Archive for the ‘My Prayer Bead Practice’ Category

Gee, that’s a cheery title. But it is really how I am feeling these days. No real cause – no sickness, death or sadness in my circle of family and friends; no mid-life crisis; no loss or suffering. Just having trouble these days raising the energy it takes to pray or practice.

That’s why I’ve been silent for longer than usual. I do not want anyone to worry. I am looking at this as a natural cycle. Your car’s gas tank routinely runs low, why should it not be the same for our spirit’s gas tank? The question is how to fill it up again? And I am not sure I know the answer to that. I am kinda sitting around waiting for – excuse the phrase – the spirit to move me.

In the meantime, I would love to post comments from readers about how they deal with their own spiritual desert. Do you turn to certain books, scriptures, friends, family? Do you try to take hikes or walks in inspirational places? Do you seek help from spiritual advisors? What helps replenish your soul?

Now that is off my chest, I want to turn to something to pray for. I was listening to National Public Radio this morning and there was an excellent, heartbreaking story from reporter Tom Bowman about a U.S. Marine killed in Afghanistan in 2006. His name was Sgt. Jared Monti, and today his family will be present with the Medal of Honor by President Obama at the White House. You can hear the original report here. What you need to know is Sgt. Monti’s soldiers came under heavy and very close fire by Taliban troops. One man went down and when another man wanted to go and get him, Sgt. Monti said No, he is my guy. I go get him. He was mortally wounded in the attempt, and as he lay dying, with his other troops trying to reach him, he called out, “Tell my family I am good with God and I love them.”

Sigh. What can I say after that? It struck me to the quick and I thought I would ask us all to pray for Sgt. Monti and his family. And if you feel so moved, there is a scholarship fund set up in his name. Here’s a military prayer that comes from Beliefnet, contributed by one of its members, named Maury1. I think you can adapt it to your particular faith by changing the divine address, if you feel the need to. I do not know what faith Sgt. Monti followed, but I would assume it was Christianity:

Dear Lord Jesus and Mary, Mother of God,
Hold all these brave souls in the palm of your hand, comfort them and their families.

Send angels of protection, love, and comfort to all the service men and women still at war,
bring them home safely and comfort their families.

We ask all our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

– Beliefnet member maury1

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Spring is definitely here in Northern California. In my yard, the wisteria is swaying in the breeze, my lilacs are scenting the air, the California poppies are bobbing their orange heads and the yellow rose bush is just about ready to give me a couple of vasefuls of buds. For the first time since Bella died I am feeling the joy in life again.

To honor the return of this blessing to me, I want to use Holy Week for prayers of thanksgiving. The things I am grateful for are things I think we can all be grateful for – the fact that the sun is warm, that flowers are here or are coming, that we are here to experience these simple gifts.

And that puts me in mind of the beautiful, old Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts.” This is the part that really resonates with me today:

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

“The valley of love and delight.” What a beautiful place that sounds like. If the last month of depression and grief and sadness has taught me anything it is that it is up to me to create my own valley of love and delight – if I choose to do so. Today, I say I choose to do so.

So here are my prayers of thanksgiving for the valley of love and delight I choose to see around me. I am saying them on the Pearls of Life, also called the Wreath of Christ. If you have my book, I write about this form of Lutheran prayer beads on pages 39-41. I have blogged about my own set here, with pictures and instructions for making one. As they have no set prayers, you are free to write or compile your own. Mine are below, inspired by this week of renewal. Feel free to use them, change them to suit your own faith or needs.

On the God Pearl

Thanks be to you, O God, for all the blessings you have given me.

On the (first) Pearl of Silence

For the gift of the earth and all it contains, I thank you.

On the Baptism Pearl

I shall love the Lord with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength and with all my mind.

— adapted from Luke 10:27

On the (second) Pearl of Silence

For the gift of my family and all the love they provide, I thank you.

On the Night Pearl

Holy spirit, expressing the world,

Help me to awake this day and realize

That God is in this place. —adapted from Genesis 28:16

On the Mystery Pearls (three)

1 – God with me lying down

2 – God with me rising up

3 – God with me in each ray of light —from the Carmina Gadelica

On the Love Pearls (two)

1 – I bless you Lord, for the beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass

2 – I bless you Lord, for the taste of good food, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away.

