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We are long overdue for a new prayer bead devotion! So, I thought it was fitting to have a new one today, on this first day of Advent 2013.
This morning we sang “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” It has been a long time since I’ve sung this hymn, and I must admit, even then I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics. But the fact that we sung this in the context of our annual “Hanging of the Greens” service sparked my curiosity. I paid attention, wanting to understand how this ancient hymn connected with Advent.
It didn’t take long. The very first verse makes clear the connection:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
The song calls us to be silent. We are encouraged to quiet the constant rattling in our heads, those voices that are caught up with “earthly” matters. Why? So that we will recognize what is happening around us: we will pay attention and see our God is coming down to earth in human form to save us. Once we recognize this we will want only to pay our full homage.
This beautifully sets the tone for Advent. In the midst of the shopping, baking, entertaining, and decorating; in the midst of our fears, despair, loneliness, and anxiety, we are encouraged to be silent. It is so simple, yet so profound.
Let us take up our beads and practice being silent. We will wait – with hope and joy – to pay homage to Christ our King.
Cross: Loving God,
Invitatory Bead: still my mind and my body,
Resurrection Bead (optional): so that I may wait for the birth of your son, Jesus.
Cruciform Beads: Help me to be silent.
Week Beads: with each bead, take a deep breath. You may want to repeat a word or phrase (such as “be still”) or you may choose to be silent.
Resurrection Bead: Lord, we need a savior.
Invitatory Bead: Help us to wait.
If you haven’t already seen it, the September/October 2013 edition of Interpreter magazine (published by United Methodist Communications) features an article titled “Practices of the Ancients Aid Modern Prayers.” It is a wonderful article that talks about the benefits of contemplative prayer, and includes an interview with me on prayer beads.
As a follow-up to the article, The Upper Room and Interpreter magazine are offering free “Teach Us to Pray” webinars. The next two webinars are:
- Thursday, September 26 at 7:00pm CDT: Ancient Prayer Practices – looking at the Jesus Prayer and body prayer and the use of labyrinths and Protestant prayer beads.
- Tuesday, October 22 at 7:00pm CDT: Prayer Practices for Today – looking at intercessory prayer with The Upper Room’s Living Prayer Center, prayer journals and the prayer of examen.
To register for the FREE webinars, click here.
I will be one of the presenters for the September 26th webinar. I would love to have you join me!
Posted in Prayer, Prayer Beads | Tagged A Bead and a Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Interpreter Magazine, Labyrinths, listening, Meditation, Prayer, Prayer Beads, The Jesus Prayer, The Upper Room | 7 Comments »
If you’ve heard me speak or read my book, you know how I got started collecting – and later making – prayer beads. But that’s not the whole story. The truth is, the prayer beads have led to the most profound moments of healing for me, addressing wounds from an early childhood trauma. That’s why I believe so strongly in their benefits to prayer, to our spiritual lives, to our lives in general.
Here is my story. It is in the form of a sermon I preached in January 2013 at The Academy for Spiritual Formation. I’ve written before about how I’m currently participating in Academy #34. It has been life-changing for me and many others. I’ll talk more about it in later posts. For now, if you are interested in knowing the story behind the prayer beads, read on . . .
“Fringe Moments: A Sermon on Abandonment and Hope”
Based on Numbers 15:37 – 41
It was a warm summer day. I know that because I was wearing my favorite Holly Hobbie halter top and matching blue shorts. And I know that because I and my friends had spent the whole afternoon playing hide-and-seek. I loved that game. I was very good at finding those hiding places that no one else could find – those super duper, totally awesome hiding places.
At some point, my friends went inside. I don’t remember why but I remember knowing that they were going to be back out pretty soon, and so I waited. I sat on the sidewalk and then lay back in the sun to look up at the clouds.
That’s when he approached me.
He was a young guy, maybe early twenties. He had blonde hair and was standing next to a bicycle. He flashed a wide smiled and said, “Hi.” “Hi,” I said. “Looks like you’re enjoying the sun,” he said. “Yep.” “Hey, I’ve got to gather some newspapers for a friend of mine and there’s a lot of them. Would you willing to help me?” he asked.
Of course I would. I loved helping people. I was always offering to help my mom. I liked feeling responsible and helpful at the same time. Even though I was seven, it made me feel older. “Sure,” I said.
And that’s how on a warm summer day, at the age of 7, I walked away with a complete stranger.
I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, we didn’t pick up any newspapers.
The damage had been done. But what made it worse was that young, blonde-haired guy with the bicycle threatened me. He told me that if I told anyone about what he had done he would come back and kill me and my family. I believed him. I had no reason not to.
