Archive for December, 2008

bead-boutique-rosary-1I hope you have noticed that one of the lists I keep on the right side of this blog is of local bead stores in the U.S. that offer classes in rosary and/or prayer bead making. I was updating the list about a week ago – sadly, two or three stores had not only stopped offering the class, they had completely closed their doors! – and I sent out a query to all the remaining stores asking them to send me pictures of their rosary/prayer bead samples. I also said I would welcome any pictures of rosaries/prayer beads made by students in the classes.

So far, the great women of Bead Boutique in North Canton, Ohio are the only ones who have gotten back to me with pictures. Hey, what is it about Northeast Ohio and prayer beads? Some of you may remember a post I wrote about the fantastic women of Bonita Bead Boutique in Maumee, Ohio who hosted a trunk show of the prayer beads pictured in my book in their store last April. LOTS of prayer beading going on up there! Anyway, Bead Boutique’s Kathy, Jen and Megan sent two pictures of the samples they use to promote the class and promised to send some of their students’ work after the next class. So today – Christmas Eve – enjoy these pictures! I hope they inspire you to make some prayer beads today. I am particularly fond of the aurora borealis strand! bead-boutique-rosary-2

Tonight, I head off to church for the “midnight” service, a time I always look forward to. As usual, my prayer beads will go with me.

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winter-solstice-stonehengeToday is the winter solstice – the shortest day (and longest night) of the year. I have been thinking a lot about light and dark in the last couple of months. I think the doom and gloom of the general news – the continuing wars, the sinking economy, the bombings in Mumbai, the layoffs of many friends, etc. – has made me focus too much on the bleak side of life and I want to make a choice towards the light. And I don’t have to look far for inspiration at this time of year when so many religions focus on the light. Jews commemorate Hannukah, the Festival of Lights, at this time, lighting one candle on the menorah every night for eight nights. Pagans, too, have long celebrated the birth of sun at the midwinter solstice, in a festival they call Yule. And Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, their light of the world, at this time, too.yule-log

So on this darkest day of the year, I want to share with you some prayers from several faith traditions that focus on rebirth, light, life and the renewal we all seek and hope for at this time of year. I hope there is something here for every form of prayer bead – the traditional Catholic rosary, the new Anglican rosary, the various pagan prayer beads and the malas of the Eastern traditions.

[Try this one on the Anglican rosary – say the first line on the Cruciform beads and the rest on the Weeks beads]

God of all creation,

of bare forest and low northern skies,

of paths unknown and never to be taken,

of bramble, sparrow and damp, dark earth.

We thank you for loss, for the breaking of the dimming year,

We thank you for light, even in its seeming midwinter failing,

We thank you for life, for its hope and resistance,

Like a seed dying and living.

Rachel Mann

A Midwinter Prayer [This would be great for a Catholic rosary – say the first two lines on the Our Father beads and the rest on the decades beads]

From the rising of the midwinter sun to its setting,

Scatter the darkness with the light of your love, O Shining One.

Make me short on mean thoughts, long on offers words of comfort.

Make me short on being driven, long on paying attention.

Make me short on focusing only on my own, long on looking beyond.

Make me short on obsessive lists, long on spontaneous acts of kindness,

Make me short on mindless activity, long on time to reflect.

Make me short on tradition as a habit, long on rediscovery and re-owning.

Make me short on rushing a tiring, long on walking and wondering.

Make me short on false, festive jollity, long on stilling and rooted joy.

Make me short on guilt, long on being merciful to myself.

Make me short on being overwhelmed, long on peaceableness as I set forth this day.

-from The Celtic Wheel of the Year by Tess Ward

Winter Solstice Prayer [This one works on the decade of a Catholic rosary, or perhaps on a set of pagan prayer beads, or a mala]
Dear God, help me embrace the darkness of this day, knowing that from the very deepest dark comes the brightest Light.
Help me to feel my own darkness, where fear resides inside, within my wounded child who is scared of being on Earth.
With your love, I may use the darkness of nature on this day to hold my wounded child close to my breast, letting her tell me all of her fears.
She will tell me how I scare her; I will ask her to tell me how I abandon her.
I will use this darkness to let her cry; and with her final tear she will begin to sense the Light.
I will use this day to go to the depths of my own dark places because I know you are with me always, and that only by going into the darkness may we see the truth of our Light.
Thank you, God, for giving me life so that I may explore the darkness and the Light.
Thank you for the cycle of creation.
Thank you for my breath, my heart, my body and my mind.
Thank you for the Light of my soul, where, though I sometimes forget, I long to always be.
Winter Solstice Prayer to the Inner Child, by Nancy Swisher
And because Hannukah begins on Sunday, I want to include this prayer said over the lighting of the menorah:
Blessed are You,
Our God, Creator of time and space,
Who enriches our lives with holiness,
Commanding us to kindle the Hannukah lights.
Blessed are You,
Our God, Creator of time and space,
Who performed miracles for our ancestors,
In the days of lng ago. And in this time.
Happy prayers and love to all!
who enriches our lives with holiness,
commanding us to kinkle the Chanukah lights.