Chief Dan George

On the (third) Pearl of Silence

For the blessing of my friends and all the support they offer me, I thank you

On the Serenity Pearl

For this is to live the life eternal: To experience our indivisible relationship with God

John, 17:3

On the (fourth) Pearl of Silence

For the gift of my abilities and all the comfort they bring me, I thank you

On the Desert Pearl

The wind is your messenger, the clouds are your chariots.

All creatures exist in you. What endless variety you are. — Psalm 104

On the (fifth) Pearl of Silence

For the love of my pets and animal friends and all the solace they bring me, I thank you.

On the Resurrection Pearl

Praise the everlasting and the holy.

Take joy in the miracle of creation,

For we live in the mystery of the unbounded.

In this marvelous world, we are alive. —- Psalm 135

On the I Pearl

Blessed are those who are aware that they dwell in you,

For they fill their days with peace. —-Psalm 84

On the (sixth) Pearl of Silence

For all the glory of your creation and all the beauty it brings me, I thank you.

On the return to the God Pearl

Thanks be to you, O God, for giving me the gift of life and all its bounties.

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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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As the daily news gets worse and worse, I keep thinking back to the hopefulness of the inauguration, especially to the beautiful prayers of Rev. Gene Robinson, Rev. Rick Warren and Rev. Joseph Lowery. I have also been inspired and comforted by the prayers of Jewish, Hindu and other Christian leaders who wrote inaugural prayers at the request of Religion News Service. A couple of lines from each of these prayers have been sounding within me over the last two weeks, and I finally decided to lay them out as a set of prayers for my prayer beads.

Before I share this with you, let me say that I believe, above everything, that prayer has an enormous power to unite us and should never divide us. In that belief and spirit, I link together the prayers of these leaders, even thought they come from different faiths and certainly have different interpretations of God, His/Her will and what our purpose here is. It is my hope that all of us can find common ground in the spirit of these prayers. Perhaps in joining them all on one strand of prayer beads we can put aside our differences as well all pray for our country. You, of course, are free to pick and choose the prayers you like and discard the ones you don’t.

The first instruction is for the Anglican rosary and the second is for the Catholic rosary. I identify the author of each prayer by their initials: GR (Gene Robinson), RW (Rick Warren), JL (Joseph Lowery), WDJ (Wilfred de Jesus), BH (Brad Hirschfield), SR (Samuel Rodriguez), AGL (Anne Graham Lotz) and RZ (Rajan Zed)

This is what I came up with:

On the Cross, Crucifix or Other Terminal Charm:

Almighty God, our Father,
Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone.
It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory. (RW)

On the Invitatory (Anglican Rosary) / First Our Father Bead (Catholic Rosary):

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand — true to thee, O God, and true to our native land. (JL)

On the Three Hail Mary Beads (Catholic Rosary Only):

1-3 Peace, peace, peace be unto all. (RZ)

On the First Cruciform / Second Our Father Bead:

The Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made. (RW)

On the First Set of Weeks / Decades Beads:

1 – Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility,

2 – the courage to lead us with integrity,

3 – the compassion to lead us with generosity.

4 – Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

5 – Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans–united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

6 – When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you–forgive us.

7 – When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone–forgive us.

8 – When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve–forgive us.

9 – And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes—even when we differ.

10 – Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all. (RW)

On the Second Cruciform Bead/ or Third Our Father Bead:

Lord God Almighty, you are the author and initiator of change. Humbly, we ask for the strength to put our hands on the arc of history and bend it once more towards the hope of a better day – one of freedom and peace. (WDJ)

On the Second Set of Weeks Beads / or Decades Beads:

1 – And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

2 – Help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

3 – We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.

4 – Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors,

5 – when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

6 – For we know that, Lord, you’re able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, [and] mend our brokenness,

7 – heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

8 -Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

9 – Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

10 – Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen. (JL)

On the Cruciform Bead / Our Father Bead:

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will… (GR)

On the Third Set of Weeks Beads / or Decades Beads:

1 – Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

2 – Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

3 –Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

4 –Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

5 –Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

6 –Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

7 –Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world. (GR)

8 – Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

9 – Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

10 – Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen. (JL)

On the Fourth Cruciform Bead / Fourth Our Father Bead:

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States. (GR)

On the Fourth Set of Weeks Beads / Fourth Set of Decades Beads:

1 – Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

2 –Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

3 –Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

4 –Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

5 –Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

6 –Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

7 –And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. (GR)

On the Fifth Set of Decade Beads (Catholic Rosary Only):

1 – Known by many names and called upon in many languages, we stand before You, God, as one nation.

