Meditation Prayer Beads & the Prayer of the Heart
What are prayer beads?
Did you know that meditation prayer beads are common in all major religions from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Judaism (though Jews use the knotted fringes of their shawls rather than beads)? In fact my research did find out that the word bead comes from the Anglo Saxon term “bede” which actually means prayer. As such, beads are a tool to help one pray in a systematic manner.
Significance of Meditation Prayer Beads
While beads are great for systematizing prayer, the main significance of heads is that they are a physical reminder of the need to pray. For instance, you may be preparing to go to bed or even in the heat of a very busy day only to look down and see your beads and get a reminder that you need to pray.
The beads will also remind you of God’s presence, which calls you into an encounter with the divine. I have found the beads to be a critical optical cue, particularly when I was facing severe crisis or doubt.” Similar to the monastery bells calling the faithful to prayer, the beads on your desk, on your wrist or in your pocket will be a reminder that connection to God is only a prayer away.
Ways to Use Beads in Meditation
Since we have established that prayer beads are an effective way to connect with God, it is time to look at the ways we can use beads in meditation. Whether you are an Orthodox, Catholic or just a Christian needing to pray and meditate, there is nothing like a knotted or beaded strand to guide your practice.
The following are some of the ways I have found to be very useful in my Christian Mediation:
1) Read a book – There are several books out there that will help guide you praying with beads practice. Books such as Virginia Stem Owens and Nan Lewis Doerr’s Praying with Beads will provide a full years’ worth of guides on how to conduct evening, noo,n and morning prayers using prayer beads.
2) Get Crafty – If you are a crafty or knitter type you can make your prayers while knitting a prayer rope. There are books out there such as Kristen E. Vincent’s “One Book, Bead and a Prayer” that will give guidance on how to do this.
3) Pray for others – There is nothing more fulfilling than praying for ones loved one. The best way to do this is by having your beads and knots in a prayer rope, or bracelet and then praying for one person per bead.
4) Come up with your own cycle – A customized prayer cycle is one of the best ways to use prayer beads. What I usually do is have four cycles of seven that involve praise, intercession, petition, thanks, listening, confession, and adoration through a 34 or 33-knot prayer rope.
5) Focus on one person – Alternatively, I also use my prayer beads to focus on just one person. I might focus on one person’s finances, job, children, marriage and health and move from bead to bead until I have covered all important aspects of their lives.
6) Pray based on the fruits of the spirit – This will be a small prayer rope consisting of only about 10 knots or beads. In such instances, I will pray for self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, forbearance, peace, joy and love in the life of family and friends, ending or starting with the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer.
7) Save it for special Occasions – It is not a must that you use the prayer beads all the time. If you like you can use it only for special occasions such as people birthdays, Lent or the Advent, or when you have a special need in your own life or the life of a loved one.
The Jesus Prayer
The desert fathers would use meditation prayer beads each time they said prayers and would move or push a bead until they went around the prayer rope. It was believed to be critical in opening up the heart and paving the ways for the Prayer of the Heart/Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is also believed to be what the apostle Paul encourages in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 when he talks about praying without ceasing.
How to Use the Jesus Prayer in Meditation
2. Short ejaculatory prayer when you are facing temptations.
Of course, all of these three can be combined and interrelated in your meditation practice.
The most common form of practice in Orthodox practice was contemplative, in which the faithful chanted the Jesus Prayer as a mantra.