And so I walked back home to find my friends waiting for me. They were ready to play again, and had been wondering where I was. I didn’t tell them. Instead, I sat with my head in my hands and just stared. “What’s the matter with you?” they asked. They were confused by this sudden change in their playmate. I remember one of them saying, “She must not feel well.” I didn’t say anything. And when my mom called me in for supper, I didn’t say anything to her either. I stayed completely silent. I found a hiding place – a super duper, totally awesome hiding place deep within me – a place I knew no one would be able to find – and I buried that horrible secret.
There are no words to describe how I felt. But abandonment might be a good place to start. Here I had just been victimized. My life was shattered; my childhood, my innocence, and sense of wonder and security, instantly gone. And I had no one to comfort me. No one to weep with me. No one to tell me this wasn’t my fault. No one to seek justice on my behalf.
And where was God in all of this? Why had God allowed this to happen to me, a bright, spunky, little girl with a pixie cut and a love of Barbies and Donny Osmond? Why hadn’t God rescued me? Surely, He could have reached down and picked me up and flown me to safety. But He didn’t.
Yeah, I’d say I felt abandoned.
I know that’s how the Israelites felt out there in the desert. Sure, God had led them out of slavery and towards the Promised Land. But in between, He had left them to wander and languish in that stinking desert. They weren’t getting anywhere. They were hot and tired. Tired of sand, tired of bugs, tired of manna. How could God do this to them? How could He leave them here? Wasn’t it bad enough in Egypt? Now they had to endure wandering in the desert? They were hungry. Their kids were dying. They were battling sickness and snakes. And God was seemingly nowhere to be found.
So they began to act out. They built idols out of gold. They began to break the commandments. They complained loudly and incessantly. They even talked of going back to Egypt! Things were getting out of hand.
That’s when God decided to intervene. Not that He hadn’t before. This wasn’t the first time. Just before this passage, in chapter 6, God had taken the time to give the Israelites His blessing:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you His peace.
This had satisfied them for a while. They didn’t feel quite so abandoned. But eventually, the Israelites forgot the blessing and went back to feeling abandoned.
So God said to Moses: tell the Israelites to take the fringe on their garments and knot it and hold on to it. While they held onto it they were to remember that “I AM the Lord their God,” and to remember the commandments. Doing this, God said, would make them holy.
Now, I can assure you that if I were an Israelite who had been stranded in the desert for twenty years, and my children had known only sand and manna; if I had begun to believe that God had abandoned me; and if God had come to me and said, “here’s some fringe,” I would have said, “Really? Fringe? How in the world is that supposed to make things better?!?” I would have felt cheated.
But indeed, it was the perfect gift, as any gift from God would be. For God knew the Israelites’ limitations. He knew that no matter how much He had promised, no matter how much he had intervened, and no matter that He had taken the time to give the Israelites His personal blessing, the Israelites were human. They were in the middle of the desert. They were struggling. They were physical beings who needed something concrete to hold onto. As much as they wanted to have faith in a God they couldn’t see, there were times when they needed something tangible to hold onto and be reminded that God was with them. And fringe was everywhere. All garments at that time were made with fringe. Everyone would have access to it. Everyone could do this seemingly minor thing and be reminded that God was with them. God had never abandoned them.
In 2009 my family was vacationing in the mountains of North Carolina. We stopped for dinner at Salty Dog’s, a cheesy little seafood restaurant slash biker bar in Maggie Valley. After dinner we were walking out of the restaurant. My husband and son were ahead of me, already out the door. As I walked through the foyer I distinctly heard a voice say, “You need to make rosaries.” “Huh,” I thought. “How strange.” And I kept walking.
For the next several days, I thought about that voice. It had been so clear. And aside from the fact that it came from a biker bar, it kind of made sense. For more than twenty years, I had collected rosaries, though they never did anything more than hang on my wall. I certainly never used them to pray. In fact, I didn’t pray much at all. I think, deep down, that little seven-year-old still didn’t trust that God would really hear her prayers.
The voice kind of made sense, too, because I had a Master of Theological Studies – all of this seminary training- that I wasn’t putting to use. And I was a bit crafty. I don’t want to brag, but I can hold my own in a room full of basket weavers. Still, I’d never made a set of prayer beads.
But I decided to trust the voice. I began doing research, and that’s when I learned about Protestant prayer beads and I realized that’s what this calling was about. That led to making and selling beads and leading workshops and writing about it. You know about that part. But it also led to my relationship with The Upper Room and, specifically, Johnny Sears, who wouldn’t leave me alone until I signed up for The Academy for Spiritual Formation. Great idea, I thought. It will give me time to explore this calling.