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I was updating my blogroll and categories of links and was bopping to each of the sites I like when I came across some gorgeous examples of prayer beads at the Return to the Center blog. Check these out! Some folks are going to get some lovely prayer beads this December. Also, be sure and read the Buddhist Peace Prayer posted lower down on the right column. Pop around the site and you’ll find some other gorgeous prayer bead examples. I hope these inspire you to make some prayer beads, for yourself or others!

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There was a great article in Friday’s New York Times’ Escapes section on people going to Hindu ashrams and Buddhist monasteries to take a break from their bust lives. That in itself is not a new story. What is new – and fascinating – is that vacancy is way down at these places because people who are not Buddhists or Hindus – and in some cases are not even aware that the ashram is dedicated to a spiritual leader – are attracted by the simplicity of the meditation, chanting and work that make up the daily routine. So, take a look at the article – by Shivani Vora – and maybe make a trip to an ashram, monastery or other spiritual retreat near you. You can take your prayer beads – Buddhist or Hindu mala or Christian rosary or any other kind you like – and spend part of your free time there with them. Or take them to one of the chanting sessions and give it a try. I wish I could go!

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Last week, after my post about how blue I was feeling around Thanksgiving, I received the following delightful comment from a reader named Rod who lives in Alabama:

Firstly, may your blues rise unto the sky and provide the landscape for the clouds to live. Secondly, thanks for sharing such a wonderful prayer. Thirdly, Thank you for such an exquisite book. I have no doubt that your treatment of this subject, the making and using of prayer beads, will enhance the spiritual lives of many folks from different denominational and religious backgrounds.

My wife and I are making the commitment to return to the Episcopal Church after a hiatus of ten years. Your discussion of the Anglican Rosary has already enhanced our path. I’m looking forward to using the Anglican Rosary in my daily life.

This will involve making a small change in the beads in my pocket. You see, I’ve carried malas with me for over 20 years as I’ve practiced and lived a bi-religious path: Buddhist-Christian. Not being Catholic, my experience with the Catholic Rosary has been rather superficial. However, having been a practicing Buddhist for over 27 years, and discovering malas 7 years into the journey, I thought that I’d only carry malas with me for the rest of my life.

My wife and I were confirmed in the Episcopal church 26 years ago this month. Yet, “way back then”, I had never heard of an Anglican Rosary so all of my beads were Buddhist. My Buddhist path moved from the study and practice of Zen, to the borders of Tibetan Buddhism in 1989. The first of a number of initiations followed shortly thereafter. It was a little over 10 years ago that I took refuge vows and became a “card carrying Buddhist”.

Living as a Christian and a Buddhist simultaneously has been an interesting experience. In fact, much of my academic training ( I received a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion from Western Kentucky University in 1980) led me to believe that this was an impossibility. However, I was able to walk within both paradigms at the same time…..never far from my malas.

As you may know, within Tibetan Buddhism, various initiations (wongkur) require the repetition of various mantras. Some of the required mantra repetitions are in the hundreds of thousands. For my guru yoga practice I had one mantra to repeat 250,000 times. I had one mala that was only used for this practice. It had two strings of counter beads attached to the 108 bead mala. Using the counters I could keep track of up to 10,000 repetitions. At that point I had to fall back on some small stones, each one representing 10,000 mantra representations. Then I could start my 10,000 count again up to 20,000, and so on and so forth.

