Prayer beads are used in many religions and cultures throughout the world. You may have seen them as Catholic Rosary beads, but other forms of prayer beads or prayer ropes are used in Islam, Buddhism Hinduism, Sikhism and yes - even Protestantism.
While the exact origins are unclear, earliest traces of praying with beads can be found in the ancient Hinduism of India dating back to the 3rd century BC. Whatever their origins may be, we know that many faiths have used them to practice devotion and meditation based on pattern and repetition.
So go for it. Be creative and craft your own instrument of prayer. Then let your hands guide you into mystery and meditation. An experience with God is literally at your fingertips!
What you will need:
• Thread, string, or a pipe cleaner
• Variety of plastic or wooden beads
• One large bead, cross, or pendant.
• A willing heart!
First, you will need to make or find your prayer rope. You may be able to find some online or at a local Christian bookstore. But making them is much more fun!
1. Find a variety of beads and something to tie them together with. The beads don't all have to be the same or even match. If you have an old necklace or beaded bracelet you no longer use, take it apart! Use its beads for something new!
2. Tie a knot in one end of the thread or string. Take the one large bead and thread it through. This bead is the main bead. It is the one you will start your prayer with—center your heart with. Choose something meaningful, something funky, something different. It may be a cross pendant from an old necklace or just an oversized bead.
3. Add the remaining beads to the string. You can organize them into a pattern or thread them randomly. Be wild and creative with the beads. Many prayer ropes have 10, 33, 50 or even 100 beads or knots. Yours may have 8 or 12 or 97 beads.
4. Finish the rope by tying a knot at the end to form a straight strand of beads to hold in your hand. Or if you want to use it as a bracelet, tie the ends together.
Did you know the English word for bead derives from the Old English noun bede which means "a prayer"? Prayer ropes are devotional tools that guide our hearts to God.
Begin by taking the main bead, pendant, or cross in your hand. It's here where prayer begins. It's here where we ask God to be present in our practice. Say something like this:
In the name of God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer. Open my heart to your grace and truth.
O God. Be with me in this place, be in my heart, be in my mouth, be in my hands, be in my thoughts.
Be creative, be yourself. Call God into your prayer the best way you know how. Perhaps it's the Lord's Prayer, or a childhood bedtime prayer. Choose something authentically you!
Next move to the beads. Rest a single bead between your thumb and forefinger. Take a deep breath. Pray.
There is no right way to pray. There are no set prayers. This is a tool, not a test. Some folks pray a short simple prayer called the "Jesus Prayer" on every bead. Others choose their favorite scripture, or favorite hymn, with each bead a different verse. Some even pray for something new on each bead: "For my sister and her cancer" "For the end of violence in my city" "Thank you for this bright and sunny day". Explore different rhythms. Say your prayers aloud, in silence, or even with a group!
Take a breath. Ready? Set. Pray.
Have you heard about the orthodox Christian tradition of icons? I'm sure you have seen them. Icons have been used since the earliest days of the Christian faith. They are painted images, sometimes with silver or gold. And they are images of religious figures, of biblical stories. Icons are mostly of Jesus and of course his mother, Mary.
Christians who use these do not worship the wood itself or the paint or the gold. Instead they pray with their eyes wide open so they can take in the mysteries of God revealed in the icon. Icons are called "windows into heaven" and "windows into the divine." The hope is that praying with icons might provide just a glimpse of the throne of heaven, just the tiniest sound bite of the choirs of angels.
Praying with images might seem uncomfortable, different or weird. But go ahead and open your eyes. See what beauty God is revealing herself in.
What you will need:
• Images, photos, paintings
• Quiet environment
• An open mind and open eyes
• Need an image? Find some here!
1. Find an image. Traditional icons are great, but don’t be held to just that. The world is full of icons that can open the eyes of our hearts. Stained-glass windows, old Christmas cards, a setting sun, and even human beings can all be used as icons. Creation is full of divine images.
2. Pray and get lost. North American Christians may feel uncomfortable with keeping their eyes open during prayer. Many of us have memories of our grandmother’s stern look when she caught us looking around with our eyes open during worship. But trust yourself. Open your eyes and begin to move throughout the image. Invoke God’s name as your eyes examine the beauty, the colors, the details. Get lost in it.
