Archive for March, 2009

annunciationI apologize for having missed this important day in the Catholic calendar by one day. I was out of commission yesterday, laid low with a stomach thingie. All over now. But I thought it would be worth looking at the traditions behind this day and their link to the Catholic rosary.

The Feast of the Annunciation – sometimes called Lady Day – is the day Catholics and some other Christians observe as the day the Holy Spirit, in the form of an angel, appeared before the Virgin Mary to tell her she was with child. Here is how the Gospel of Luke describes the scene (I have higlighted the part important to prayer beads).

Luke 1:26-38:
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God.

And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Of course, you see how this became the much loved and oft-repeated “Hail Mary” prayer that Catholics say on their rosary, first on the three Hail Mary beads on the stem of the rosary and then on each of the decade beads of the circlet of the rosary:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

With the revitalization of interest in prayer beads of all kinds, I have seen all sorts of variations on this prayer, each one tailored to suit the one who prayers. I have seen

New Age versions:

Hail Goddess full of grace. Blessed are you and blessed are all the fruits of your womb. For you are the MOTHER of us all. Hear us now and in all our needs. O blessed be, O blessed be. Amen.

Neo-Pagan versions:

Hail Mother, full of grace Thy gifts to us are abundant!
Holy Earth , Mother of us all
Our beloved, living home! Receive the Healing Energies we send to You
As we receive your Most Holy Healing Power, Goddess Almighty.
So mote it be.

Wiccan versions:

Hail, lady, full of grace, the God is with you.

Blessed is the fruit of your womb, the Consort and Son.

Holy Goddes, Mother of Earth,

Work your mysteries for your children,

Now and in the hour of our need.

So mote it be.

Which all goes to show the power and universality not only of this potent prayer, but also of the rosary and other forms of prayer beads. Good Lord – look who’se using rosaries now – boys raised in the Church of the Nazarene and Southern Baptists! What would they make of having the use of a rosary or other forms of prayer beads in common with neo-pagans, Wiccans, Muslims, Hindus, etc? I think we are more alike than we are different and our love of prayer beads highlights that

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“Pay to Pray?”

Got this in my email inbox this morning. Good Lord. What would $3.95 a month buy a starving kid in Africa?

More later. I have a class this morning and will return and see what you all think about this.

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All this  reading about Ireland and the many faiths there has given me a major case of wanderlust. Alas, I will not be going anywhere til May when my husband and I are off for a month in Italy (yes, you may hate me) where he has a conference and some other work. So I decided to do something I should have done months ago, but for some reason (hmm, work, house cleaning, needy dog, life in general) just never got around to – sharing with you all the fantastic prayer beads my eldest son Shawn and his girlfriend Cecilia brought back to me from their 5-month trip through Europe, the Middle East and China.

I think one reason it has taken me so long to show these beads here is it just seemed a huge task – they sent back and brought back so many from so many countries! But this morning, I thought, why not just do it in parts? So today, I want tp share with you some prayer beads Shawn brought back from the first six weeks of his trip, which he made with another classmate, through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. So here goes . . . .

Turkey – Here is a set of Muslim prayer beads, alternately called a subhah or a tasbih, depending on the culture,

Turkish prayer beads

Turkish prayer beads

that came from Istanbul, Turkey. Does anyone know what they are called in Turkey? I am thinking “tasbih.” Along side it, you see an evil-eye bead that he also brought me. I love this collection, because it tells you a lot about the faith and practice of this country – Turkey is still a secular country, but it has a growing religious fundamentalist political party. The people there – mostly Muslims – can be very devout (thus, the subhah), but they are also superstitious (thus the evil eye bead). If you have my book, you can find a description of the history and use of both of these kinds of beads on pages 8-10. I was lucky enough to travel in Istanbul and western Turkey 15 years ago and I remember seeing these blue eyeballs everywhere. Kinda creeped me out. Not this one, tho.

Syria – Shawn went to Syria next, where he had a wonderful time in bazaars and out in the desert, too. I guess he did not find any proper prayer beads, as he brought me these two necklaces. Neat, huh? Look at the arrowhead-like thing on the brown one. I suppose I could use that for a terminal charm.