I look forward to reading more of your book and delving further into the use of the Anglican Rosary. Blessings – Peace – Happiness,


Rod’s message chased all the blues away, and I was captivated by what he wrote about his own faith journey – so many different stops! – and how he uses his mala. 250,000 repetitions of a single mantra????? WOW! I wrote him back and asked him a few more questions about his prayer bead use. Here is what he had to say:

Over the years I’ve settled into carrying two types of malas. One, with all wooden beads on a string with a single tassel like the one in this picture:

rod-mala-1or a bone mala, similar to the one in this picture: rod-mala-21

The mala that “stays at home” is the one with counters on it, similar (but not exactly like) the one in this picture:


I had practiced Buddhist meditation methods ( a dozen or more different types of meditation) for more than a decade before agreeing to take refuge vows. However, the process takes some time. I attended 6 one-day long retreats held at one month intervals going through the Foundation Series. This series acquaints you with the basics of Buddhist thought and practice. The Series ends with the opportunity to “take refuge”. This link shows you the new (5 part) series taught in Atlanta at Drepung Loseling….by the same teacher who taught our class in 1998.

On February 1, 1998 I took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. This formalized my Buddhist commitment and identity. What I like about the Geluk school’s Refuge ceremony is that it is rather straight forward and easy to understand. This link will fill in a lot of details about what it means to take refuge.

What do I do with a mala in my pocket? I do several things: first, I’ll finger them one at a time while matching my breath. This I do off and on all during the day. Just touching the beads while breathing reminds me of the time I’ve sat meditating and brings me closer to a relaxed open minded and open hearted response to life. Secondly I’ll run though some of the mantras I’ve used over the years:

1.) Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!

2) Om mani padme hum!

3) Om Vajrapani hum!

4) Om muni muni maha muniye soha!

5) Tayatha Om bekanze bekanze maha bekanze radze samung gate soha!

What I’ve done over the years is do a round of 108 repetitions of any one of these mantras, while in my pocket, while walking down a sidewalk, through a mall, etc. The repetition brings my mind back to a calm and alert state and sweeps aside the usual self centered commenting going on in my mind.

My two favorite mantras are # 2 and #5 in the list above. The #5 mantra is the mantra of the Medicine Buddha. My first Tibetan Buddhist initiation ( wongkur ) was in the practice of the Medicine Buddha.

To be accurate in answering your question about the 250,000 mantra repetitions I had to pull out my booklet received when undertaking the training for the Guru Yoga of Lama Tsong Khapa. This entire sadhana [spiritual practice], which takes between 25 and 40 minutes to complete was supposed to be done 100,000 times. Contained within this sadhana were a number of mantras that were to be performed 3 times, 7 times, 21 times or 108 times.

Many of us students would usually practice with the 3 times or 7 times repetitions of the mantras. Thus, if we did the entire sadhana 100,000 times we might repeat certain mantras 300,000 – 700,000 times! This takes years to accomplish and becomes a significant base of ones Buddhist practice within the Tibetan Buddhist ( Geluk School ) tradition.

Thanks, Rod, for sharing this intense practice! I wish you and your wife all the best in your return to the Episcopal Church.

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I forgot to tell you all to go and look at Beliefnet’s “Most Inspiring Person of the Year” package! I wrote all of the profiles of the 10 nominees and I am anxiously awaiting the outcome. WHO will be Beliefnet’s most inspiring person? You guys go and read about the candidates and let me know here who you think should win. I know who I voted for!!!!

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I was flipping through the Signals catalogue that landed with a thud in my mailbox over the weekend. I don’t really care for this catalogue – who really needs a t-shirt that alerts the world thay they are a book lover, dog lover, cat lover, fill-in-the-blank lover???  But I am in the habit of looking at every single catalogue (okay, maybe I skip the computer ones that come for my husband) on the theory that inspiration can come from anywhere. And this time, BINGO!

Signals is carrying something they call the “Foundations of Heaven” bracelet – a ring of 12 Czech crystal beads separated by small silver-colored spacers with a small silver-colored cross at the end. Each of the crystals is a different color and are meant to represent the precious stones that make up the walls of the New Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation:

And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. (Revelation 21, 19-21)

The colors used in the bracelet are  – jasper (rust), sapphire (darkblue), chalcedony (brown), emerald (green), sardonyx (black), carnelian (orange), chrysolite (light green), beryl (aquamarine), topaz (bronze), chrysoprase (turquoise), jacinth (red) and amethyst (purple). The bracelet sells for $30.

I am in no way suggesting you purchase this bracelet. But wouldn’t an Anglican, Lutheran or Catholic rosary with the weeks or decades made from such a mix of beads be gorgeous??? Ditto the Pearls of Life. You could string all 12 colors randomly, or pick out only the colors that are meaningful to you. If any of you make a set of prayer beads inspired by this bracelet, send me a picture!

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