Notes from talk at Bethel Lutheran Church March 2013

(These are just my unedited notes.  I have been asked if I could post them.)

I had a hard time deciding what to include and what not to include as I prepared for tonight.  Because we only have an hour, much of what I am going to say only skims the surface.

For those of you who do not know me,  I am going to tell you a bit more about my background, as it relates to how I became interested in the use of beads for prayer.

As a child, I was baptized in the Lutheran Church by my Grandfather – my mother’s father – who was a Lutheran pastor.

I grew up at Bethel and was very active in all the age appropriate opportunities Bethel offers.  I am thankful for my parents, grandparents, and the church for helping nurture my Christian faith.  I had no idea when I was young how important that strong base of faith would become in my life.

When I married to my husband, Tim, I joined the Catholic Church.

My Grandfather, the Lutheran pastor, encouraged me to do so, as he felt that it would be better for our marriage and our children if Tim and I were members of the same church.

Tim and I have 4 children.

Our oldest, Matt, is married to Libby and lives in St. Paul.  Their son, Owen—yes, I am a grandma—will be 2 in June.

Our youngest son, John-Mark turned 22 in February.

In between Matt and John-Mark, are our two daughters—Maura and Mary.

Maura died in 1988 at the age of 5 years after an extended battle with neuroblastoma, which is a form of childhood cancer.

Mary died suddenly in 1991.  Unbeknownst to us, she had malformed blood vessels in her brain, which ruptured.  Despite surgery to repair the vessels, she never regained consciousness and died 10 days later.  She was 11 years old.

After Maura died, I started experiencing panic attacks.

I am not talking about anxious butterflies in your stomach.

These attacks were beyond the uncomfortable jitters I used to have before I would sing a solo.

I still find it difficult to list the symptoms because they get so jumbled.  But, here is a list from WebMD:

Racing” heart

Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy

Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers

Sense of terror, or impending doom or death

Feeling sweaty or having chills

Chest pains

Breathing difficulties

Feeling a loss of control

When I would have a panic attack, All of the above symptoms would strike in full force.

I pleaded earnestly and asked God to take the panic away, but for some reason my prayers were not being answered.

They were enough to send me to the emergency room on more than one occasion.

Thanks to modern medicine, I did find a drug that helped keep them at bay.

Still, I struggled.

After Mary died, the attacks became more frequent.

One of the worst things about them was that they seemed to appear out of the blue.

When we had to cancel a vacation because I could not get on the airplane, I knew I needed to get some more help.

I tried various counselors, but none seemed to be able to make a difference.

I knew that I did not need someone who would just sit and listen to me;

I needed someone who could challenge me to make changes that would help me deal with the panic attacks.

Finally, I became aware of a clinic in Bloomington that specialized in anxiety disorders.

However, what my therapist told me I needed to do sounded utterly impossible.

She said that I needed to “accept” the panic when it came.

I told her that there was no way I could ever “accept” those feeling.

She said that I needed to just let those feelings be there when they came up.

I said I could never by okay with them.

They were horrible!

All I wanted to do was get rid of them,

Yet, I learned that by trying to make them go away I was actually making them worse.

There is a good metaphor that applies well to the situation.

When someone is sinking in quicksand, instinctively they thrash around and try to get out.  The reality is that all the thrashing only makes them sink deeper.  What they need to do is lay back and float on the quicksand which goes against every instinctive urge.

I finally realized that like a person stuck in quicksand, what I need to do was go against what my instincts were telling me to do  even though I thought it was impossible..

I needed to figure out how to do the acceptance thing she was talking about.

Another word for this type of acceptance is mindfulness.


One of the books I started reading to help me figure out what this kind of acceptance was all about is Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabbat Zin.

The subtitle to the book is Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness.

Jon Kabbat Zin relies on the Buddhist teachings of mindfulness meditation to explain how we can live with greater understanding and wisdom..