Syrian beaded necklaces

Syrian beaded necklaces

Jordan – Next came Jordan and three sets of tasbih, each with different and interesting tassels. One

Jordanian prayer beads

Jordanian prayer beads

has coins, one has little metal balls, kind of like bells, and one has little metal drops. I do not know if there is any significance to these kinds of tassels. Anyone know? Also, notice that the prayer beads on the far right – the white ones – have some kind of writing on them. I am sure it is Arabic – anyone know for sure? Can anyone tell us what it says? If you have an Arabic friend, please forward this blog entry to him or her and clue us in. I am dying to know.


Arabic writing?

Prayer beads from Israel Israel – And here we have the first set of Catholic rosaries of the trip. Both are made from olive wood, very common to Israel, and both have a little window behind the medal that contains something it tells me is “terra Jerusalem” – the soil of Jerusalem. It’s kind of reddish in color. Pretty neat. He also sent two sets of subhah, these both with silk (or silk-like) tassels. Both are made from some kind of hard plastic or resin.

Here’s a picture of the “terra Jerusalem”:"Terra Jerusalem"

“Terra Jerusalem”

Egypt – OOPS. I forgot to photograph Egypt. We’ll have to save that for the next entry.

So, aren’t these very cool? Do any of you readers have rosaries or other forms of prayer beads from this part of the world that you could share a picture of or a story about?

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And to celebrate I want to introduce all of you to a project called “Beyond the Brogue: Covering Ireland’s Changing Religious Landscape.” This is a project of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, of which I am an alum (yeah, Class of 1994!) and is generated by its excellent Covering Religion class taught by my teacher, mentor and friend Ari Goldman. Every spring, Ari takes the 16 or so grad students who are interested in becoming religion reporters to some wonderfully diverse and challenging overseas location where they report on the local, national and international religion scene for about a week. In previous years, they have been to Israel, Russia, India, the American South (bummer for that class!)  and now Ireland. You can read the stories from these classes in the site’s class archives. Alas, when I was his student, this experience was not in the offering. But through the miracle of the Internet we can all travel along with this class and experience the incredible religious diversity of Ireland almost first hand. I am addicted to the Daily Dispatches, which are a kind of journalist’s diary of each day written by a different student each day, and to the Feature Stories, which are intended for publication. I have never been to Ireland and had no idea it was as diverse as it is. To me, it seems a lot like NYC, with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews – and just about every flavor of each one – rubbing elbows on a daily basis. Cool! You can find these sections on the search bar at the top of the site.

In the most recent of the Daily Dispatches, a Buddhist nun tells how she starts each morning with the prayer, “Today, may my actions be of benefit to all sentient beings.” How about that for a prayer bead prayer or mantra?

And, as it is Saint Patrick‘s Day and he is my personal favorite saint, I can point you all to the prayer bead prayers I offered here on this day last year. So read the stories from this lucky, talented group of young(ish) reporters and remember the great Saint who was the champion of the downtrodden.

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Oh, everyone, thank you so much for all your prayers a kind thoughts you have sent to me over this past awful week. Some of your prayers were so beautiful I want to – need to – share them with others. They have been a huge comfort.

John Dornheim alerted me to a lovely prayer that appears on the website of Gigi Beads that was written by Patricia Hauze. Scroll about halfway down the page – I cannot reprint it here without permission. And from a blog called More Or Less Church, John sent another link to some potent prayers. My favorite here is this one, which would also be great on a cruciform or Our Father bead:

O God, my Master
should I gain the grace
To see you face to face
when life is ended,
Grant that a little dog,
who once pretended
That I was God,
may see me face to face.

Another faithful reader, Mare, wrote, “”When my beloved friend Zebedee died, I found this card that made me feel . . . better. Its said, ‘When a beloved dog must leave us, it is only to sleep at God’s feet.'”

And reader Barbara K. shared this thought, from Miester Eckhart: “A man who knew nothing but creatures would never need to attend to any sermons, for every creature is full of God and is a book.” I would say is my Bella in sentence.