3. Imagine. As you move through the icon, imagine yourself there—within the icon. Feel the water splashing your face. Smell the burning candles. Imagine the life of the person depicted. Give yourself permission to let your mind wander and expand.
4. Reflect. Once you have finished dwelling with God in the image, reflect on what God was saying to you. What did the experience of meeting God in an image reveal about you, about God? How are you living as an icon? How is your life giving glory to God?
Lectio Divina literally means "divine reading." This holy reading is a way of praying the words of the Bible. Early Christians used lectio divina as a meditative tool to go deeper with God and these holy texts.
Lectio divina is not a Bible study. It is not meant to trip any of us. Instead, this practice reveals to us what God is saying to us. Often God may be calling us to quiet our racing, pulsing hearts. At other times, God may be calling us to dive right into life's mystery by providing us with doubts and uncomfortable questions. No matter where this practice seems to lead us, it will always bring us just a bit closer to God.
Go ahead. Taste the living words of these ancient texts. You may be surprised by what you discover!
What you will need:
• A Bible (Online works too!)
• Ten minutes to focus
• Patience and an open mind
1. Read the text slowly and carefully. Choose any text from the Bible, but the shorter the better. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Let your mind focus on this one task of discovering what God is saying to you – it's a high and holy task. Read it out loud. Read it silently. Let the words wash over and enfold you.
2. Reflect on the text. Just as Mary "pondered these things in her heart," let the words cause your mind to wonder, to excite, to revel. Read it more than once. Read it twice. Read it three times. Read it forty times. Whatever it takes to let the words pierce your heart and sink into your mind.
3. Pray. Open your heart to God. Now that your heart has meditated on the passage, let your heart focus on God. Let God illuminate the words you read. Pray for yourself. Pray for others. Pray that we all may find hope and sense in God's Word. Pray.
4. Rest your mind. This is when you can really listen for God's voice. Don't try to pray or concentrate on the scripture you read. Rest. Peace.
5. Action. Bring your meditation to life. Did God give you a challenge? Did the ancient words bring new light to a tired situation? Just as the Gospel proclaims God's love, go out and do likewise.
Have you heard of the tradition of the Tibetan prayer flags? The ancient practice, some say, goes back to the early days of the Buddhist tradition. Prayer flags are colorful square cloths carefully sewn to twine. They are strung along mountain ridges and peaks high in the Himalayas. You will find them stretching across the grounds of Buddhist monasteries, flapping in the wind. On each piece of cloth is a prayer. Some are for goodwill and good fortune, some are for peace and some for strength.
The belief is that as these prayers are blown by the wind, as they become frayed and tattered, the prayers bless the world. The wind carries the blessing into small villages and into bustling cities, into war-torn nations and to peaceful people. The wind carries a prayer of strength to that widow mourning the death of her husband. The breeze blows blessing into that home and over that newborn baby boy resting in the arms of his mother.
You've probably been asked to say your prayers out loud, but go ahead and be adventurous and write your prayers out loud.
What you will need:
• Cloth or construction paper
• Twine or rope
• Tape or paper clips
• Crayons, markers, pencils
• Prayers and a willing heart
1. Pray and meditate. Search the caverns of your heart and mind for the prayers. Perhaps it is a prayer for peace or a prayer of thanks. Recall your day, your week. Did you witness or hear something that caused you to invoke God? Perhaps it was the man asking for money on the street corner. Pray with your kids. Ask them to come up with their own prayers and blessings.
2. Craft the flags. As you cut the cloth or paper into squares, pray your prayer. Remember that each prayer you craft is an offering to God. Be artsy. Be plain. Write out your prayers. Draw something. Attach a photo. Let your children make their own; let them go crazy with their creativity.
3. Hang the twine somewhere that you will see it everyday. Maybe in your kitchen so you can gaze at the prayers each morning as you prepare for the day. Maybe in your backyard between two trees. Maybe even over your child’s bed. Make them visible.
4. Attach each prayer to the twine and let the Holy Spirit take over. Keep these prayers always on your mind. Visit the prayer flags daily. Pray the flags often.