2 – The Psalmist declares that the heavens belong to you, and that you have given the Earth to humanity. Strengthen this president, vice president and each of us to be good stewards of the this planet and our country. (BH)

3 – Thank you for our freedom which has not come easily, and is even now being defended by the courages sacrifice of those willing to lay down their lives. May we never abuse it or take it for granted.

4 – Give our new president a powerful, fresh encounter with yourself, so that on your behalf, he would exercise kindness, justice and righteousness in this nation and in the world. (AGL)

5 – [May] we stand against the voices that attempt tp draw us appart and commit ourselves to focusing on what holds us together: our love of God, family and country.

6 – Let this generation arise as the firewall against the spirit of violence, poverty, death and injustice. (SR)

7 -May we be protected together. May we be nourished together.

8 – May we work together with great vigor. May no obstacle arise between us.

9 – United [in our] resolve, united [in our] hearts, may our spirits be at one that we may long together dwell in unity and concord.

10 – Peace, peace, peace be unto all. (RZ)

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Do any of you listen to music when you meditate or pray – with or without prayer beads? I usually require silence, but at the last Book Expo, I came across Allegro Media Group‘s booth, where some very nice people from NewSound Music were offering CDs of world music that has a spiritual bent. Once I explained the purpose of my blog, account manager Paxton Scott very nicely gave me a stack of CDs to review as potential prayer bead music.

Here is what they gave me – each link has a place where you can listen to samples

Buddha Chill: Soulfood

Global Rhythms Collection (multiple artists)

Peace of Mind (Steven Halpern)

Celestial Mozart (Gerald Jay Markoe)

Healing the Holy Land (Dean Evenson)

Sacred Blessings: Sacred Music Inspired by the Worlds Great Faiths (selected by Anthony Robbins)

I am happy to report that all the CDs they gave me were lovely, of not all were to my taste. Lilting piano melodies, driving (but not too driving) ethnic drums, soft strings and where there were vocals they were smooth and serene.

I tried praying my beads with one of these CDs playing in the background until I went thru the whole stack. Not every one was to my taste. Buddha Chill was my least favorite because I don’t connect with electronic music. Sacred Blessings gave me a bit of a shock because the first track was an intro by Tony Robbins, the self-motivational guru, and I just kept wondering what he was doing on this CD while I was trying to pray. The rest, though, was lovely, and I give Robbins, who I believe is a Mormon, credit for including the songs and prayers of many faith traditions.

My favorite CD was Celestial Mozart. For one thing, it had very few vocals, and those it did have did not distract me from my prayers because they were just syllables or in Latin, which I dont understand. I think it also helps that Markoe is a yoga teacher and intentionally arranged the music to be 28 to 60 beats per minute, which he identifies as “the best tempo range for deep relaxation.” Then there’s the fact that I just like Mozart – thank you Dr. Dietz and your music appreciation 101 I took at the University of Texas 25 years ago. Some things stick.

Praying with music in the background may not be the thing for me. It is hard enough for me to focus my energy on what I am doing and not start thinking about my grocery list or my workload or how badly I want to eat a chocolate donut. I tended to get lost in the music. But maybe I just need some practice. I’d be interested in hearing back from those of you who do listen to music while you use prayer beads. Do you have any tips for those of us who find it a challenge? What are some of your favorite things to listen to? How do you stay focused on the prayer and not the music? Or, do you focus on the music and let that become a prayer?

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My husband and I are back from our trip and preparing to go to work tomorrow. Yuck. But before I get back to writing about the growth of American Judaism and what’s new on the animal spirituality front, I have a few last prayer bead-related things to say about Seattle.

The first day I was in Seattle, I hopped a Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island. I had read that the ferries were a really fun (read: cheap) way to see Seattle and so I put getting on one high on my to-do list. I took a backpack and a set of prayer beads in the hope that the 35- minute ferry ride might prove to be a meditative experience. Somehow.

It kind of was. Of course, I was traveling at a non-commute time and in a non-commute direction, so there were not too many people on my boat, the Wenatchee, so it was easy to find a place to sit both inside and out where you could, if you were so inclined, slip your hand in your pocket and say a round of prayers on the prayer beads. I gave myself over to the humming of the engines, the sight of the seagulls that followed us all the way and the beautiful sight of snowy Mt. Ranier in the distance. It was too pretty to close my eyes and pray, so I used one of my old standards on all the beads: “I lift my eyes unto the hills. From where is my helpt oc ome? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

Once on Bainbridge, I set off on foot. I heard there was a bead store on the island and I went to find it. Not hard. Small place. But alas, it was closed at 11-something in the morning. Seems they are moving to a new location and the person minding the store had to step out. So, alas, I cannot give you a report on the Island’s one bead store. If you are ever there, you send me a report.

