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Karen's Prayer Beads

non-traditional prayer beads; click for larger image Karen's Universal Rosary; click for larger image More Universal Rosaries; click for larger image More Universal Rosaries; click for larger image Labyrinth Rosary; click for larger image Chakra Beads; click for larger image
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non-traditional prayer beads


From left to right above: Karen's Universal Rosary, Eric Walker Wikstrom's
Unitarian Universalist prayer beads, Erynn Rowan Laurie's Circle of Stones,
Karen's Moon beads, Karen's Seasons of the year beads

On this page I will describe some of my prayer bead meditations, both those I've invented from scratch and those I've adapted from existing arrangements. I don't think of these meditations as prayers, exactly. When I do what I think of as prayer, I use my own spontaneous words, not a pre-set arrangement. But sometimes, when things are really rough or I'm really scared, the spontaneous words don't come, and then it's nice to have prewritten words to fall back on. It's at times like that I really feel the power of my recited prayers, and feel that I'm reaching out to God. When things are good, the meditations can be kind of boring, but by practicing them, I ensure that when I need them, they are there.

I want to hasten to say that I don't think that repeating a prayer a hundred times makes it any more likely that God will listen. Of course God listens when we pray with our hearts. The repetition is for my own sake. It calms me and keeps me focused. If I say "grant me courage" a hundred times, it helps me remember to be brave. And after a few years of using these prayers, I find that when I say the old familiar words, I can actually feel my heart rate slow and my blood pressure drop, as I move into that quiet space.


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Moon Beads

I think I got the idea for Moon Beads from the Anglican Rosary, which contains four groups of seven beads, called "weeks". The four weeks make up a month. So I made some beads that reflect the phases of the moon.

There are 29 beads in this arrangement, representing the 29 days of the lunar month. The bead representing the full moon is larger than the others, and is white or pearl or clear. Following it are four smaller beads of the same color. Then come five silver or gold beads, then ten black beads, then five silver or gold beads, then four white or pearl or clear beads. The white bead represent the moon when it is full or nearly full, the silver beads represent the moon at about half phase, and the black beads represent the crescent or new moon. You can see an illustration in the photo above.

You can make up your own meditation on the moon beads. I tried various things, but finally settled on the following simple mantra:

Oh, silver moon, fill me with your sparkling light.
Teach me to sail serenely through the dark and the storm.

I repeat the two sentences on each bead, while picturing the moon going through its phases, and trying to capture the calmness of a moonlit night.


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non-traditional prayer beads; click for larger image


From left to right above: Karen's Universal Rosary, Eric Walker Wikstrom's
Unitarian Universalist prayer beads, Erynn Rowan Laurie's Circle of Stones,
Karen's Moon beads, Karen's Seasons of the year beads

Seasons of the Year Beads

The Seasons of the Year Beads were a direct result of the moon beads. It occurred to me that the cycle of the moon in a month is very similar to the cycle of the sun in a year. I decided to use one bead for each week of the year, and four large gold beads to represent the solstices and equinoxes. There is no special starting bead. I usually begin on the bead representing the current week. You can see an illustration of these beads in the photo above.

Because I'm writing this in mid-December, I'll start my description with the winter solstice. On the gold solstice bead, I say, "On the longest night of the year, cold and dark surround us."

Following this are six beads representing early winter. I used alternating beads of black and white, representing the dark nights and the snow. On these beads I say, "On the long dark nights, when the snow drifts deep, let us find warmth and love in the firelight."

The seventh bead is black and a little larger. It represents the "cross-quarter day" of Candlemas (also known as Imbolc or Groundhog Day) on February 2. It is at this time that the days begin to lengthen in earnest, and the first signs of spring appear, though the calendar still says that it's winter. Following the larger bead are six beads representing late winter. I use alternating beads of black and green, representing the still-long nights and the green shoots of the first bulbs. On the larger bead and on the following six, I say, "Now hope fills our hearts, with the first distant echoes of spring."

Next is another large gold bead, representing the spring equinox. On this bead I say, "Now dark and light are balanced, and we face with joy the coming warmth."

The following six beads represent early spring. I used alternating beads of green and white, representing the longer days and the green plants. On these beads I say, "Now the golden trumpets of daffodils sound the clarion of earth's resurrection hymn."

The seventh bead after the spring equinox is slightly larger and white. It represents the "cross-quarter day" of May Day (also known as Beltane) on May 1. Though the calendar still says spring, it's starting to feel like summer. Following this bead are six smaller beads representing late spring. I used alternating beads of white and blue, representing the long days, the blue sky, and the white clouds. On the larger bead and the following six I say, "Let us dance in lilac time, rich as kings and queens in iris and roses."

Next comes the large gold bead representing the summer solstice. On this bead I say, "On the longest day of the year, flowers come at last to the tundra." (You will notice on this and some of the other phrases that I geared my imagery to what I'm familiar with, the seasons in Colorado. You may wish to substitute imagery more appropriate to where you live.)

