind us God breathes life into things — be they bead or journals or walks. It’s his spirit, not the form, that will do the work, partnering with us. It’s all so stunning, really. And I loved the shout out to BBT and the real things we can do. I find I pray best when my body is moving. I pray more in Zumba class than any other time (I pray more consistently before meals — which also points to how I am NOT one to mess around with skipping food!). Now for beads :). I love how creatively and actively God seeks to engage us! And for us to engage him.

    1. Kimberly Todd January 6, 2015

      It is stunning! Glad you brought movement and meals into the discussion. Both such altars.

  6. Amy Young January 6, 2015

    Kim — do your boys initiate beaded prayers now? Do they have a special place they keep their prayer “dongxi?”

    1. Kimberly Todd January 6, 2015

      We use them together in the mornings during Catechism lesson, and then they hang them on a nail in the family room, or if they wander, they get hung on a closet doorknob. They don’t initiate praying aloud with them, but they take them to bed with them sometimes. Only God knows what happens there. =)

  7. Wendy January 14, 2015

    I would love to teach my boys to use prayer beads as a concrete way to focus their thoughts. Does the book “A Bead and a Prayer” explain how to make / teach this concept to kids? Or can you give me some ideas on how to get started?

    1. Kimberly Todd January 14, 2015

      Yes, Wendy, that’s exactly where I got started. There are some sample prayers for children and the instructions for making the chaplets in that book. You could also go to Kristen’s blog (http://abeadnaprayer.com) and search for “kids” or “chaplet” and see what comes up. Enjoy!

  8. Kathy January 17, 2017

    I have been thinking about this post ever since I read it. I remember my grandmother using her prayer beads, and to me it has always been such a “Catholic thing” that the idea of using prayer beads to enhance my spiritual life takes some getting used to. But after reading this, I think I want to make my own prayer beads. I plan to use a large bead for each of my 5 children (starting with the eldest), followed by a large bead of another color for their spouse, and then follow that with smaller beads for each of their children (maybe a different color for boys and girls). By the time I do this for each family, I will have prayer beads with which to pray for each of my children, their spouses, and all of my 19 grandchildren. I think it will be a wonderful way to focus as I pray for my family. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Kimberly Todd January 17, 2017

      Dear Kathy, I love this. It’s an inspired adaptation of this idea. I hope creating that very full strand of beads and working your way around them in prayer for your family will be an intimate reminder of God’s unending love. I can imagine that your own grandchildren will remember your beads (if you share them), and how powerful that visual could be in their lives knowing they are prayed for and connected to their larger family.

      I’m so glad you found some food for thought here. Thank you for coming back to tell me about it.

      1. Kathy January 17, 2017

        You know, Kimberly, I hadn’t even thought about sharing this with my grandchildren, but I think that’s a wonderful idea. I am serving in Uganda, and they are all in the States, so every little connection is so special, and that can hopefully be something God will indeed use in their lives. Thank you again!

  9. Casual Friday Bonanza | Paracletos February 24, 2017

    […] you make a judgement on the concept, read all of what Kimberly Todd has to say about prayer beads. They are not what you probably think they are. She makes a good case […]

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