Mindfulness is a kind of awareness that can help us see things as they really are.

Zin talks about Emptiness.  He says that it is in emptiness that we can find a state of mindfulness or a mindful place.

In order for me to “accept” panic I needed to find that mindful place.

A place where my thoughts and feelings did not consume and control me.

A place where I did not judge them as good or bad.

A place where I did not try to control them.

A place where I could just let the feelings be there.

I felt like I wanted to fight the feelings or run away from them, but those instincts only escalated the symptoms

As I read more and more of Zin’s book,

I could not help but wonder about how all of the idea of mindfulness might relate to my Christian faith.

When Zin described the wisdom and knowing that can be found when we are in a mindful place, I wrote in the margins of one of the pages:


Fresh from God

Not clouded by earthly things

Let God enter

Give God room

On another page I wrote:

Original self in God’s image

The Holy Spirit within us

For Zin, that mindful place is empty, but for me as a Christian, I saw that place a bit differently.  Yes, it required letting go and a lot of emptying, but the result was not emptiness.  The result was being able to find Christ living in me.

Zin states that when we are in a mindful place, we are in a state of knowing.  He speculates that this “knowing state of consciousness” is something that might have been there since the beginning –whatever beginning might mean.

Unlike Zin, as a Christian, I know my beginning is in Christ.  What that means is still somewhat unknown to me, but I do know who created me.

During that same time I ran across an Anglican Rosary on the internet.


TheAnglican Rosary was something rather new that had been created by an Episcopalian prayer group in the 1980s.

It was also called a Protestant rosary and it said that it could be used for meditation.

That sparked my interest and I began doing some research on what the Christian traditions were relating to meditation and prayer beads.

Though I was Catholic, I did not know the rosary.

Sure, I could follow along and rattle off a few of the prayers when I was in a place where the rosary was being said as a group, but I did not really understand the whole concept.

My husband grew up saying the rosary every evening at home with his family, but we had not carried on that practice with our own children.

When I asked my husband, Tim, about the rosary, he did not seem to know much more about it than I did.

From my experience, this is the case for most Catholics our age.  Many might have grown up saying the rosary, but they have not continued the practice themselves or with their children.


So, what is a rosary?

The word Rosary means a wreath or crown of roses.

In the Christian faith as well as others, a rose garden is symbolic of a sacred space, perfection, and/or paradise.

Many Christian churches have stained glass windows, which are called rose windows.

Even the Lutheran symbol prominently contains a white rose.

Luther talks about this rose being symbolic of the joy, comfort, and peace of our faith.

As Mary is an example to us of perfect faith and trust, she is often associated with the rose as well.


When most of us refer to the rosary, we are talking about the Catholic 5 Decade Rosary beads, sometimes referred to as the Dominican Rosary.

However, because new historical findings the rosary is not attributed to St. Dominic like it once was.


The 5 decade rosary is a string of beads used to help one remember a set of prayers and meditations based on the life of Christ as seen through the eyes of his mother, Mary.

It is made up of 5 sets of 10 beads with a larger bead separating each group of 10.

Hence, the term 5 Decades.

A tail, per se, extends from the ring of decades.

It includes a cross, which is where one begins by saying the Apostles Creed .

Next there is a large bead.

The large beads of the rosary are called “Pater” beads,

The word “Pater” means Father in Latin.

The “Our Father” is said on this bead.

Some of you might not know that Catholic’s refer to the Lord’s Prayer as the “Our Father.”

(However I found it quite interesting that Keith Holmstad referred to the prayer as the Our Father last week.)

When fellow Catholics ask me if I know the “Our Father,” there are times I still draw a blank before my mind makes the connection with The Lord’s Prayer.

I remember one significant time I was asked if I knew the Our Father, and answered no.  I am sure that person was a bit shocked, until they started saying it and I easily followed along.

If you want to know why Catholics stop after

…deliver us from evil

when saying the Lord’s prayer

and Lutherans add

…for the kingdom the power and the glory are yours.  Now and Forever.

