Praying With Beads

An ancient way of praying in many of the world’s great faith traditions–including Christianity–is to pray with beads. It’s a great way to kepp our busy minds focused on prayer because our intellect and our fingers are working on a specific task. They’re praying! Check out this article by Rev. Patrick Sipes about one way to use prayer beads.

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May 19, 2021
The Rev. Patrick Sipes

Praying with beads is a practice in the Christian Church that is traced back as far as the 3rd and 4th Centuries where the Desert Fathers and Mothers used knotted cords as an aid to prayer. It is also a practice with broad acceptance across the religious spectrum being found also in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Bahai and other faiths. 

Having prayed with beads for several years now, I understand their near universal appeal. Beads simultaneously appeal to our tactile senses, offer a kinetic aspect, and for those of us with minds that are prone to wandering, they help keep track of and remind us of where we are in our praying.

Here is an adaptation of the rosary

The practice that I will be offering today is a form of prayer that is prayed with a Rosary form of prayer beads. Rosaries are fairly easy to find, so you should not need to seek out and spend a great deal of money on a specialized set of beads just to try out this style of prayer. If you find yourself drawn deeper into this style of prayer you might desire to have a better set and they are out there to buy or fun and prayerful to make. 

As you look at a Rosary, it will have a cross at the bottom and then a series of about five beads in a row. It then splits into a loop that consists of five sets of ten beads that are divided by either an obvious gap or a larger bead. These sets of ten beads are traditionally referred to as “decades.” 

As I pray around the set of prayer beads, I tend to run the strand through a lightly closed hand while holding the bead I’m praying with between my thumb and middle section of my forefinger. The most important thing is to find a comfortable way of holding the strand that allows you to work your way around with a minimum of fuss. 

Try this pattern for praying these beads

  1. Holding the cross in your hand, trace it with your thumb and open your time of prayer, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
  2. Hold the first bead – Take a breath and let it out. 
  3. Next Three Beads- Profess the Apostles Creed, holding one bead per article. 
  4. Fifth bead- Take a breath, let it out, and make sure you are truly present. 
  5. First decade- Recite the Ten Commandments one for each bead. When you get to the bead between, stop for reflection. I use this time to reflect on any of the commandments that I am struggling with keeping and ask Jesus for help in following him more closely. 
  6. Second decade- Pray for others. These prayers vary from day to day for me. Some days it may be people that I know personally, other days it may be public officials, sometimes it is situations in the world. The important thing here is to keep yourself oriented outwards. On the reflection bead, I tend to offer a very general prayer for all who are in need, as well as a request that God would use me as hands and feet to care for those I’ve prayed for. 
  7. Third decade- Thanksgivings. Name ten things you are thankful for. I love the beads on this section because it keeps me honest and makes sure I find ten things to give thanks for. Over time this regular reminder of all God provides me with has led me to deeper trust in God and the whole of creation. On the reflection bead I tend to simply say thank you for all I’ve been given. 
  8. Fourth decade- Pray for ten things you need. Name your fears, name your struggles, name what you desire from God. On the reflection bead, I ask God to help me see what is real and what is in my head, what I can do something about and what I cannot, and to help me act where I can and let go of where I cannot. The “Serenity Prayer” would be a good prayer to insert here. 
  9. Fifth decade- I strive to live a life that regularly contains elements of 
  • Prayer, 
  • Worship, 
  • Fellowship, 
  • Study, 
  • Labor, and 
  • Leisure. 

To help remind myself of where I am participating in these practices and to help keep them in balance, I name places that I have participated in them since the last time I prayed. 

  1. The five beads again. Top bead, the Lord’s Prayer. Beads 2, 3, and 4, “the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” Bottom bead, “Amen”
  2. The Cross. Take some time to hold the cross and ponder Jesus’ sacrifice. I personally pray during this time that I might have open eyes to see where Jesus is still suffering in the world and that I might have compassion to reach out to others in their suffering.

This prayer was a great commuting prayer for me. It got me ready for my day as I traveled. Over time it made me more aware of the rhythms of my day-to-day life and continually drew me toward others. It revealed God’s work in my life. I hope that you will find it just as edifying for yourself. 

The Rev. Patrick Sipes, Certified Spiritual Director

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