Archive for December, 2007

For all Christians, this time of year is about hope and birth. Looking at the baby in the manger seems to make all things possible. As I look out the window at the cold and the darkness, my heart cries out for some prayers about the warmth and the light. I came up with the following prayers for prayer beads after digging through the New Testament, the Psalms and The Book of Common Prayer. It can be said on an Anglican rosary or a Catholic rosary (for the three Hail Mary beads on the short strand of the Catholic rosary, repeat any prayer you like best). You may also want to say these prayers in front of a nativity scene or crèche. If I still lived in New York City, I think I’d take myself to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and recite it silently before the Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche. Or I’d go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and sit before its great nativity scene. But as I am now on the West Coast, I plan to take it to Grace Cathedral this Saturday and pray it before the great altar. Perhaps I will also try it while walking the cathedral’s labyrinth. In my next post, I’ll let you know what I did.

 On the Cross or Crucifix

 Glory be to God on high,

And on earth peace, good will towards men.  (Luke 2:14)

On the Invitatory or First Our Father bead

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

On the Cruciforms or Our Father beads

My soul waits for the Lord,

More than the night-watch for the morning. (Psalm 130)


On the Weeks or Decades beads

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

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praying-with-beads-cover.jpgPraying With Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year

By Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens

Eerdmans Publishing, 2007

81 pages,


This slim book is like a prayer bead breviary – a short, concise guide to praying with the Anglican rosary on a daily basis. The book concerns itself solely with the Anglican rosary, with the bulk of the book holding a collection of prayers drawn mainly from the scripture read each Sunday in Episcopal churches. It contains a very brief introduction to prayer beads and a short description of how to use them as a prayer tool, both written by Virginia Stem Owens, a writer and an Episcopalian.


The prayers, compiled by Nan Lewis Doerr, an Episcopal rector at Church of the Redeemer in Houston, are organized around the Episcopal church calendar, beginning with prayers for Advent and Christmas before moving on to Epiphany, Lent, Easter and the season after Pentecost. Each season is introduced by a short description of the importance of the season to the church. Each day’s prayer is laid out like the daily offices of the church, with prayers for morning, noon and evening. Particularly helpful are the symbols used to show what prayers are assigned to the different beads – those for the cross are preceded by a small cross symbol, those for the invitatory bead have a small donut, the cruciforms have a kind of four-petalled flower and the weeks get a black bullet. In this, the book owes a debt to Phyllis Tickle’s series of prayer books, The Divine Hours, which has similar symbols before the different prayers of the day. Use of these symbols makes it easy for the eyes to know which prayers go with which beads without having to fully engage the mind – very important in contemplative prayer.


The book is aimed at Anglicans and other users of the Anglican rosary, but with some adjustment it could be used with a Catholic or Lutheran rosary, a set of Pearls of Life or other form of prayer beads you may have made for yourself. On the Catholic rosary, prayers assigned here to the weeks beads could be said on the decades beads and those for the cruciforms could be said on the Our Father beads. The Lutheran rosary is similar in format to the Anglican rosary and would require even less adjustment. And the total free-form nature of the Pearls of Life allows one to take any of the prayers in this book and assign them to any of its 19 beads.


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anglican-rosary-rose-quartz-jade.jpgThis morning I woke up with my usual holiday depression. It hits me every December – a general funk brought on by missing my loved ones who have died and others that I am separated from. The alarm went off and I just could not face getting out of bed, so back under the covers I went.

I finally roused myself to get in the shower. It is a bright, crisp day here in Northern California, the kind of winter day that is so crystalline and clear you could bottle it and drink it as water. But even as the sun streamed in through the bathroom windows, I curled up on the floor of the shower. It’s an old trick of mine to battle depression – if I can make myself as small as possible then I can contain the hurt. It can’t overwhelm me.

So as I lay there, I began to list all the things that make me blue. I won’t bore you with them, but suffice it to say the most depressing thing of all is that I have nothing to be depressed about. I am healthy, I am loved, I am not hungry and I have a roof over my head. But there I continued to lay, the water drumming down.

I managed to get out of the shower and get dressed. As I passed my bed, I saw a set of prayer beads I left on my nightstand. I have many sets of prayer beads -Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran rosaries, malas and subhas – and this was an Anglican set I made myself of rose quartz and green jade. You can see it in the picture at the beginning of this post. I suddenly knew that I wanted to, needed to, ask for some peace if I was going to make it through the day. I sat cross-legged on the bed facing the window and began to pray:

On the Cross:

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the begining, is now and ever shall be. Amen.

On the Invitatory bead:

The Lord’s Prayer

On the Cruciform beads:

I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where is my help to come?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth,

On the Weeks beads:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

As I prayed, I kept my eyes on the scene outside my bedroom window. We live at the top of a hill and have a view of San Pablo Bay and the hills of Solano County beyond. As I prayed, I watched a hawk circle slowly above our street, I watched the sun twinkling off the tops of cars on a distant freeway, I watched a squirrel skitter along my neighbor’s fence, and I watched the few leaves left on our plum tree shimmy in the wind. With the beads slipping through my fingers, it seemed to me that I saw these things as if for the first time, my eyes really lingering on them and absorbing them fully. Soon, the negative thoughts that had been there with me since awakening began to fade. By the third time around the rosary, I felt myself breathing more deeply, I felt more calm, I felt less oppressed and more awake to what was going on around me. I felt more at ease inside my skin and inside my life.