I continued up Winslow Way, Bainbridge Island’s main street, and at the top of the hill saw the white steeple of the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, looking for all the world like it belonged a continent away on a New England green. Inside, I found a quiet, still, dim little sanctuary where I could take break with my beads. The sanctuary was so calm, so quiet that I could hear myself breathe. That inspired me to pray only with my breathe, in and out, in and out. I sat for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, my eyes on the muted jewel tones of the sanctuary’s dominating stained glass window. I left with a lighter step, I think. If you are ever in Bainbridge, check it out.

A couple of days later, with the trip to St. James Cathedral and the Japanese Garden under my belt (see previous post), I figured I had covered the prayer bead bases as best as a gal on vacation needs to. So I set off for Pike Place Market with the intention of doing nothing but eat. And yet it was here, in the middle of the bustle and trade of this most touristy and crowded of all Seattle sights, that I found one of the most interesting bead stores I have ever been to.

I was walking through one of the lower levels of the market – a floor below the flying fish, I think – and I was kind of grossed out by all the touristy t-shirts and junk for sale in many of the shops. Just as I was about to head back to the produce and fish stalls above, I saw a neon sign that said BEADZone. I must have done a double-take – Pike Place Market is the last place I expected to find a serious bead store. But I am happy to report that BeadZone is just that.

I walked in the store and was immediately sure there was something spiritual going on here. The walls were decorated with posters showing the beads and jewelry of ethnic peoples from around the world and there were malas and Buddhas, too. A glance

inside one of the glass cases under a window cinched it – lots and lots of small Buddhas, open hand “Ham-Sa” charms, Christian medals and rosaries told me someone in this store had an interest in the spiritual uses of beads. They even had actual Tibetan dzi beads – the first I have every seen up close.

The owners of the store are Nina and Ram Menon. This is Nina, on the right in the picture. They’ve been together some 30 years or so and beads are a calling for them. Ram is also interested in the healing power of prayer and told me how a recent trip to a seminar with Dr. Herbert Benson had inspired him to want to create malas that could be walked – think labyrinth but with sensory clues, like incense and chiming bells, to tell you when to move on in prayer. The Menons have a sizable and very interesting collection of beads and charms that could be used in prayer beads. While they do not at the moment have an online store, they said they’d be happy to help you over the phone with anything you see pictured here. if you call them (206-903-6196), say hi to Bella, their little white dog who lords it over the store.

On another day, I went to the Seattle Art Museum. Note to SAM: if you are going to charge $20 for admission – the same amount New York’s world class Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art charge, you had better be sure you have enough art – and enough good art – to justify it. They don’t – not in my opinion – with one exception. One of the exhibits, Inspiring Impressionism, was truly well thought out and worth the money and trouble to go. But as for the rest – I don’t appreciate paying $20 to see a painted toilet, a couple of Fords hanging upside down from the ceiling and a suspended log. But that’s me. They did have one prayer bead related painting and it was a delight because it was totally unexpected. The painting, The Virgin Presenting the Rosary to Saint Dominic, by Antonio Palomino, showed a blue-robed Mary holding the baby Jesus with one hand a rosary with the other, which is outstretched to the Catholic saint. I could not take a picture and the musuem shop did not have a postcard.

And that was my trip to Seattle. I loved it. I would go back in heart bead. HAHAHA.

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In my last entry, I wrote about the almost mystical prayer experience I had in Seattle’s gorgeous St. James Cathedral. I left there at about noon and continued my quest for good places to pray with beads in this quirky, lovely city.

For some reason, I got it into my head that after praying indoors at St. James, I should look for a good place to try out my prayer beads outdoors. Seattle is not known for its fine weather, but during the time my husband and I have been here, the weather has been positively ideal – sunny, between 74 and 80 degrees and often with a light breeze. After all the smoky skies we’ve been having in the SF Bay Area, the weather in Seattle has been like stepping out into a cool, bright morning after a night’s debauch in a cigar store.

So, after looking at a tourist map the concierge gave me, I decided I could walk from St. James to Seattle’s Japanese Garden. Surely, once there, I would be imbued with the meditative, Buddhist spirit of the place and be moved to pray.


