Some time ago, I was reading a book called Pray Your Way by Bruce Duncan, which took the approach of applying Myers-Briggs personality theory to helping people to find ways to pray which would suit their personalities. Out of that came the idea of using prayer beads to help me concentrate and keep my mind from wandering so much. My initial approach was to associate each bead with a different point to meditate on and use the beads as
"aides-memoir", because, as I said at the time, I was "Protestantly suspicious of ‘vain repetition’."
It turned out I was missing the point (as well as setting myself an unnecessarily difficult goal).
The repetition of the prayers in the rosary is not "so that you will be heard by the multitude of your prayers"; it is to lull your chattering mind into a meditative state. The idea is similar to the mantras used by Hindus or Buddhists, or to the Desert Father John Cassian’s idea of the repetition of a short phrase in meditative prayer (in his Conferences). The Desert Fathers were probably the first Christians to use something like prayer beads, in their case made from knotted ropes.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t find these sprawling meditations sustainable and soon stopped using the beads. But more recently, having in the meantime discovered the meditative theory just mentioned, I again tried using prayer beads with much better results.
I am still a Protestant, and can’t quite bring myself to pray the classic Catholic rosary, which involves addressing Mary. I have great respect for Mary, but not so much that I want to pray to (or even through) her.
I have read several Catholic justifications of the practice but I’m just not convinced. So I have developed a "non-Mary-hailing" rosary – assembled, however, from pieces of the Catholic Mass, because I do value Christian liturgical tradition.
I have fitted it to a bead string (or chaplet) of my own invention, the "Trinity" beads. With some adaptation it could be fitted to the traditional rosary or to other chaplets such as the Anglican rosary. Briefly, the Trinity Chaplet resulted from a request by my wife (then my fiancee) for a set of beads which she could use to meditate on the nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
The 33 beads represent the years of Christ’s earthly life (as with the Anglican rosary), but they are grouped in threes and nines, traditionally sacred numbers
in many cultures. The blue represents the Father (in Heaven), the red the Son
(by association with blood), and the green the Spirit (who gives new life) – this is my own invention and not from any tradition I know of.
The string consists of three "introit" beads (hanging outside the main loop); three "Trinity" beads (the darkest beads in the illustration); and three sets of nine coloured beads, separated by the Trinity beads.
When constructing the string, begin with the Trinity bead which is adjacent to the introit beads. String the coloured and Trinity beads, then feed the string back through the first bead in the opposite direction, and knot the two ends under the bead. Then feed the doubled string through the introit beads and tie it off in a knot large enough to keep them from slipping off. Bead string can often be melted (with a candle or match, used carefully) to prevent fraying.
It would be appropriate to add a symbol of the Trinity, such as a triangle, triskele (triple spiral), or trefoil, below the introit beads in the position occupied by a cross or crucifix in other rosaries. I haven't done so in the string illustrated.
The sets of prayers I have composed are also very Trinitarian, and several of the prayers which make them up break naturally into three parts. This gives a nice rhythm which helps with the "lulling" effect as well as symbolically underlining the theme.
I have also come up with a way of using the prayers without the beads, while driving. (It’s perfectly safe as long as you keep enough of your attention for the road, and it certainly helps to avoid "road rage".) The places where it is easy to lose track of where you are are in the long runs of nine coloured beads between the black beads, so when I am praying these parts I keep track using the middle three fingers of each hand. I count the individual prayers on the left hand and the groups on the right hand.
So, for example, when I am praying the first group of three, I keep my right forefinger slightly tensed to remind me that I am on the first group, and as I pray the three prayers I tense first the ring finger, then the middle finger, and then the forefinger on my left hand. Then when I shift to the second group I tense the middle finger of the right hand, and so on. I have found this works for me quite well; your mileage, so to speak, may vary.
Catholics who pray the rosary often use meditation sequences, the best-known being the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries.
Reverting to the origins of the Trinity Beads, I have tried meditating on the nine fruit of the Spirit while praying my rosary, and found that it worked well. However, I wouldn’t recommend that you do that when first starting out unless you have done similar meditation work before; go through with just the prayers a few times first to get used to them before adding elaborations.
What benefits have I obtained? I find myself, for the first time in a long time, with a positive emotional relationship to expressions of orthodox faith. Not that I didn’t hold an orthodox faith (though I am orthodox in rather an unusual mode), but that the traditional ways of expressing this held some negative (and no positive) emotional charge for me. Praying the rosary has changed that for the better. I also find it calms my mood overall, which is good on the way to work (and occasionally on the way home, depending what has happened).
Being me, I first of all came up with something wordy and complicated which took half an hour. Here is a much simpler one which takes about five minutes. It uses gender-neutral" language for God. You can restore the words "Father" and "Son" in place of "Creator" and "Redeemer" if you are more comfortable with that, of course, or go in the other direction and find an alternative to "Lord God Almighty".
On each of the three black "introit" beads:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; heaven and earth are filled with your glory; hosanna in the highest.
On each round black bead:
Glory be to the Creator, and to the Redeemer, and to the Holy Spirit [of wisdom],
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever more shall be,
World without end, amen.
On each coloured bead:
Creator, have mercy on us;
Redeemer, hear our prayer;
Holy Spirit, grant us peace.
This leaves plenty of room for constructing meditations or prayers in groups of three or nine. Here are some suggestions:
- The nine Fruit of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control). I rearrange them slightly from the biblical order, swapping Patience and Gentleness, because the groupings of three are then more clearly themed.You could either use three beads for each one and go around once, or nine beads for each and go around three times.
- God, Humanity and the Creation.
- Christ as Prophet, Priest and King.
- The person of Christ, the teaching of Christ and the
people (or community) of Christ.
- Relationship with God, others and self.
I have taken to using an example of the last, as follows:
Black bead 1: Father, draw us closer to you, as you are doing. I give my heart and will to this.
Black bead 2: Jesus, draw us closer to you and to one another, as you are doing. I give my heart and will to this.
Black bead 3: Holy Spirit, draw us closer to you, to one another, and to our true selves, as you are doing. I give my heart and will to this.
You can download an MP3 recording of me saying the shorter form, with original musical backing. It's 4.5MB, 4 minutes 45 seconds.