… ask the Gospel writers Matthew and Luke.

They are the cause of the confusion.

Next there are three small beads.

The small beads on the rosary are referred to as “Ave” beads.

The Latin “Ave, Maria” is translated “Hail Mary.”

The prayer that Catholic’s refer to as the Hail Mary is actually Elizabeth’s words to Mary when she comes to visit her before Jesus is born.

In my initial research, it was very interesting for me to learn that the word “hail” might be better translated as “hello.”

It is a common misconception that Catholics worship Mary.  Doctrinally, Catholics do not worship Mary.  They honor her because she is the mother of Jesus.

Likewise, many believe that Catholics pray to Mary.  This is also doctrinally false.  The Catholic Church believes that we can ask Mary to pray for us.

Asking someone to pray for us is very different than praying to them.

As you might have already figured out, that little Hail Mary prayer is something I struggled with myself quite a bit coming from a Lutheran background.

I will also say that by working through some of my issues with Marian devotions, I have found a special place for Mary in my heart.

I will not go into any more detail, but knowing that Mary also experienced the death of a child (granted it was in many ways much different from my own experiences) I know she can relate to that kind of pain.

The other standard prayer used in the rosary is the Gloria Patri or Glory Be, which is the short doxology or prayer of praise “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning is now and forever—world without end. Amen”

Some also include other prayers such as:

The Fatima prayer

Hail Holy Queen

Guardian Angel prayer

Angel of God my guardian dear

To whom God’s love commits me here.

Ever this day be at my side

To light and guard and rule and guide.

My husband Tim grew up using this prayer at the very end of the rosary


The idea of counting prayers goes back to our Jewish roots.

The Jewish people use prayer shawls known as Tallits.

Tallits have a knotted fringe and the knots are used to count prayers.

Over these past few years of researching rosaries and using them as tools for prayer, I have concluded that we are missing the point if we assume that it is the number of prayers that is important.

The tactile action of feeling and counting is simply a way to help us stay focused in prayer.


Holding the rosary can offer a sense grounding.

If my mind wanders, the beads can help bring me back to prayer.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes.  I was meditating on the first joyful mystery.

What is a mystery you might ask?

A mystery is basically a biblical story about Jesus.

What is a joyful mystery?

The joyful mysteries are basically stories about Jesus that made Mary joyful.

There are five joyful mysteries, which correspond to each of the five decades of the rosary.

While meditating or pondering each mystery, the Hail Mary is said on the 10 small beads.

The first joyful mystery is the story of the Annunciation.

The second joyful mystery is the story of the Visitation

The third is the Nativity of Birth of Christ

The fourth is the Presentation of Jesus in the temple

And the fifth is the Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Besides the Joyful Mysteries, there is also the Sorrowful Mysteries, The Glorious Mysteries, and The Luminous Mysteries.

Sorrowful Mysteries

The Agony in the Garden

The Scourging at the Pillar

The Crowning of Thorns

Jesus Carries His Cross

The Crucifixion

Glorious Mysteries

The Resurrection

The Ascension

The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Penticost

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

The Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven

= The Last two Glorious Mysteries might be where some get hung up as they are the only mysteries that are not biblical.  They are also not part of the Protestant tradition.  Instead of throwing out the idea of the rosary as a way of prayer, there are optional mysteries that can be substituted.


The Baptism of Jesus

The Miracle of the Wedding at Cana

Jesus Preaching on the Kingdom

The Transfiguration

The Institution of the Eucharist

The Luminous Mysteries also called the Mysteries of Light are a new addition.  They were added by Pope John Paul II in 2002


The first beads in the Christian Church are thought to have started with the PSALTER

The word Psalter refers to the book of Psalms

Monks were required to pray the 150 Psalms at set times throughout the day

To help them keep track of each Psalm, they used a string of 150 Beads

Therefore, the string of 150 beads was also called a Psalter.

