What’s a Nice Evangelical Girl Like You Doing With a Rosary Like That?

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.

Right before Lent (the observance of which was also new to me) I bought my first prayer book, and prayed the Divine Office.

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.

38 Responses to What’s a Nice Evangelical Girl Like You Doing With a Rosary Like That?

  1. Anita Lustrea June 27, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    Jenny, I resonate with your post! I grew up the daughter of a baptist minister and church was noisy and beauty in the church building or in the sanctuary itself was not attended to.
    I felt like I’d been cheated when I went to Europe and discovered beautiful cathedrals, etc…
    Then Gary Thomas opened my eyes when he wrote Sacred Pathways and talked about how each of us has a unique way of connecting with God and that the way I’m wired to do that might not have been fed through the pathway I was born into. All that to say, i think it’s important for us to explore and determine how we best connect with this great God of ours. Great post!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 8:14 am #

      Thanks Anita–it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. :-) That book sounds great!

  2. Sarah June 27, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I grew up in the Churches of Christ and often longed for liturgical rhythms, despite warnings of “vain repetitions.” Now that I attend an Anglican congregation, I am a third-order Benedictine postulant who wholeheartedly uses prayer beads in order to create a rhythm for Christ.

    Great post!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 8:22 am #

      Thanks! It’s so nice to hear other people’s stories! I grew up mainly in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and love my denomination and our traditions, but the closest we come to prayer aids are Prayer Week brochures, or invitations to take the outdated hymnals home to use in our devotions. Nice, but kinda lacking in mystery and majesty.

  3. Lisa June 27, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Love praying the rosary. One of my favorite things about returning to the Catholic church.

    • Lisa June 27, 2012 at 8:31 am #

      And I’m happy for you, Jenny, that you’ve embraced another beautiful way to deepen your prayer life and faith experience.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 8:31 am #

      That’s so nice. :-) I bet “returning” is less awkward–picture me with my iPad, Googling “How to Pray the Rosary.” ๐Ÿ˜€ Clueless! But learning.

      • Lisa June 27, 2012 at 8:39 am #

        No, it wasn’t, lol! I left when I was 5 yrs old. So I remembered holding my mother’s rosaries and playing with them in church but I wasn’t old enough to learn the rosary. When I went back to the church 40 yrs later (!!) I had to get a little instructional booklet and go step by step. Definitely awkward but I was determined! And I love adding little extemporaneous prayers when I get to the part of the Hail Mary when we say “pray for us sinners now…”
        I tend to be creative in my rosary praying ; )

  4. Caris Adel June 27, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    I’ve had a similar journey. Heard the warnings about vain repetition or ‘rote prayers’ that didn’t mean anything. And growing up in churches that are about ‘relationships, not religion’. But I love fixed hour prayers and prayer books. I usually only manage doing it once a day, if that….but I love the idea of it. And I love it when I do it. There’s a history there, the tradition, the deep liturgy that is so meaningful.

  5. Terri Mascetti Kraus June 27, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    I SO get this, Jenny! I grew up in a tiny evangelical church in a predominantly Italian/Catholic neighborhood and was always (secretly, of course!) intrigued by the tradition and mystery of my friends’ religious practices. I resonate with Anita ‘a comment that we can grow up in a spiritual pathway that doesn’t really fit us. I, too, have done the Divine Hours and love the idea of Christians all over the world praying the same words at the same times. Most recently we left our church of 22 years, which had become ultra-contemporary in its worship style for the much more reverent worship at a very traditional evangelical church in our community, where I am being blessed by a reverent sacred experience each Sunday, which has been a balm to my soul. Great post.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks Terri! Yeah–isn’t it funny how secretive we have to be about desiring beauty and ritual? ;-D I think things are changing for the better in that respect.

  6. Melinda Schmidt June 27, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    ummm…you’ve got me thinking. I was just talking about the shift in my praying to Dave last night…as I…age. Feels like I need something more…from myself….from God. My next stop was journaling my prayers…not bad…but yes….it’s so like ….journaling. Rosaries can be useful for disciplined prayer I’m thinking. I’ll noodle on that. Thanks for the permission to think about an evangelical picking one up.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Funny story about permission. My grandma was (and still is) over at my house when I was posting this. I wasn’t sure what she would think about it, since as a teen she left a more mainline tradition for evangelicalism. BUT, she told me a great story about how as a little girl, she had to stop at her Polish great-grandfather’s apartment on the way to school every day and kiss the Mary on his rosary. She also told me that there was nothing wrong with saying Hail Marys, because it’s biblical, and we don’t give her the credit she’s due. So if grandma says it’s okay, it’s okay, right? ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. Lisa June 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    I was taught against vain repetition too in some of the Protestant churches I attended.

