Prayer rope

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.

Bizarre.

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.

5 thoughts on “Prayer rope

  1. Toni

    You live in North America, where christianese kitsch makes money. I suspect if you convinced them that prayer beads would sell like hot cakes then they’d suddenly become a bit more ecumenical and inclusive in their stock list.

    There’s a prayer room at Heyford park chapel. It has various religious and semi-religious artifacts including one of those slightly squiffy wooden crosses in it (although no prayer beads AFAIK) just like you describe. For some it seems to be a place of significance and almost holiness. I just want to get away into a place of cleanliness and space with God.

    I’m really not sure I’ll ever ‘get’ religious stuff.

    But do press in on the prayer side of things, though what ever helps you draw near to God. If the beads, rope crosses, candles etc make it easier then by all means use then. It may well be that after a while you’ll no longer find them necessary – or maybe they’ll open up a whole new way forward in your prayer life – stranger things can happen.

  2. Mark

    Ah, the prayer rooms deep in the bowels of Prov – good memories. As for the prayer aids, well, some like them and some don’t. What always fascinates me is the passionate opinions on both sides.

  3. Collette

    I meditated twice this weekend and thought of you, Marc. well, the second time I meditated anyway. I was thinking about how it’s similar to prayer, and that prayer is (usually) considered a form of meditation.

    so, it’s funny that today I read this post and you say, “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 have the same problem when it comes to meditation. but, everyone does. meditation isn’t to stop your mind from thinking (it’s not about “clearing” your mind, as most people think), but just about sitting with yourself for a while. I focus on my breath (as I was instructed to do) but some days it’s too tempting to sort out my To Do list. in fact, by accident, I get a lot of stuff done while I meditate! when I find that I am simply far too indulgent in my To Do list, though, I’ll often switch to Lovingkindness, a kind of meditation where you do say mantras over and over again. the one I like is “May I be filled with lovingkindness. May I be well. May I be at peace and at ease. May I be happy.” (ideally you then switch the focus after a while to someone close to you, then someone not as close, then someone you don’t like, but I’ve found that so far I’m still in need of it for myself. I’m really hard on myself. plus, I don’t do lovingkindness very often.)

    anyway, just musing here….

  4. Linea

    What an image, that boxer Jesus. A bit weird but definitely attractive in a he-manly sort of way. Not sure how that image fits with the real man who according to Isaiah had no “comeliness” about him.
    Don’t think it would direct my thoughts to God as I pray.

    And prayer – I think that it is essential to spend time with God, otherwise your education would be a bit like an actor training for a part about a living character by reading and studying about him but never making the effort to meet the character in person.

    Collette – Christian meditation, or centering prayer, is similar to your meditation. The prayer usually chooses a word that will redirect their thoughts to God if they get off track so to speak. It is a bit like leaning into God’s arms and just relaxing. No words are needed to sit and enjoy each others presence.

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