My ongoing prayer experiment

A while back I began to write about my big prayer experiment. In that piece, I shared the three greatest gifts to my prayer life:

1. Contemplative prayer, I.e. prayer without agenda/lovingly gazing at God.

2. Total honesty in the presence of a God who already knows all my shit.

3. The gift of Intercession.

Nothing has changed with this experiment. I do want to add something, however; something that has utterly revolutionized my prayer life, turning it into something to which I cannot wait to return.

I pray the Rosary.

Big deal, right? Millions do. Well, here’s the thing – I’m a Protestant. We’re supposed to look with suspicion, pity or even hatred at such wayward, Medieval practices believing them to be the rote, meaningless prayers pooh-poohed by Jesus in the Gospels. How could such a ridiculous thing, something held in regard by little, old ladies and superstitious saintly wannabes possibly lead one to the expected spontaneity and relationship we’re led to accept through our more enlightened “salvation prayer” at the end of the 4 Spiritual Laws booklet? Or so we Protestants are taught to think. You remember…the “Accept you’re a sinner/Believe in the Good News/Confess your sins” prayer that, like magic, whisks us from the apparent hell of our present existence into the Thomas Kinkade wonderland of Jesusy goodness? It’s actually a very good prayer. A necessary one.

It’s just so…incomplete.

Actually, I prayed that prayer once, too. Not necessarily that exact prayer, but one just like it. I credit that prayer for bringing a keener sense of articulation and focus to my otherwise meandering picture of me and God. I suppose I could even credit that “salvation prayer” as my come-to-Jesus moment, with the beginning (continuation?) of a journey even deeper into the heart of prayer.

The Rosary has been an important step in solidifying my need to regulate my prayer practice in chronological, tactile and organized ways. It also invites me to see prayer as more than just talking at God. Here, I can sit with another, Someone whose indelible presence ought to leave me breathless and speechless anyway. Although I’ve owned one before, it wasn’t until my dear Catholic friend, Val Dodge Head, gifted me with one I could actually wear around my neck that I began developing a daily practice. Here is the historic Rosary Prayer:

Rosary Prayer

The purpose of the Rosary is to help keep in memory certain principal events or mysteries in the history of our salvation, and to thank and praise God for them. This is the mountain rapids version of the Rosary Prayer. It begins with the Sign of the Cross and the Apostles’ Creed. This is followed, successively, by The Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father or Pater Noster), 3 Hail Marys, the 1st Mystery of Our Father and Hail Holy Queen. There are twenty mysteries reflected upon in the Rosary, all of which are divided into the five JOYFUL MYSTERIES, the five LUMINOUS MYSTERIES, the five SORROWFUL MYSTERIES, and the five GLORIOUS MYSTERIES. The Hail Mary is recited ten times (called a decade) between meditating on the mysteries in question. After each decade is said the following prayer requested by the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy.” The whole undertaking is a most imaginative blending of redemptive and mystical theology.

Here is my own adaptation.

I begin and end with the Sign of the Cross. The crucifix acts as The Lord’s Prayer both in and out of my Rosary. For morning prayer, the first bead is always Psalm 63 (King James Version), which I memorized many years ago. If in the afternoon, I’ll choose some other Psalm or a Prayer of St. Columba: “Kindle in our hearts, O God, the flame of that love which never ceases, that it may burn in us, giving light to others. May we shine forever in your holy temple, set on fire with your eternal light, even your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.” The Hail Mary beads are replaced by 3 Kyries (Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy). In turn, these are followed, respectively, by the well known Ignatian Prayer, the Anima Christi and the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The decade beads are breath prayers. With these, I practice more contemplative or centering prayer. Phrases such as “peace, be still” or “in the Lord, I’ll be ever thankful” or “holy is your name, O Lord” or, most often, The Jesus Prayer punctuate this time. It is unhurried and allows my mind to cleanse and my soul to pulsate to the sound of God’s own heart. The Mystery beads form a wonderful place for me to pray the daily Lectionary Psalms, various scriptures I have memorized or, on more creative retreat days, I’ll write or read poetry I’ve written. I exit the Rosary the same way I entered, although in reverse order.