For the laity and those who could not read, the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) could be repeated instead of the Psalms.

In Latin, Our Father is Pater Noster—Father of us.  Hence these Our Father beads became known as Pater Nosters.

Instead of 150 beads, over time the PaterNoster was reduced to as few as 10 beads.

As far as how the 5 decade Rosary evolved into what we use today.  Another one of the prayers monks used was the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, which included the Hail Mary.

It makes sense that at some point, the Pater Noster and Hail Mary were combined.

The current configuration of the 5 Decade Rosary is in a sense one third of the 150 bead Psalter—50 beads.

The first known written manuals on the Rosary are from the 1400s.  However, evidence of the practice dates back even further.

As Martin Luther was an Augustinian Monk, it is most likely that he prayed the rosary.  In her book – Praying with Beads – Nan Doerr states that Luther did in fact pray the rosary, but deleted the second part of the Hail Mary asking Mary to pray for us.

According to Keith Holmstad who spoke last week, Luther was buried with a rosary in his hands.  I wish I knew where he found that information.  Though I do not doubt it, I would like to have the information for my own research.


During the Middle Ages many devotions were developed to pray with beads—a large portion originating in Monastic orders.


This is the most extensive book I have found on different types of Christian prayer beads called A Treasury of Chaplets

With the development of the Gutenberg press in the 1450s, we have a bit more documentation of these devotions.  Before the development of the printing press, all documents were laboriously hand written one at a time.


Another thing I became aware of in my research of Christian prayer beads was how much of my knowledge about my Christian faith was based on Western Christian Traditions.

In 1054 the Christian churches in the East and West were divided.  This is historically known as the Great Schism

The two churches could not agree on specific Church doctrine, with one of the main issues being the Supremacy of the Pope in Rome.

With the split, the Western Christian Church stayed in Rome.

While the The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which is now Istanbul Turkey, became the home of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches


It is interesting to look at the traditions that developed in the Church after that point.

It seems that in the Western Church the mind and thoughts became the central focus.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, the focus was on the heart and soul.

In Hebrew, the word “heart” means the hidden core of something.

Western thought has complicated our understanding of the term heart to include our feelings and emotions, but that is not the same understanding of the heart referred to in Orthodox tradition.

Senses and emotions would actually relate to the mind instead of the heart when we are referring to the Orthodox teachings.


Prayer beads in the Eastern Orthodox Church focus on The Jesus Prayer which is Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The Jesus Prayer is the prayer of the publican found in the Gospel of Luke

For this reason, the Eastern Christian prayer beads are sometimes referred to as Publicans.

The number of beads and their symbolism varies.

Russian Orthodox Chotki

Chotki’s can have 25, 33, 50, 100 or 103 beads

The 33 bead Chotki symbolizes the 33 years of Christ’s life

The Greek Orthodox Komboschini has 25, 50, or 100 beads

If you have been to Greece you might have seen men walking around with beads called Worry Beads or Kombolis.

Though these beads most likely began as prayer beads, they are used as an accessory Status – not for prayer

Komboschini using special knots made of wool – Monks of Mt. Athos in Greece

Coptic Mequteria has 41 beads

It was interesting for me to find out that the Coptic Christian Church considers the Apostle Mark as it’s founder while those of us in Western Churches consider it to be Apostle Peter.

It helps me imagine the Apostles spreading out to share the Good News of Christ with Mark going to Africa and Peter going to Europe.


Publican prayer beads all use repetition like Western Five Decade Rosary

Just as Jesus used repetition in his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane

However there are no mysteries to meditate upon like the Rosary

Predominant in the Eastern Church is the practice of  HESYCHASM

(HESI CAZIM) spelled HESYCHASM is a form of prayer where one retreats inward and lets go of thoughts and senses.

It is based on the verse in Matthew that says “but when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and prayer to you Father who is unseen.”

