As a Christian, I often struggle with staying focused when I pray. My mind seems to easily wander until I find myself thinking about things I have to do, things I want to do, things in the past, etc. I must also confess that, if I am tired, I even fall asleep. Many other Christians I talk to confess to the same experiences. At times, our minds seem to have minds of their own.
For centuries, Christians have used prayer beads to engage the body, mind, and spirit in prayer. Prayer beads hold no magical powers; they are simply tools to help us focus our minds toward God. As we move our fingers over the beads as we pray, we engage our physical body. This act helps us retain our focus on Christ and, if our mind wanders, it helps bring it back into the presence of God.
Saying prayers in a rhythmic repetition can also help facilitate meditation and calm. In Mark 14:32-42, we are told that Jesus prayed the same prayer three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Even Jesus used repetition as way to help him stay focused.
Many of the traditional prayers for prayer beads are repetitive, while others are not. You can use prepared prayers or even your own spontaneous prayers.
Amongst Christians, the practice of praying with pebbles and beads probably originated with the Desert Fathers. Saint Paul Thebes—also known as Abba Paul the First Hermit—is said to have kept track of his daily prayer mantra using stones or pebbles. The practice of repetitive prayer was a way to sustain ones attention and focus on prayer.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers were Christian hermits who fled to the solitude of deserts of Egypt and Syria in the 3rd and 4th centuries to evade worldly temptations and seek inspiration. Biblically, Jesus, also along with other great men of the Old Testament who foretold of His coming, went into the desert to pray. No doubt, the barrenness of the desert required one to shift from a reliance on oneself to reliance on God.
Known for their wisdom, the sayings and writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers have found new popularity in the Western Church. The Desert Fathers are actually considered the first monks. Saint Pachomius, also known as Abba Pachomius, established the oldest known monastery—the Monastery of Abba Antonious. Abba Pachomius was an Egyptian Copt.
For many Christians today, prayer beads are part of their daily discipline of prayer. Prayer beads are often considered a tool for contemplative or meditative prayer.