The Rosary has been great respite to me since I am living nowhere near the Monasteries I used to frequent in Oregon. God has shown me just how holy even the most unholy places can be. In those places least ideal for luminosity, God has been busily proving me wrong about my previous misconceptions. The mysterious geography of prayer must begin in the cracks and fissures of the human spirit before it gets the added benefit of the babbling brook heard just outside the Monastery gates.

The Rosary has helped. 

Lord, fashion the slow calligraphy of your name

in a once stone heart, broken now as sand.

Spit out the bones of my old, gristled soul revivified on your tongue,

reattached to the sinews of your own holy arm. 

Sear the brand of white hot remembrance into the skin of my brazen back

so that only those I lead can see it.

In the wordless chatter of our silent conversations,

bring up the topics closest to your heart that breaks so much easier than mine.

Let the voices of a hundred thousand saints

crowd out the stifling arrogance of my solitary blethering.

And into that holy community of singing silence,

sing, Holy One, sing.

 

PIcture of Rosary can be found here. Rosary Prayer instructions can be found here.

13 thoughts on “My ongoing prayer experiment

  1. This is rich and wonderful! For many years I used hand-fashioned Anglican prayer beads, until the string broke. Rosaries are made of more sturdy material, and I often look with longing…

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    1. Janet, I used the Anglican prayer beads for years. I had our Renovare group make our own as a spiritual exercise. I’ve taught those beads to students on retreats and they became so much a part of my daily experience…until the string broke, too! Since then (and since given a Rosary by a good friend as a gift) I’ve played around creatively with them. The tactile experience is a breathtaking foray into the numinous – we trade the seen for unseen treasure.

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  2. I love this post, Rob. It reminds me that the word “bead” is derived from the old English for “prayer”. I have experimented with praying using beads through the years and used to wear a bracelet with chosen beads on it for each of the people I wanted to remember to pray for – a blending of the idea of a rosary and intercession. I have also run retreats where, at the end of the weekend, I have given participants the opportunity to make a bracelet of beads reminding them of significant things they want to take away from our time together. Every major world religion has adopted beads as an aid to prayer and I think it is worth exploring, for sure. Hmmm … I feel like reviving this practice in some way.

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    1. Seymour, I too have led retreats with college students with whom the making of Anglican Prayer Beads was part of our adventure. I fear we’ve lost more than we’ve gained from the Reformation. Now, religion is safely tucked away in our heads not in our lives. The Rosary is helping me combat this.

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  3. Wonderful! I have been doing walking meditation for the last 4+ years, focused on the order of Being — what is, as it is; nature around me. Here’s a blog post about what is happening in prayer from physical, energetic and spiritual levels. I’ve compiled these at my page Woods Walking Inspirations, here on WordPress. Pax, Rudy

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    1. Wonderful, Rudy. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ll definitely look at this. I’ve been blessed to become part of a number of online discussions on all matters prayer related. Facebook’s “Centering Prayer” group was a nice addition. If you’re not already there, come join us!

      Euchariste…R

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  4. Hi Robert! In nature, we find the core truths of Being and the seeds of a prisca theologia that not only unites faiths on Earth, but all faiths, all mythologies of any time and any place. What we all share is the fact of existence, of personal being and participation in “that which is.” We all flow in a common River of Being, and our awareness, our consciousness, our spiritual presence is the portal to the spiritual flowering of Humanity as well as to the Absolute, whom we complete through our imperfect potential to become new sparks in the Grand Energy of Being. Pax, Rudy

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  5. Rudy, although we might use different language to define it, you speak of the unitive consciousness that, in the Christian tradition at least might best be described as follows, “holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God…where Christ is in all, to all and through all…” Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, Rudy!

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    1. Valerie…of course! It is an experiment that deepens and grows with each day. I’ve even begun experimenting with the historic Catholic Rosary prayer, including the meditations on the Mysteries. Challenging and oh so good. Although it was profoundly necessary, we lost more than we gained at the Reformation.

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  6. Pingback: God’s calligraphy – a prayer | innerwoven

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