    But praying the same “extemporaneous” prayer several times a day, “Dear Lord, heal our child” “Help our marriage” or something similar, is also repetition. We don’t judge that as vain. Why? Because the person is sincere! If we pray our prayers with faith in God, whether they’re written down in a book or simply written across our minds, then our prayers are never in vain : )

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      SO true!!! And why saying the Apostles Creed or the Lord’s Prayer would be of less worth than me complaining at God (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but still) I have no idea. Sometimes, even in hard times, affirming what I know to be true about God is of much more worth than anquishing over my circumstances–though lament certainly has its place, too.

  8. Mallory June 27, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    1) Once again, you’ve managed to articulate so much of my own experience and longings. I’ve thought about getting a rosary on multiple occasions to help me focus, but have never felt entirely comfortable with it because so many have Mary incorporated into them.

    2) I grew up baptist (and even graduated from an sbc seminary), but have found myself longing for a more structured, liturgical worship experience to the point that I’ve been attending a Lutheran church the last few months. Worship via the liturgy has definitely been a balm to my soul!

    3) I didn’t know Lutherans used the rosary! Do they have a set way to pray the rosary as well? If so, where can I get my hands on it? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      I’ve never once heard a Lutheran talk about praying the rosary, but apparently it IS part of the Lutheran tradition. (Not surprising–maybe Martin Luther didn’t feel inclined to give it up!) I just Googled it to find info–here’s part of how they do it:

      The rosaries themeselves are the same as Catholic rosaries–I just bought mine from Amazon. Lots of options. :-)

      • Mallory June 27, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

        Thanks for the help!

        Interestingly, one of my grad school friends is ADD and he uses the rosary for the same basic reason you mentioned: it keeps him focused during times of prayer because he has something physical in his hands to manipulate.

  9. Catherine June 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Did you know that Muslims and Hindus have prayer beads in their tradition too? I grew up like you, and have the same desires for the sacred. I’ve also gotten prayer beads and – just this week – installed the Call To Prayer app on my phone. I was hoping there would be one for the Daily Office but there wasn’t – but I love the 5x day interruption to point my mind back on God! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Yes, I did know that about Muslims and Hindus! It’s funny–when I was writing this post I was trying to find some reference to or picture of Muslim prayer staffs online, but got nada. I’m curious now to find out whether that was just a West African tradition, or if Muslims in other places of the world use them too.

      I had no idea there was a Call to Prayer app! How cool!

  10. Barb June 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    I too am a fan of Divine Hours. I find that reading the prayers and the selected Scriptures help me to come out of my preoccupation with my own needs and concerns to seeing, hearing and speaking to God in a way that reflects the whole Story. This kind of scripted prayer can also be a lifeline that holds me when I am buffeted by life experience and that I find I can’t pray. Repeating these prayers still connects me to God, even when I don’t feel like it. Lauren Winner in her book Still introduced me to “chaplets” smaller than a rosary yet still meant to stimulate prayer. I may have to get one.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

      Oh, you summed it up so perfectly! That’s been my experience, too–scripted prayer helps me get over my preoccupation with ME and get my eyes on God’s bigger picture–which incidentally usually makes me feel a whole lot better, too. :-)

  11. Barb June 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Oh, and one more thing–you can get Divine Hours on your computer or phone from

  12. Lacey June 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    Ultimately, the rosary, the incense, the candles–they are what keeps me tied to Catholicism even when its politics continue to push me away. I need a faith that I can touch, taste, feel. Although it implies a piety that may not be really there, I cling to the relics and the rituals of my faith. The rosary has gotten me through so many dark nights of the soul — not because it’s intrinsically holy or magical, but because it’s something I can hold onto, keep in my pocket, put under my pillow, that reminds me of my connection to God and a sacred history.

    I didn’t know Lutherans were praying the rosary these days, though! Fine with me — pray it however you like, and welcome!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      “Ultimately, the rosary, the incense, the candles–they are what keeps me tied to Catholicism…I need a faith that I can touch, taste, feel.”

      That’s beautiful, and I can SO see why!

      I don’t know if there are too many *active* Lutheran rosary-pray-ers, but hey–it gives me a historical excuse, right? ;-D Thank you for giving me permission, too–believe it or not, it helps! It’s kind of awkward to dive into all by yourself, having no idea what you are doing, or if it could be construed as offensive to someone. Kinda makes me more compassionate for people walking into a church after a long absence.