But The Academy has ended up being so much more. For it has been here that I’ve begun to heal from that childhood trauma so long ago. Mind you, I’ve had years of therapy and worked very hard to deal with it, but here at The Academy I’ve had major breakthroughs, really profound insights that tell me I’m finally making progress. Yes, God wanted me to be here to explore this quirky calling. But the real reason was so that I would finally experience the healing that only stillness with God could bring.
I was sharing this with my husband after session #2. “How amazing,” I said, “that I thought I was going to The Academy to explore my prayer bead calling, but it’s ending up being more about my healing.” He started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“You don’t see it, do you?” he said
“What?” I asked.
“That voice at Salty Dog’s – the one that told you to make rosaries – that was your fringe moment. That was God reaching out to you and offering you something to hold onto so that you would know – once and for all – that He had never abandoned you. Not when you were seven, not now, not ever.”
We have all experienced periods of abandonment. We’ve suffered violence or other trauma; we’ve endured divorces or the death of a loved one; we have lost jobs, been told we are not good enough, or been rejected for who we are. No matter the form, we have all plumbed the depths of despair and wondered where God was.
But, hopefully, we have all had our fringe moments as well; those times when God’s light breaks through the darkness to remind us that He is with us. Those times when God uses ordinary, everyday objects like fringe or beads to reach us. Those times when God uses everyday, ordinary times like sitting at our desk or driving to the grocery store to get our attention. Those times when God uses everyday, ordinary people to remind us that “I AM The Lord your God.” I AM. And I AM has always been.
Take your fringe. Take your prayer beads. Take whatever you can grab onto. Let that be a reminder that God is the GREAT I AM. And know this: we are never alone. Yes, bad things happen and there is evil in the world, but God is always with us. We have never been abandoned.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Posted in The Prayer Bead Adventure, What Started It All | Tagged abandonment, Christianity, fringe, hope, Meditation, Prayer, Prayer Beads, The Academy for Spiritual Formation, The Upper Room | 12 Comments »
Soooooo, my book was published. Maybe you heard. If so, you certainly didn’t hear it from this blog, given that I haven’t posted since May.
I can offer a lot of good reasons/excuses! I’ve been busy with:
- Prayer beads! I led prayer bead workshops and signed books atThe Upper Room’s SOULfeast and the GBOD Conference on Ministry with Children. Following the book’s release we had an increase in prayer bead orders, requests for speaking engagements, and people wanting to talk about the book and/or the beads. And we’ve been working hard to make 500 sets of chaplets for The Upper Room, which is going to sell them in a boxed set with the book for Christmas.
- Family! My son was, of course, out of school for the summer. We stayed busy keeping him entertained and even went on a family vacation.
- Church! I was Craft Leader for our Vacation Bible School. (Enough said?!?)
- My other job! Prayerworks is still not my full-time job. I work part-time as Coordinator for The ADA Legacy Project. It’s a great new organization that I’ve helped to create. It’s dedicated to preserving the history of the disability rights movement; celebrating its milestones; and educating the public and future generations of advocates. If you’re curious, please check it out. Our new website will be launched next month.
Those reasons are all true and valid. But they aren’t the real reason I haven’t blogged.
The truth is that while I was thrilled – and thankful – that the book was being released, I was also just a wee bit terrified. I know that may sound a little goofy, but there you have it. The book was going to be released to the world for all to see, which left me feeling vulnerable, exposed. As we got closer to the release date my anxiety grew. I found myself avoiding the blog, social media, Etsy, etc.
I share this not because I’m looking for sympathy. Indeed, I’m doing very well. I survived the book’s release – no lightning strikes or other calamities. I even celebrated. It really was exciting and I have been humbled by the response.
Instead, I share this in the spirit of being authentic. I want to be honest about why there’s been no activity here for several months: good, old-fashioned, common variety fear. We all deal with it, some more than others. I happen to live with a healthy (unhealthy?) dose of it. But Isaiah 41:10 (CEB) tells me, “Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, because I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.” And so I will not fear.
With this blog post I pledge to get back in the game. There’s so much I want to share and so many discussions to be had about prayer beads. I hope you’ll stay tuned. Don’t be afraid.
I have heard from so many of you who have already made your own sets of prayer beads. That is great!
For those of you who are visual learners, or who want more guidance on how to make prayer beads, here is a link to a YouTube video. Made by The Upper Room for their 2011 Behold e-course, the video features me giving detailed instructions for how to make prayer beads.
We have had many requests to pre-order our upcoming book, A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads. Luckily, the good folks of The Upper Room have created a link for just that purpose! Even better, by using it you will receive 20% off the cover price! Just click here.
Thanks again for your excitement about the book! We can’t wait to see it, too!