I walked. And I walked. And I walked and I walked and I walked. With every step, I think a lost a little of transcendent mood I captured at St. James. By the time I stopped for some lunch in a neighborhood called Capitol Hill, I thought I must surely be within a block or two of my destination. WRONG AGAIN! It seemed that the tourist map crunched the perspective on the areas of the map outside Seattle’s downtown, because who, in their right mind, would want to venture beyond the Space Needle, Pioneer Square and the culinary lure of Pikes Place Market? So instead of a few blocks, I still had more than a mile. UPHILL.

Okay, so after a slice and soda, I set off. Soon I was walking on some pretty tree-lined streets with what I would call mansions on either side. The homes were definitely older – maybe from the 1920s or so – and some had four floors! All were gorgeous and I would dearly have loved to peek inside the humblest of them. After i don’t know how many blocks of this, I came to Volunteer Park, home of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Asian art. Right. That goes with Buddhism. So I decided to stop there, draw some inspiration from looking at some Buddhist art before getting some more directions to the Japanese Garden.

Asian art is not my favorite. But as I was getting warm and needed a bathroom (soda – must remember not to guzzle soda when not working within steps of my bathroom) I eagerly stepped inside. And I am rather glad I did. The Museum – which is part of the Seattle Art Museum – was hosting a show called “Discovering Buddhist Art – Seeking the Sublime.” The show offered a great introduction to Buddhism, describing all the major stories about the Buddha and how the religion/philosophy spread across Asia. It had lots of statuary depicting Buddha as he is imaged in different Asian cultures, and I was on the look out for representations of him carrying malas, the Buddhist and Hindu form of prayer bead. Several of the statues of the Buddhas held little malas in their right hands, some while seated with their consort goddesses, others while crushing demons with their hands and feet. All the Buddhas and other figures in the show wore the most serene expressions on their faces, reflecting the immeasurable peace attained by true detachment from all wordly thing. Ah, yes – that reminds me – back to my quest for the the Japanese Garden where, I too, might find such detachment.


I set off one more time, still almost a mile away from my destination – and with one more major hill to climb up and over. But, like any spiritual quest, it isn’t the destination, but the journey, and my journey through the Capitol Hill neighborhood was one of the highlights of the day. As I have been all week, I was stunned by the vibrancy of the flowers in this town – riots of hydrangea, roses, peonies, marigolds, poppies, pansies, fuchsia spring from the smallest garden plots and from hanging baskets that seem to be a totem of this city. And at the top of the hill, I was rewarded with a view of Mt. Ranier, snowy and cool and remote, some 90 miles away from the city.

And someone who lives on Capitol Hill has a sense of whimsy. As I walked by this one big house, the yard was decorated with “art” – painted cowboy boots, stone towers and the like. At the foot of a tree in the yard was a collection of little trinkets – sea glass, little dolls, balls, etc. and a sign that said “take a treasure.” I did – a piece of sea glass!

Downhill, downhill, downhill and then – at last! – the Japanese Garden. But I think by this point I was just too darned tired to be inspired anymore. All but three of the park’s benches were in full sun at this time of day, so I couldn’t find anywhere to sit and be alone. But I took some pictures and I show them to you here so you can see that if you do come to Seattle and you are looking for a good outdoor place to be alone with your thoughts and prayers, this will do. It is a little close to Lake Washington Blvd. for it to be totally quiet, but it has lovely waterfalls and brooks that spread the soothing melody of bubbling water throughout.

This is a brook that runs through the garden. You can sit on a rock or under a tree or on a bench – if you can find one not in the sun.

And here’s a shot of the pond – that the brook runs into – looking across to a set of bridges. There are big goldfish in the pond (I don’t think they are koi) and some turtles that come up and sun themselves on the rocks. Dragonflies dart among the waterlilly blossoms.

This is a shot of the pond from the bridges pictured above. It is nice a cool under the willows and that would me a nice place to meditate or pray.

And here is a guy who is doing what I had hoped to be doing – meditating or thinking or praying – before the brook. I am happy he found a good spot.

And these are my feet after my walk. IS IT ANY WONDER I


Then I did something smart. I caught the bus back to the hotel, bought an iced coffee and put my feet up.

In my next post, I’ll give you a review of a couple of Seattle bead stores I frequented and I’ll tell you about one or two more places I visited for prayer.

