Just over a week ago I discovered that on the ground floor of the school buildings they have set up a couple of prayer rooms, one larger and two smaller. They have chairs and pillows and some Christian symbols–the large room has a window with a stained-glass cross hanging in it and has a cross painted on one wall. One of the smaller rooms has a little table and lamp, a picture (or–dare I say–an icon) of Jesus, as well as (in true interdenominational–or, dare I say, ecumenical–style) an Orthodox prayer rope, a Catholic rosary and Anglican prayer beads, along with some explanation for their use.
One of my professors has said on a number of occasions that theology begins with prayer, which I thought quite profound and helpful. I can’t just dive into my schoolwork without redirecting myself in prayer first. So I thought I’d give a daily visit to the prayer room a go. For the time being I’m using Celebrating Common Prayer (a daily office based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer) to give a bit of a framework for the prayer time, but may switch to something else–maybe Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours or Celtic Daily Prayer.
I’ve also used the Orthodox prayer rope, which is similar to prayer beads, in that it has knots through out and a cross woven in, but it is made of rope. There is nothing magical or divine about the prayer rope (or beads) in my mind, but I find that they help me focus. I have a wandering mind and it is almost inevitable that while praying I will suddenly find myself thinking about something else entirely: something I need to do that day, an item I want to purchase, etc. I find that using the prayer rope anchors my mind a bit more. I’ll say the Jesus prayer as I go ’round the rope, interspersing it with prayers for particular people who come to mind, the Lord’s Prayer, the Shema, or St. Ignatius’ prayer (the last two I have printed out and glued to the inside of the cover of Celebrating Common Prayer). I don’t do much “free prayer” because I find it tends to be quite inane, shallow and circular. This is a shame, of course, and I should do more “free prayer”, because it will only feel more natural as I do more of it–but it will also improve as the prayers of the church catholic (universal) become part of my vocabulary.
I say none of this to boast about my deep spirituality. Quite the contrary: my “spirituality” is quite shallow, as a matter of fact, and my “prayer life” (or whatever it’s called) is nearly non-existent. This is precisely why I’ve started using the prayer room. I need the practice, the discipline, the depth. Without prayer my schooling will be largely an empty venture and any future ministry I have will be shallow. Without prayer I am disconnected from the One whom I wish to serve.
Anyway…all of that is really preamble to this little rant, which will surely rattle you out of any sort of reverie you may have entered while reading the above:
I stopped in at a Winnipeg Christian bookstore yesterday. They had some books. They had a lot of trinkets. And they had these tacky pictures of a handsome, cut, Caucasian Jesus in a boxing ring, wearing the satin shorts and holding a pair of boxing gloves (here it is on Google images–you can click on it to embiggen it). They had plenty of similar images for purchase.
I went to the front counter to ask if they carry any prayer beads. I hadn’t seen any in the shelves and racks of inscribed crosses, necklaces, figurines, etc. and thought it was unlikely that they would have them. But I asked anyway. The girl behind the counter shook her head in a manner that said (to me, at any rate) not only that they did not have any in stock, but that they would not carry such a product.
What is it with Christian retailers and bad–possibly unholy–art (forgive me if I misunderstand the meaning or the message of this material)? Why is it that I can go into a Christian bookstore and buy all the tasteless kitsch my heart could ever desire, but it’s nearly impossible to find something useful like prayer beads?
Thank goodness for online shopping, where there are plenty of beads to be found.