In addition, I have found some other wonderful resources that have helped me. Beliefnet.com is -coincidentally – offering a pet loss feature this week, some of which I found very sensitive. Check out the gallery of departed pets, and especially look at Sadey’s profile, where her owner contributes a prayer I wish I had been able to say over Bella:

“Heavenly Father, creator of all things, thank you for having entrusted with us a loyal pet. Thank you for letting her teach us unselfish love. Thank you for the memories that we may recall to help brighten our days for the rest of our lives. Finally, in gratitude we return our pet to you. Amen.”

And here’s a nice one, from Beliefnet’s Multifaith Pet Prayers page:

“Eternal Spirit, we bring you our grief in the loss of Bella and ask for courage to bear it. We bring you our thanks for Bella who lived among us and gave us freely of her love. We commit our friend and companion Bella into your loving hands. Give us eyes to see how your love embraces all creatures and every living thing speaks to us of your love. Amen.”

I am going to use that one on the cruciforms and/or Our Father beads and then I am going to say the following on the weeks/decades beads, one repetition for each bead. It was written by Thomas a Kempis:

“And if thy heart be straight with God, then every creature shall be to thee a mirror of life and a book of doctrine, for there is no creature so little or so vile, but that showeth and represententh the goodness of God. ”

At Ritualwell.org, a Jewish Reconstructionist resource, I found a kaddish prayer for animals that immediately reduced me to a puddle. You can read it here. It was the part about “Make a space beside You where he can sleep. A little place will do. He is small” that completely ruined me. I think this could easily be adapted to prayer beads.

That’s all for now. I am still having trouble just getting through the day, let alone writing. It’s been one week today.

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anglican-rosary-cluster-11First, let me say how touched I am by the flood of emails I’ve been receiving from readers and other friends and family who read my post about Bella. Many of them have contained the most lovely pet prayers – some which had me in quite a puddle of tears – that I will share here in a blog post within a day or so. I am a little raw today and don’t want to go to the Bella place right now. But I thank you all so much.

In a previous post, I promised to let you know when two sets of  prayer bead prayers I compiled for Beliefnet.com were “live.” They went up today and I hope you will check them out.

The first set is on the subjects of patience, strength and endurance. I compiled them for an Anglican rosary because that is what Beliefnet requested, but they could be adapted for the Catholic rosary by repeating a few prayers of your choice.

The second set is on the subject of light. They are also for the Anglican rosary and are adaptable.

Soon I will have a “how-to” gallery on Beliefnet that will offer directions for making a simple Anglican rosary. I hope we are able to bring a lot more people into this ancient contemplative practice which is bringing me a good measure of comfort at this time.

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p1130737As I wrote in a previous post, we were anticipating having to put our dear dog, Bella, down this week. We did it this morning, under a grey and raining California sky.

Bella found us almost 11 years ago, only a few months after my husband and I got married. I had gone to our local shopping center for my morning bagel and there she was, darting between cars in the parking lot. I suppose someone had dumped her there. A friend managed to get her onto the sidewalk and I said I would take her in my van to the animal shelter. I reached down to pet her and found myself looking into her very frightened brown eyes. There was kind of this instant connection between us, as of she were saying to me, “Where were you? I need you.” I just knew in that one instant that she was a very special animal and that we needed to be together.

007_4a3It turned out to be the luckiest day of both our lives. When no one claimed her at the shelter, she became our second dog. It took her some time to come to terms with our first dog, Shadow, but once she did, she settled right in. Many animals pick a person to be “theirs,” and I was very definitely hers. For 11 years, she has followed me from room to room, from inside the house to outside, and just about anywhere else I would let her go. When I would take a bath, she would walk right in, stick her nose over the side of the tub to check I was still there, then give me a lick or two and click-click back out into the bedroom to wait for me to come to my senses and get out of the water. She also routinely followed me into the closet, sure that there might be some secret escape route, I guess.

