“Lutherans pray the rosary? I thought only Catholics did.” That was a comment made to me several years ago during a meeting. How we got on the subject I have no idea but it began a conversation and a promise to introduce prayer beads to St. Timothy.
The use of rocks, stones, and knotted ropes to aid in prayer predates Christ. Traditions like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism were using aids in their prayers and chants long before Jesus. The earliest monastics who ventured out into the desert used rocks to guide their prayers. Later, monks used prayer beads to guide them as they daily prayed all 150 psalms as they sought to pray without ceasing. The rosary was then created for the mostly illiterate laity to guide them in their daily prayers.
During the Reformation, many traditions and spiritual practices were stripped away. Reformers believed that Jesus desired a personal relationship with us and anything that came between us and a direct relationship with Jesus (no matter how wonderful a practice) was removed. Many of the Reformers forbade followers to pray their rosary but Martin Luther did not. He removed supplications to Mary, mother of Jesus, but allowed people to use the ancient spiritual practice. Still, the use of prayer beads fell away for Lutherans.
In the 1980’s, an Episcopalian congregation was studying contemplative prayer. During the course of this study they grew intrigued with prayer beads and decided to create their own set of prayer beads with a different number and organization than the Catholic rosary. They also decided that there should not be one way to pray using prayer beads and that they could simply be a tool to aid one in praying.
We are encouraged to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (Thessalonians 5:16-18). Beads have served as an aid in expressing joy, praying, and giving thanks to God. Especially for those who find it difficult to sit still and focus, prayer beads offer a physical grounding to help them focus on their prayers. For others, feeling their prayer beads in their pockets have helped them to pray throughout the day. Also, the structure of the prayer beads can be helpful in guiding our prayers so that we give thanks and rejoice in the blessings of God instead of focusing all our attention on our concerns and wants.
This is just a quick history of the use of prayer beads and their potential benefit in one’s spiritual life. If you are curious to know more or would like to try praying with prayer beads, please come talk with me.
By Pastor Jennifer Biel