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My husband and I are visiting Seattle this week – he for a conference and me for the free hotel room. So while he confers, I bop around the city looking for bead stores, places to pray with beads and great yarn stores. Oh, then there’s the eating. There are way too many good bakeries in this town.

One of the accepted truisms of the religion beat is that the Pacific Northwest is the least religious place in the United States. It has the lowest religious affiliation per capita and is the place where people are more likely to say they are “spiritual but not religious” than anywhere else. So I expected it might be a little more difficult to find great places to pray. I was, I can happily tell you, totally wrong.

This morning, I walked about 8 blocks from my hotel to Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church and the jewel in the Seattle Archdiocese’s crown. I hoped to go inside and find a nice, quiet, meditative place that would inspire me to prayer. JACKPOT.

I stepped inside the church at about 11 a.m. to find a cool, quiet sanctuary with only two or three people scattered in the wooden pews and chairs. But what immediately struck me was the music – the organist was practicing what sounded like Bach, flooding the cool, dim space with music that came from all four corners of the church. I took a seat – a wooden chair – in the second row before the altar.

Then I noticed something very interesting. The church’s interior seems to be dominated by a theme – that of the circle. The sanctuary is illuminated by a skylight – a round hole at the top of a dome over the altar. Around the skylight is written the following: “I am in your midst as one who serves.” Directly below the skylight is the altar, which is also circular, with three steps leading up to another circular dias on which the communion table sits. This, it struck me, would mean that when people come up for communion, they might kneel in a circle about the altar and table. In other words, this is a church where the action does not take place in a line across the front, with the people separated from the communion supper by a rail, but where the people are in the midst of the action. I like the inclusiveness this implies.

Then I looked about me and saw the circle theme echoed elsewhere – in the medallions that ringed the church for the stations of the cross, in the rounded tops of all the stained glass windows and the arches, in the round bowl of holy water that sits right at the beginning of the main aisle, and in the round lamps that hung over the altar.

About this time, I got out the beads I put in my backpack for my trip. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what beads I was bringing with me, just throwing a set in both my purse and my backpack. I felt a little shiver run down my spine when I pulled out my beads and found I had brought an Anglican rosary with no cross, but with a glass bead that was round, smooth and cool – just like the inside of the church. If you have a copy of Bead One, Pray Too, it is the one pictured on page 28. I love it when stuff like that happens.

So, what to pray? One thing I like to do when I visit a church is to look for something in the pew that contains the congregation’s prayers. I try to incorporate one of their prayers into my own with the beads. I like to think that this links me to them in some way – I am a guest in their house of worship and wish to show my respect and thanks by using one of their prayers. I looked in the rack on the back of the chair in front of me and found a church bulletin from last Sunday. Inside, I found a verse from a song the congregation sang together, and I used it on my cruciform beads. Here is what I prayed:


Glory to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.


The Lord’s Prayer


Glory be to God in heaven,

Songs of joy and peace we bring,

Thankful hearts and voices raising,

To creation’s Lord we sing:

Lord, we thank you, Lord we bless you,

Glory be to God our king.


Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

I prayed my Anglican rosary three times around. When I returned to the invitatory bead, I said a Hail Mary, as I was in a Catholic Church and it would further link me to all the people who had prayed with the Catholic rosary in these same pews. When I was done, I was struck by how completely silent it was in the sanctuary. The organist had wrapped up and left – I heard him jangling his keys as he left – and all the other worshippers had disappeared. It was just me and my prayers and the presence of the divine I could feel all about me. Here I was, in the middle of a major metropolitan city, and it was utterly quiet, peaceful, calm and still. Only my beads occasionally clicked.

When I was done, I walked to the font of holy water at the front and dipped my beads. I then held them as they dried and walked around the perimeter of the church. In the Mary chapel, I lit two candles – one for my friend Darrell, whose 44th birthday would have been a week ago Sunday, and one for Sandy, to whom Bead One, Pray Too is dedicated.

When I left the sanctuary, it was only because I needed to get moving if I was going to get everywhere I needed to me today. I stopped in the church’s excellent bookstore and bought a rosary made with multi-colored crystal beads and little book of prayers written by the church’s former choir mistress. Their bookstore wad a wonderful selection of books, including an especially good section on prayer. Check it out online. And while you are there, be sure and visit the church’s excellent prayer resources. I am particularly fond of the Mary Journey page – how wonderful to have all those images of a strong woman to pray with! And note that all the images are found in St. James.