Bella gave us some good times. Once, she ate our couch. We needed a new couch anyway, and she was just trying to help. Once, while we were out to dinner, she slipped out of the backyard and disappeared. Two very frantic days I would not want to relive for anything followed – and then we found that she had been picked up by the dog catcher perhaps a whole 20 minutes after leaving the yard. Apparently, she walked right up to his truck and said, “Hi, Mr. Man, can I go for a ride with you?” After a weekend in dog jail, she was very happy to be home. Once, Terry and I took her on a hike along the Bolinas Ridge in Marin County that took us through a cow pasture. A young black bull – I would say at least 1,000 lbs, snorted at us from about 40 yards away and pawed the ground. I got really scared and started to panic, my voice rising. Bella took one look at that bull and gave two barks – “Woof, WOOF!!” and I’ll be damned if he didn’t turn on his hoof and run away! Bella was like that – she had no idea she was a dog and not a bull or a person.

On Sept. 11, 2001, she kept sticking her wet nose into my hand as I sat in front of the television with tears running down my face. When I had my miscarriages, each time I came home from the hospital, she was there, sticking her nose over the top of the bed to check I was there and okay – I think she could smell is I was okay. Then she’d kiss me. She always knew when I was upset and a cold, wet nose and a lick or two were her favored remedy.


Since 1998, everything I have written has been done with Bella lying on my foot or close enough to touch me. She was there when I finished my first book, my second and my third. I have written this whole blog with her nearby. I couldn’t even begin to count the stories I have written that she has been part of, snoozing by the computer as I interviewed people and typed away.

Things Bella loved – sharing a Popsicle with mama, a lick for me, a lick for her. Scrambled eggs, pancakes, purple grapes, bananas, peanut butter,people who came to the house to see her, a scratch behind the ears, going away for a weekend with mom and dad, chasing squirrels, putting her head on daddy’s shorts, helping tear the wrapping paper off packages. Things she did not love – a camera flash, a flickering candle, going outside in the rain, other dogs. Cats were not high on her list, either.

hill-bellaThe trip to the vet was uneventful. We loaded her into the back of the van on her bed and wrapped in her blanket. I rode the quarter mile in the back with her. At the vet, they took us right in. We place her bed on the examining table, laid her on the bed and held her as they gave her the shot. She just drifted of to sleep in a matter of minutes. The doctor – a wonderfully gifted vet who has cared for her all her life and helped our other animals make the transition – said we should not feel guilty about the decision because her quality of life had declined. He listened to her heart, which beat longer than he expected, I think, and said she was stubborn. That she was. We liked to joke that she had no reverse. She was always moving forward.

In preparing for the moment she would leave us, I asked if people would send me some prayers for their animals. You all sent some great prayers, which you can see in the comments of my last post (see link above). But when the moment came, every thought left my head. I just sat there, staring at her face, repeating “God be with you, God keep you” into her ear over and over again. That didn’t seem enough, so I finally said the 23rd Psalm. I trust in its promise – the Lord is now her shepherd and I know she shall not want. I know she is in a beautiful place where there are lots of squirrels and the purple grapes hang at snout level. I know she will eat her fill and run and play like she has not been able to do for more than a year.

So she is gone. We cried, very hard, as we held on to her and each other. My husband and I both commented that once she was gone her body relaxed more completely than we had seen her relax in months. Then we came home to a very quiet house. After a couple of hours of sort of just sitting here in silence, I reached for Women’s Uncommon Prayers on my bookshelf. Here is a prayer I found for Bella written by Madelyn A. Stella, which I will say tonight on my Anglican rosary:

O God, our maker , we pray for all the pets of the world that they may have good homes.

Grant that all pet owners may provide living care for your creatures.

We (I) pray for all who serve our pets, that they recognize our pets as truly members of our family.

Grant us (me) the wisdom to recognize the blessing of having had Bella with is in our family.

May Bella’s friends and family receive comfort and peace from the knowledge of your eternal love and grace.

We (I) praise you for the pets of the saints, who have gone before: for Dame Julian’s cat, for the dolphins who led St Brendan safely to land, for the wolf tamed by St Brigid, for all the animals who loved St. Francis and for all animals everywhere.

Dear God, I give thanks to you for the life of Bella and the love and companionship we shared. We (I) will miss her, but in the midst of our (my) sorrow we (I) recognize the blessings she brought to us. Just as you are aware of every sparrow that falls, be with Bella at this time. Amen. 012_9a4

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