      • Lacey June 27, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

        I should give you the little “Mysteries of the Rosary” book my mom picked up for me at some secondhand store. I haven’t even read it, but maybe I should before I pass it on. Since I grew up praying the rosary, I say all the proper prayers on the proper beads, but I don’t adequately reflect on or even include the “joyful mysteries” or the “sorrowful mysteries” or the “glorious mysteries.” They make me think too hard, and part of the beauty of the rosary for me is that I can pray when I’m too twisted up inside to properly think. Instead, I’m usually focused on some much more personal mystery that I dedicate that rosary’s prayers to.

        • Lacey June 27, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

          Oops, I guess it’s called “The Secret of the Rosary.” Now it’s a secret!

          • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 27, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

            Savvy marketing move on the author’s part! ๐Ÿ˜€ I would love that, Lacey. I was wishing you were in town when I was trying to figure out how to even go about buting a rosary–I could use all the help I can get!

  13. Gail Williams June 27, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Jen…I love that you bought a rosary!
    Just a quick note… I find that so many of us have forgotten the symbolic, in this age. What a shame…there can be such richness in symbolism. Jac bought me a rosary. (haven’t looked for it since our move…will do so, soon) The figure of Christ on the cross prompts me to remember that I am to die with Him, daily…it sure keeps one humble. Have you ever had the opportunity to practice Lectio Devina? I don’t often practice all of the movements, but even just taking a portion of Scripture and reading it slowly a number of times, is lovely. Practiced it while we were in Canada…
    Love you!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong June 28, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      I have done Lectio Divina in group settings, and enjoyed it–I’ve never just tried it on my own, though. I’d probably like it if I did!

      That’s so nice that Jac got you a rosary. :-) I agree–we’re missing out on so much symbolism. What a loss.

  14. Angela June 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    All your posts resonate with me, but this one especially. I grew up with all those “vain repetition” and “traditions of men” warnings but love how you expressed that you’re sometimes not a great conversationalist! Sometimes I find that I’m not great with “off the cuff” prayers and find that if I can make someone else’s words my own, then why not? For the past couple of years I’ve entered into the world of a mainline denomination and have appreciated the gentle transition from the highly distracting ADD environment of a non-denominational evanglical setting to one that includes familiar hymns (played as written, accompanied by an organ – gasp!) as well as responsive reading, reciting of a creed, and a special children’s time to emphasize the Gospel and other Scripture reading. (Can I admit that I sometimes get more out of the children’s sermon than the adult one?!) This has been a beneficial move for my very right-brained kiddos who used to come home from church thinking that it was just a rock concert where they got to meet friends. Now they are surrounded by stained glass windows that tell stories, candles lit in an order with special meaning (my daughter is an acolyte), a bulletin with a worship schedule that they can follow along… It has sparked more meaningful conversation in our home on Sunday afternoons than other worship experiences have. We also spent a year with some friends learning about the Catholic tradition a couple of years ago. I love that my children are learning that our God is a big God and the world is a diverse group of people who relate to him uniquely. I did not have that benefit growing up. It was my church’s way or the highway. Thanks again for the post!

  15. Tim June 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    You’ve started a great conversation here, Jen. Nice job. Here’s my two cents’ worth. There are as many prayer methods as there are members of God’s kingdom. None of them are worth squat on their own, and each of them is invaluable when redeemed by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:26-27.)


    P.S. I have a new guest piece up over at Nick McDonald’s place (linked through my name here). I hope you get a chance to join in there, JR.

  16. Chris January 28, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    The neighborhood I grew up in was heavily Roman Catholic, and I shared your longing for all that cool “stuff” used in worship ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s probably one reason why a few questions on the history of rosary beads turned into a multi-year research project which I’m still pursuing. If I may humbly recommend my blog, you may find my series of short articles on Protestants and the Rosary of interest. The first one is at:

  17. Nissa Annakindt June 16, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    I’ve always been interested in the rosary. I was a Lutheran when I got my first rosary. I only prayed the first part of the Hail Mary prayer— the part that is verses from the Gospel of Luke. But as a Lutheran I felt guilty and so I told a Lutheran friend “I pray the rosary.”

    She said, “Me, too.”

    My spiritual journey led me in strange places after than and I left Christianity for many years. When I came back, I got interested by some books by former Protestant pastors who became Catholic, and I became Catholic.

    But I still have an interest in the idea that even Protestants can love the rosary.

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