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Last Sunday morning, before my husband and I piled our son’s undergraduate detritus in our van and headed home from Pasadena, I stopped into All Saints Episcopal Church for the 9 a.m. worship service. I took with me my set of Episcopal prayer beads that I made at the Sea Ranch – the ones made from paper beads made by women in Uganda.

Full disclosure – I have used Rev. Susan Russell, an All Saints pastor, as a source for several stories I wrote for Beliefnet.com on the Episcopal Church’s struggle with homosexuals in the church. I have also listed her a source for other reporters to use as a source on the same subject for ReligionLink.

I love this church. I have visited it before on other trips we have made to see our son. It looks like my idea of church should look. It is a traditional stone structure with the traditional nave, apse and transept layout, with the four arms of the church ending in four gorgeous stained glass windows. The appointments of the church are traditional, too, with woodcarvings that decorate the podia and stonecuts that adorn the communion rail. An elaborate wooden latticework runs across the top of the altar to separate the choir from the congregation. It is just lovely.

But what pleased me even more that this church belies the commonly held notion that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. I am happy to tell you that I worshiped this morning with blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos. There was a lot of grey hair, yes, as in most mainline Protestant churches, but there were lots of young people, too, including a couple in the pew in front of me who came in jeans and t-shirts and fit right in. The music we sang consisted of traditional English hymns, African-American spirituals and some Spanish verses to old Christian standards. It felt like God’s home should feel like.

The sermon was given by the Rev. Abel Lopez, and the subject was forgiveness. Father Lopez said that forgiveness isn’t usually a sermon topic – perhaps because if you preach about forgiveness, you have to preach about sin, a touchy subject. But he said there is a “universal hunger in the human spirit for forgiveness, both to give it and to receive it.” He said forgiveness is “the heartbeat of grace.” As an example of the power of forgiveness, he pointed out Bishop Gene Robinson (and you can see what I have written about him in the above Beliefnet.com stories), who has been a lightning rod of controversy as the first openly gay man consecrated to bishop by the Episcopal Church. Last week, Robinson entered into a civil union with his longtime male companion – just after making out his will in case any of the death threats he has received were successful. Father Lopez called him, “our brother, Gene Robinson” and described him as “forgiveness in action. . . . He can only exhibit what he does because God’s grace and forgiveness are in him.”

After the sermon came communion. This is my favorite part of the service, the time I feel closest to the holy and the sacred. It is when I pull out my prayer beads and try to focus on aligning myself with the divine. I carry some of my favorite prayers on a laminated card in my purse, but was inspired to use instead some of the lines of the collects, liturgy and prayers printed in the bulletin given each person at the door. You can do this, too, at any worship service you attend. Just pull out the words from the service that feel most like prayer to you. This is what I came up with for my Episcopal prayer beads, but I could have said them on a Catholic rosary, a Pearls of Life or any unique set of prayer beads I have constructed. Here goes . . . .

For the terminal charm, I said an old standard, heard in most mainline Protestant services:

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

For the invitatory bead, I turned to the 3rd page of the program, where the church very helpfully included two prayers of meditation that worshipers could use as they waited for the service to start. I picked this one:

“God known and beyond all knowing, thank you for the blessings of the past and for those who have gone before us, upon whose shoulders we stand. Energize us to seize the present moment and fire our imagination for the future, that we may dare great thing sin your name. Amen.”

“Fire our imagination for the future” – I love that. That is exactly what I, as a writer, need. And to “dare great things” – safe writing is boring writing. For me, this is a powerful prayer.

For the cruciform beads, I turned to the consecration section of the communion liturgy, also printed in the bulletin:

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

But, for a less Christ-centric prayer, I could have used the salutation from the very beginning of the bulletin:

“Blessed be God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

And blessed be God’s kingdom, now and forever.”

And for the weeks beads, I chose the following from a refrain in the “prayers of the people” section of the service:

1) Holy and gracious God, bless me with peace,

2) Holy and gracious God, bless me with hope,

3) Holy and gracious God, bless me with wisdom,

4) Holy and gracious God, bless me with generosity

Then, for the remaining three beads, I made up my own requests –

5) bless me with patience

6) bless me with strength

7) bless me with courage

and if I had been using a Catholic rosary, I could have added (and did, in a mixture of prayer)

8) bless me with purity

9) bless me with kindness

10) (in the spirit of the sermon) bless me with the power to forgive and to be forgiven.

