I have a confession to make.
I’ve always been jealous of my Roman Catholic friend’s rosaries.
Actually, it didn’t start with rosaries–it started with a Muslim friend’s prayer staff. He had come to our apartment in Liberia for dinner, and unrolled his prayer mat on our porch during the call to prayer. Afterward, he saw me admiring his staff, its knobby carvings sanded buttery-smooth.
He was a painfully shy young man who could barely look his elders in the eye, but he graciously explained that the different parts of the staff reminded him of the different things he was supposed to pray about. It made perfect sense to my nine-year-old mind. Secretly, I wished that I had a staff like that to remind me of things I meant to pray about, a tiny, beautiful carpet to define a space where it was just me and God, no matter what was going on in the world whirling around me.
I’ve always wanted that sacred space. I’ve always hungered for deep rhythms of prayer.
But I’m kinda distractible, and my mind never sits still for long.
When we came back to the States, we moved into a Roman Catholic neighborhood, and I discovered rosaries.
It was so unfair! My Catholic friends had these cool beads they could use to pray with, and they didn’t even appreciate them.
I wanted a rosary. I wanted more, too–I wanted the mystery, the beauty of ancient traditions. I wanted works of art in stone cathedrals, the scent of incense reminding me of the presence of a holy God, the sign of the cross made over my head and shoulders. I wanted wine from a deep chalice, not cheap Welch’s grape juice served in disposable plastic cups.
But mostly, it was about prayer.
Growing up evangelical, I had always heard dire warnings about vain repetitions (which basically meant that our prayers were superior to Lutheran’s or Catholic’s). Praying is as simple as talking to your best friend! And it’s true, it is.
But I’m not always a good conversationalist.
I’ve always prayed throughout the day, offering my thoughts to God as I go about my business, but that was never quite enough to feed my hungry soul.
I struggled to focus when I set aside time to pray, fumbling with prayer requests scribbled on the back of church bulletins.
I journaled my prayers for years, but so often it felt like–journaling.
Then one day, a couple years back, my pastor preached a sermon about prayer, and explained that Jews in Jesus’ day had certain prayers they prayed at set times of the day.
A light switched on in my head. This I knew! This I understood! This I had observed every day in Liberia, the faithful setting aside the hustle and bustle of their lives to acknowledge the One who had created it all.
This–THIS I could do.
If Jesus prayed that way, perhaps my secret longings for ritual and tradition weren’t so misplaced after all.
Not perfectly. Not every prayer session of every day. But I prayed. And I grew.
And I liked it.
And this morning, do you know what showed up in the mail?
Oh yes I DID!
If Lutherans can pray the rosary, so can I. I’ll be using their versions, and saying the Jesus prayer or the Shema instead of Hail Marys.
I hope it’s not sacrilege.
Because I really need something to help me quiet my mind and heart, something to hold my physical self’s attention as I focus my inner self on God.
And a rosary is WAY more discreet than a big ol’ Muslim prayer staff.