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Archive for January 7th, 2009

Happy New Year all! I am sorry for the long time, no blog. I have been down with flu this whole week and am now behind in work, housework and everything else. Ugh.

A couple of days ago, I received a very nice comment from a man named Larry Gray in response to my much earlier post on Baha’i Prayer Beads. Here is a bit of what Larry had to say (to see the full comment, go to the original post and scroll down):

“I make prayer beads that are sold in Baha’i bookstores and I send them in “Vahids” [groups of 19, as Baha’i prayer beads have 19 beads] rather than dozens, just to help establish the tradition.

Baha'i Prayer Beads

Baha'i Prayer Beads

As to all [Baha’is] not using prayer beads – it is often that we haven’t established the habit of praying regularly. Baha’i is a gentle religion and we are not threatened with hellfire for not following our traditions. I am getting better as I grow older – hopefully a bit wiser. My knuckle counting friends tell me it is less distracting than beads. I see their point. I have beads made of seeds and seashells and semiprecious sonte and I love to look at and handle them.

I also do a display of prayer beads and prayer aids (tallit shawls, Native American prayer feathers, etc) from all the major religions. It is a visual feast at programs where I present them. It fascinates me how much in common they have.”

I like the fact that Larry seems to see the world’s religions much the way I do – that we all have much more in common than we have that separates us and that the very common use of prayer beads is an example of this. So I asked Larry, who says he was a Catholic before becoming a Baha’i, what he found was both the same and different about the Catholic rosary and Baha’i prayer beads. Here is a portion of his response:

Prayer beads are a fascinating tool in that they are so similar in the various religions, just as the religions themselves are more similar than different. All religions promote prayer, marriage, spirituality, peace, etc. What differs is the culture in which it lives, so marriage ceremonies, for example, are different around the world, but marriage is the same. Repetitive prayer helps us relax and communicate with the inner, spiritual self. The idea behind prayer beads is minimize the need to count prayers, a left brained function, and move into the more spiritual right brain where one is more likely to be moved and inspired.

Catholic (the major Christian sect until the middle ages) has had many styles of prayer beads called c[h]aplets, but by far the most popular has become the rosary. Lore has it that St. Dominic was given the rosary by the Blessed Virgin in a vision. Rosary comes from the Latin for rose and suggests that one is in a spiritual rose garden when praying the rosary. Other apparitions of Mary, such as at Fatima, also reinforce the importance of the rosary.

Baha’is, whose original culture comes out of the Moslem [Muslim] traditions also started out with 99 beads, but were soon given a set of 95 beads divided into five sets of nineteen beads each. Nineteen is the number of original believers named “Letters of the Living,” similar to Christian apostles. Nineteen of something, including these prayers is called a Vahid, named for the last member of the Letters of the Living. Baha’is recite the chant “Allah’u-Abha (God is Most Glorious) on each bead usually first thing in the morning. Interestingly, some Baha’is don’t need prayer beads. They find them distracting. Instead, they count on their knuckles and the tips of the fingers, adding up to nineteen.

You asked about the differences between Baha’i prayers and the Catholic rosary. The rosary has different prayers, ten of this, one of that, etc. One must think about where one is in the scheme of the beads, but is does give a pleasant musical rhythm to the process. Baha’i prayers are the same chant on all the beads, this being a more calming and less thoughtful and rhythmic experience. Needless to say, neither is better than the other, just different.

I must tell you, I have made and sold prayer beads for years, mostly Baha’i, some rosaries and others. Over the years, I have added a small strand of five beads onto the end of the ninety-five. The reason is that sometimes we chant some prayers in multiples of 100 and can use the extra beads to keep even. It has become popular with some other Baha’i bead makers as well, but darned if it doesn’t look a bit more like a rosary! I also sometimes say a slightly different prayer on each of the nineteenth beads. “You can take the boy out of the Catholic Church but you can’t take the church out of the boy.”

Thanks so much for this, Larry.If any of you live in Maine, you might go and see Larry present a talk on prayer beads this Sunday (MY BIRTHDAY!!!) for the Bahai’s of Eliot, Maine. BRRRRRR!!!!

Anyone else out there have something to say about two different prayer bead traditions that they have personal experience with? How are they the same and different? How has your experience with one informed your experience of the other?


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