I don’t when I will be back in Pasadena – if ever – but I will certainly make a run to All Saints. Its spirit of inclusion and joy and purpose infused me with a brightness that I still feel.

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My husband and I just returned from The Sea Ranch, where we went to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary for four nights. We did not have internet access while we were there, or cellphones (yeah!), so it was a very low tech long weekend. But I did take my computer and wrote and stored some blog entries. Here is the first . . . .


My husband and I have been coming to The Sea Ranch once or twice a year since we were married. Maybe even before. We have come alone, with the boys, with other members of our families and with friends. Everyone loves it – even the teenagers. It is just a magical place where the elements seem to be intensified in the blue of the water, the clarity of the air, the fecundity of the earth and the fire of the setting sun.

Every time we come here, I experience some sort of spiritual jumpstart. I have always found my deepest connection to the divine while looking at the ocean. Don’t know why, just do. Maybe because it seems the beauty and power and, most of all, the mystery of the ocean most clearly represents God to me. I only know that when I am at the ocean, I unfailingly feel the impulse to pray.

It is no different on this trip. We are staying at The Garden House, a small house we have rented a couple of times before. For one thing, it is a house that welcomes dogs, and Bella has come with us on this trip. It isn’t the most modern house, it isn’t the most luxurious house, but we find it a most comfortable and welcoming house. It has the most wonderful wall of windows overlooking the meadow and the ocean, and it is here that I sit right now, early Sunday morning, with my prayer beads.

Let me tell you what I see as I look out this window. There are two bird feeders on posts just outside the window, and a couple of blue birds come to eat there every ten minutes or so. I call them “pig birds” for their enormous appetites. They are the size of jays, with the color of the sky on their backs and the white of the clouds on their breasts. When they are not on the feeder, they flick around under a hedge that runs to the left of the window at a right angle. Sometimes they are joined by a pair of partridges or a pair of small yellow and black birds, and on two days we were visited by a large pheasant with a bold turquoise and green neck.

Beyond the birds and the feeders there are green and brown wild grasses, dotted here and there with yellow and some small purple wildflowers. Beyond that is some green brush that runs down in a slope to the Pacific Ocean about one-quarter of a mile away. The ocean has been alternately gray and calm when the fog has rolled in, or blue with white wave caps when it has been sunny and the wind has joined us. Today is it sunny and the blue and white of the ocean and the green of the meadow are brilliant and cheerful. A row of houses – all of weathered wood – run down to the ocean in my line of vision on the right.

Sitting in this window is my favorite thing to do in this house. It is one of the places I like best to pray in the whole world. I sit in the window seat with my back to the room and my face to the sea and I let my prayer beads slip through the fingers of my right hand one by one. I keep my eyes open, letting them fall on the birds that drop by, the waves of grass moved by the wind, the white caps on the ocean moving ever from the right to the left, from north to south. Looking at the ocean, I cannot help but feel the presence of God. My breathing soon becomes as regular as the waves, and my consciousness of my connection to the all that is and was becomes as deep as the blue of the sky.

In this state, it hardly matters what I pray, only that I pray. Sometimes, I start with something more formal – meaning I have not memorized it but refer to it in my prayer bead journal, where I write down prayers I like. This week, I have been inspired by all the natural beauty around me to pray with St. Francis of Assisi, and chose a section of his Canticle to Brother Sun, which I adapted to the Anglican rosary in Bead One, Pray Too (page 80-81). My eyes on the ocean, I repeat, “Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.” My eyes on the meadow or the sky, I say, “Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.” Other times, I begin with something simpler, something memorized, like, “God with me lying down, God with me rising up, God with me in each ray of light,” from the Carmina Gadelica (Bead One, Pray Too page 96). But it isn’t long before I slip into something more rhythmic, drawn by the constancy of the ocean and the awareness of my own breath. Then I pray The Jesus Prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” And later I will change the prayer to the most basic of all, the Hindu “Ham Sa.” “I am THAT. I am THAT. I am THAT.” I lose track of time, I lose track of myself, I lose track of everything but the glory of creation and my own breath that ties me to it. I do this every day we are here.

When I am done praying, I will rise and take a shower and make some breakfast. Then I’ll sit back in the window – or perhaps on the small deck in the back yard – and wait for my husband to wake up. We’ll hike along the beach and maybe up in the hills. Then home to dinner and wine and it all starts again tomorrow. Our rhythms here are as a regular as the ocean, set by the regular slip of my prayer beads through my fingers each morning.

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