I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
No! Israel’s protector
never sleeps or rests!
The Lord is your protector;
the Lord is your shade right beside you.
The sun won’t strike you during the day;
neither will the moon at night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
God will protect your very life.
The Lord will protect you on your journeys—
whether going or coming—
from now until forever from now.
(Psalm 121, CEB)
A little over a decade ago, I decided to quit smoking. There were many reasons why. I knew my health couldn’t sustain the bad habit. I knew the Lord frowned on doing something so destructive to the life and the body I had been gifted. I was tired of burning all that money up. Etc.. etc… etc..
Knowing that the most difficult moments of the day would be the evenings when I was accustomed to sitting in front of the television or curled up with a good book, mindlessly chain-smoking, I decided to adopt a new habit. I started making bead jewelry.
My hands were kept busy with a task that didn’t require too much brain power, especially if I was just stringing together a simple beaded bracelet.
A couple of months later, the smoking habit kicked, my life took one of those downward turns that happen from time-to-time. Not wanting to fall back into a bad habit, I returned to my beads.
This time, I needed to do something that would occupy my mind more than my hands. So, I started crafting prayer beads. At that time, I knew very little about prayer beads. My only knowledge of them came from the television in which Catholics were always portrayed clinging to their rosaries. Protestants, especially Appalachian protestants, just didn’t use beads in prayer.
In the years since, I have learned that there are actually many types of prayer beads used in various protestant prayer practices. Perhaps the most popular is the Anglican Rosary. But at the time, I had no idea these things existed. So I just started creating.
At first, I simply strung together ten large beads on a leather string. I would carry it in my pocket and when my mind turned to negative and overwhelming thoughts, I would simply recite the Lord’s Prayer ten times, keeping count on my beads.
As I read through the scripture, different numbers seemed to jump out at me. It’s no secret that numbers held symbolic meaning to the ancient Hebrews–so those numbers began to be worked into my prayers beads. Seven, the number of completeness. Three, the Trinity and Godhead. Eight, the number of completeness and new beginnings. Twelve, like the apostles. Thirty-three, the number of years in Christ’s earthly life.
A friend, who is an Orthodox priest, noted that their monks use a rope with a varying number of knots. The Roman Catholic rosary began as something known as “the poor man’s psalter.” Illiterate believers who could not read the Psalms were encouraged to recite the Lord’s Prayer 150 times to signify the 150 Psalms.
I began to realize that beads had a long history in the lives of people of faith. But none of that really mattered to me at the time.
What mattered was that as I put my attention to stringing the beads together, my mind would recite prayers or scriptures and focus on only the good.
What mattered was that those same beads would rest in my pocket, wrap around my wrist, or hang around my neck reminding me of God’s constant presence with me.
What mattered was that those beads were always with me and when I saw them or felt them, I knew that no matter where I was I could communicate with God.
Recently, I have taken up that only habit of crafting prayer beads to help keep my mind focused on the good things of God and not on the negative things of this world that would wreck my faith.
The above Psalm (#121) has been the prayer I’ve used every night over the past month to “pray myself to sleep.” It has long been one of my favorite Psalms (especially those first two verses.)
As a person who has lived her whole life in the presence of mountains, I know what it is like to constantly be turning my eyes toward the hills. Even when I lived on the Front Range in Colorado, surrounded by vast miles of flat land, all I needed to do was turn my eyes westward and I’d see the snow-peaked mountains beckoning to me. Mountains have always been a place where I have encountered God–so just looking at them makes me feel as though I have just gazed upon the magnificent face of God.
Maybe counting on beads isn’t for everyone… but we all need those little habits that keep our minds focused on God. We don’t realize how much of a difference it makes.
For me, this all was made clear today… Since returning home from my vacation last week, I have failed to carry my beads, or to spend any time crafting new beads. I still pray… but just not as much as I was when the beads were constantly beckoning me into prayer. As a result, I slipped today. I found myself in a difficult situation and I failed to behave as I feel a good Christian should.
It’s amazing how quickly a person can slip when they allow their disciplines to slip. For me, it took a week– and this is why I will pray myself to sleep tonight counting on my beads… because I need that constant communion with Christ to keep me strong and to keep me walking firmly in his footsteps.
Resources about Prayer Beads:
- A Bead And a Prayer–a great WordPress blog by Kristen Vincent about praying with beads. She has also written a book by the same name. Her ministry, Prayerworks Studio, offers many resources for making prayer beads, praying with beads, and conducting church studies and workshops about prayer beads.
- Praying With Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year–a devotional book by Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens.