In the dueling storms of pandemic and pervasive political unrest, you may be seeking to hold, or find, your center by expanding your prayer practice. Like so many of us, you may feel that these trying times prevent you from focusing the way you once could. While our Episcopalian tradition offers a variety of prayer practices, praying with Anglican prayer beads provides a tactile way to keep focused and may prove particularly helpful. Cool in your hands and pleasing to the eye, the beads can also slip into your pocket and provide comfort even when you are not actively praying. We know that God is always with us but touching this reminder of our prayer life can provide reassurance, wherever we find ourselves.
Praying with beads is a time-honored practice in many faith traditions. In Christianity, The Desert Fathers and Mothers counted out their unceasing prayers with a pocket full of pebbles, which evolved into knotted prayer ropes they used for reciting the Jesus Prayer. By the middle ages, the ropes morphed into the traditional beads on which Catholics pray the Rosary. Then, in the Episcopal Church the 1980s, the practice of using beads as a focus for contemplative prayer and meditation experienced a revival, and Anglican prayer beads emerged. Unlike the prescribed ways the rosary is used, the Anglican prayer-bead practice provides a framework for both traditional and personal prayers.
The form of Anglican prayer beads is laden with symbolism, beginning with the 33 beads which represent the years of Jesus’ earthly life. The four larger beads, called cruciform beads, represent the four points of the compass. Between each of the cruciform beads lie the seven beads of the weeks, representing the seven days of creation, the seventh day on which God rested, and the symbolic number for perfection. The single bead that leads from the cross into the circle of weeks is called the invitatory bead. Like a collect at the beginning of a service, it invites us to worship.
Whether you use the beads to pray alone or in a group, the suggested practice is to pray the full circle three times. That number, representing the Trinity, also provides time for distractions to fall away, allowing you to go deeper into prayer. Many traditional prayers have been adapted to the form of the Anglican prayer beads: The Jesus Prayer, the Agnus Dei, the St. Patrick Prayer, and others may be found online. One that seems particularly apt in these times when we need to ask God to give us strength in our isolation and save us from fear is the Julian of Norwich Prayer, which was created by Sister Brigit-Carol, S.D. an Episcopalian hermit in Abilene. Here’s how to use the beads to guide you as you pray it:
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
O God make speed to save me (us),
O Lord make haste to help me (us),
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
God of your goodness, give me yourself,
For you are enough to me.
And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory.
And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all.
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.
As you move around the beads three times praying these words, the storms of the world will not cease. But perhaps you will know that you are not alone, and your heart will be lighter. You may find some comfort knowing that you are praying as so many generations before you have. Most importantly, you will be focused on praying rather than worrying. An ancient monk said to the Desert Father St. Anthony “Pray for me.” The old man replied, “I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.” These strange times seem like very good times for us to pray without ceasing. If a string of Anglican prayer beads can provide the focus you need to deepen your prayer practice, then it is a good thing, indeed.
You can order a set of Anglican prayer beads which have been blessed by a Cathedral priest here.