In  HESYCHASTIC  prayer, one imagines prayers descending from the mind to the heart.

The heart becomes the focus instead of the mind.

For Orthodox Christians, the heart is the inner room Matthew talks about.

When I first started using the Jesus Prayer, I would literally put my chin down and visualize my thoughts descending through the back of my throat to my stomach.  Actually I still do that.


Have any of you heard the term, monkey mind?

My therapist referred to the same thing as spinning

When I have a panic attack, the things that perpetuates the symptoms are my thoughts.

One of my favorite thoughts is “What if”

This little question can set my mind spinning.

Instead of calming myself, it only makes the panic worse.


Okay, some of you might say “Then don’t think it”

Well, that is much easier said than done.

Likewise, quieting your mind so your heart can become your focus is not easy either.

I am reminded of the Christian teachings on dying to self so that Christ can live in us.

That leads me back to Jon Kabbat Zin’s words on emptiness.  Could dying to self be another way of emptying ourselves?  I think it can.

The Jesus Prayer “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner” is a prayer of repentance.

Along with being a prayer that ask God for forgivness, it could also be a form of emptying.

With that information, I wonder about the possible connection between a place of mindfulness and the heart.

Could the heart as referred to in  HESYCHASM be that place of mindfulness for Christians?

Could that heart also be where the Holy Spirit resides in us?


Though the origin of  HESYCHASM is unknown, it is thought to have started with the Desert Fathers

Frankly, I had never even heard of the desert fathers before I started my research.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers were Christian hermits who lived in the Egyptian, Palestinian, and Syrian deserts beginning in about the 3rd century.

They sought solitude and prayer and became known for their holiness and wisdom.  Most of what we know about these men and women is what has been handed down and recorded as their sayings.

Monastic orders developed from these men and women as others were drawn to their way of life.

The first of which is known today as the Order of St. Benedict or The Benedictine Order.  It originated with St.Benedict in 530.

While praying the Jesus Prayer, the Desert Fathers and Mothers discovered that they could fulfill the biblical command to pray without ceasing.  While they prayed they would synchronize their breath.  In this way every breath became a prayer for them.

It is for this reason that the Jesus Prayer is also known as the Silent Breath prayer along with the Prayer of the Heart.

I believe the heart in  HESYCHASTIC  prayer can be likened to the place of emptiness that Zin talks about in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness.

In both, the ability to quiet the mind is essential.

The difference is that what Buddhists refer to as emptiness, is for Christians instead a place where our original self–baptized as a child of God–resides.  It is God in us.

This type of prayer is not easy.

I have found that the best way to learn is do simply start using it.

I have far from perfected it myself.  But, I have had glimpses of that place in my heart, and I know that it is there for me.

As I continue to use the practice, I find that those glimpses extend a bit longer.

Growing up, my idea of prayer was either petitions, where I asked God for something, or prayers of thanks.

Meditative prayer has helped me find that mindful place where I can rest, even though my mind and body might feel like I am going to come out of my skin.

I agree with the description of meditative prayer (or contemplative prayer as it is sometimes called) as resting in God’s presence.

Meditative prayer has also made me realize that God is much bigger that who I THINK God is.


As I mentioned earlier, there are many different kinds of Christian prayer beads.

Some have been around for hundreds of years, while others are relatively new.

I mentioned the Anglican Rosary.

The Anglican Rosary does not have any specific sets of prayers.

Another newer devotion is the Lutheran Rosary, which was created by a Lutheran pastor named John Longworth and his wife Sarah in 2005.  The prayers are based on Luther’s Small Catechism.

Initially I felt like it was a little too complicated until I found that using only one of the Meditations and repeating it was easier for me.

For me the Psalms have always been a great source of comfort and prayer.  Because the first prayer beads know about were used with the Psalms, I decided to create my own prayer beads, which I call the Psalms of Hope Chaplet.


Leave a Reply