The main prayers I used today come from two sources. The cruciform prayer is from Psalm 121, v. 1-2. It is a Psalm titled “A Song of Ascents” in my bible – ascent being something I very much need when depression bites. It is a verse that reminds me that my fears and sorrows are really quite insignificant. The hills – God’s creation – are much bigger than anything I am or feel, and that as part of this creation, I am cared for and loved. And as I prayed it today, I could literally lift my eyes to the hills across the bay. What a gift!

The prayer for the weeks beads was written by Julian of Norwich. It is among my favorite prayers because of its utter simplicity and because the rhythm it creates is soothing to me. It is almost a mantra. I can lose myself and my small worries in its simple assurance and committed optimism.

I am not “cured” of my depression – prayer is not a cure, it is a comfort. But I feel better and can face the day.

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I first met Raven, who is 42, when I was writing a story for Religion News Service about Neo-Pagans who use prayer beads and rosaries as part of their practice. The story eventually ran in the Washington Post and on Beliefnet.com. Raven has been making and selling Pagan prayer beads of many stripes for about three years now at Cauldron Farm, his family farm in Hubbardston, Mass. Raven made his first set for a friend, a former Catholic who missed using a rosary and wanted something more in tune with his Neo-Pagan practice. By his estimate, he has now made over 500 sets, many with wooden beads that he paints himself, and has written many original prayers for them. He makes prayer beads that are tradition-specific, including Wiccan, Norse, Egyptian and Greek prayer beads, and others that are for a specific purpose or event, like healing, a wedding, a birth or a death. Every strand he makes is strung on a strand of wool that he spins and dyes himself from sheep on his farm. He told me he charges just over cost for each strand he makes. “It is more an act of love and an act of devotion,” Raven told me when I interviewed him for the story. “My big thing is that I really want to get Pagans to pray.I recently contact ed Raven again and asked him some questions about how and why he makes these prayers beads.

KW – How do you go about writing prayers for the prayer beads you make? Where do you seek inspiration?
RK – I pray a little as I look for the right bead, asking the deity in question to give me both the bead that they want and the prayer that they’d like to hear. Usually the prayers just come, smoothly. Then I write them down, after the first set of that type is done. Each set I make is a little different – sometimes a certain “extra” deity pops in and wants to be a strand, for what reason I don’t know, but I go with it.

KW – Why do you spin the cord for your prayer beads? What do you think it adds to the experience of eventual owner of the beads?

RKCauldron Farm is a small family homestead. Sustainable living is very much a part of our spiritual beliefs and practices – not that I believe that everyone should homestead, but it’s our way of practical earth-worship. We raise goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, and rabbits, and I have a large herb garden. The wool that I spin for the cords for the wooden beads, every one of which is painted by hand, is sheared off of my sheep and handspun by me.

This farm is more than just sustainability, though. It’s Pagan holy ground. Every part of it is dedicated to the Gods, and we have a labyrinth and a growing stone circle in the back field, and many “god-posts” – wooden poles erected to various deities. By incorporating the wool from my own sheep into the beads, I send a bit of the magic of this place out around the world.

KW – What kind of prayer beads you use in your own personal practice? What do they look like? How often do you use them and what prayers do you say on them?

RK – For myself, I revert to my old set of Horae beads. They were the second set I ever made (the first was for my partner), and I’m sentimental that way. They help me remember my goals and my direction.

KW – Neo-Pagan tradition is not known for a tradition of prayer beads. Yet prayer beads are very popular with many, especially with Wiccans. Why do you think they are so popular with what is generally seen as an eclectic and iconoclastic group?

RK – The majority of Pagans are solitaries, or if they are in a community, it’s all women. They do not usually get regular services, and a lot of folks have trouble saying I am going to sit down for the next ten minutes and pray. They don’t know how to do it. The prayer beads are a quick and easy way to give structure to that.

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Motel Rosary

This is a new one on me! I was googling around and through some odd combination of search terms, I can across the website of someone named Karen who makes many different forms of prayer beads, including ( drum roll please . . . .) a “motel rosary.” According to her website, Karen was driving in the mountains when she saw a sign for a motel called “Fawn Hollow.” She thought it an evocative name, one that called up a peaceful and soothing image in her mind. Soon she went to a phone book and made a list of motel names that were equally as evocative – Misty Mountain, Peaceful Valley and Silver Moon among them. Now she recites all their names on her Anglican rosary! How creative is that? Yeah, Karen! Rosary prayers from a phone book! I love it.

Take a buzz around Karen’s site. She has many wonderful suggestions for different sets of prayer beads as well as many lovely pictures. She also gives some basic instructions for making prayer beads. Some of the prayer beads she shows I am unfamiliar with, including Unitarian-Universalist beads, moon beads and a universal rosary. So cool!!!

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