The following six beads represent early summer. I again used alternating beads of white and blue, representing the long days, the blue sky, and the white clouds. On these beads I say, "In the long hot days and the sweet starry nights, let freedom ring."

The seventh bead from the summer solstice is slightly larger and white. It represents the "cross-quarter day" of Lammas (known in these parts as Colorado Day) on August 1. Though the calendar still says summer, it's starting to feel like fall, especially in the high country. The following six beads represent late summer. I used alternating beads of white and gold, representing the long days and the golden wheat. On these beads I say, "Now the aspens of the mountains and the wheat of the plains shower us with gold."

Next comes the large gold bead representing the fall equinox. On this bead I say, "Now light and darkness are balanced, and we face with courage the coming cold."

The following six beads represent early fall. I used alternating beads of black and gold, representing the dark nights and the turning leaves. On these beads I say, "The leaves are turning, the elk are bugling, and fruits bear the seeds of new life."

The seventh bead from the equinox is slightly larger and black. It represents the "cross-quarter day" of Halloween (also known as Samhain) on October 31-November 1. Though the calendar still says fall, it's starting to feel like winter. Here in Colorado we often have snow on Halloween. The next six beads represent late fall. I used alternating beads of black and white, representing the dark nights and the snow. On these beads I say, "Let us share our harvest as the nights grow long."

And that brings us back to the winter solstice. You can stop here, or go around again if you wish, and end with any season you like.

You may have noticed that the black beads of winter and the white beads of summer duplicate the Moon Beads. This was a deliberate choice. You can also use the Seasons of the Year Beads as Moon Beads by only using the black and white beads. What follows is a summary of the words used in the Seasons of the Year Beads.

On the longest night of the year, cold and dark surround us.
On the long dark nights, when the snow drifts deep, let us find warmth and love in the firelight.
Now hope fills our hearts, with the first distant echoes of spring.
Now dark and light are balanced, and we face with joy the coming warmth.
Now the golden trumpets of daffodils sound the clarion of earth's resurrection hymn.
Let us dance in lilac time, rich as kings and queens in iris and roses.
On the longest day of the year, flowers come at last to the tundra.
In the long hot days and the sweet starry nights, let freedom ring.
Now the aspens of the mountains and the wheat of the plains shower us with gold.
Now light and darkness are balanced, and we face with courage the coming cold.
The leaves are turning, the elk are bugling, and fruits bear the seeds of new life.
Let us share our harvest as the nights grow long.

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99 Names Beads: click for larger photo


99 Names beads

The 99 Names of God

Of all the bead meditations I do, the 99 Names of God is the one I turn to most in times of trouble. Focusing on the glory of God seems to give me courage and hope when I most need it.

I borrowed this idea from the traditions of Islam and Hinduism. In Islamic cultures, a strand of 99 or 33 beads is used. Sometimes a phrase is repeated 33 times. The three phrases most often used translate as "Praise to God." "Glory to God." "God is great." Each phrase is said (in Arabic) 33 times, for a total of 99. (I received an e-mail saying that the third phrase should be repeated 34 times, bringing the total to 100.)

Alternatively, each bead represents one of the 99 "names" of God. These are not really names, but attributes, such as Merciful, Compassionate, Peaceful, etc. You can find the complete list here.

Hinduism has a similar practice, reciting various attributes of the divine on beads. I decided to make my own list, borrowing heavily from the Islamic one, but also including "names" from the Psalms and other places.

It occurred to me that if I arranged the names in an order that made sense to me, I could memorize them. I started with three major categories: Transcendent, Subtle, and Merciful. I broke each of those up into three sub-categories, for a total of nine: Transcendent, Compelling, Creator, Subtle, Wise, Reckoner, Merciful, Bountiful, Protector. Each of the nine I further subdivided, including synonyms until I had a total of 99. (I actually came up with about 150, and use them interchangeably.) They aren't equally spaced. I find that if I take a strand of 33 beads and divide into three sections of 12, 9 and 12, the divisions come at logical places in my arrangement.

When I recite these names, I often do so in conjunction with a prayer I wrote. Though I use the word Lady, I'm praying to God. The image of a Lady is a symbol I use for God, but I realize that it's no more than a symbol. (This of course is counter to Islam, which does not condone making any image of God, even a mental one.) Here's the prayer I use:

Oh dear Lady, beautiful and elusive, you whisper and sing in my heart. Veiled in rainbows and shimmering gold, trees and waterfalls, moonlight and stars, you are [insert the Name for the particular bead here.] Sweet Lady, face of God, be with me [or "with us" or "with [the name of someone I'm praying for]"] and hold my hand, now and forever. So may it be.

Here is my list. I've put asterisks between the first 12, the next 9, and the last 12 in each column, because I use markers in my beads at those positions to help me keep track of where I am.

1. Transcendent 34. Subtle 67. Merciful
2. Mystical 35. Creator 68. Clement
3. Wonderful 36. Preserver 69. Temperate
4. Glorious 37. Destroyer 70. Compassionate
5. Shining 38. Humbler 71. Caring
6. Splendid 39. Exalter 72. Loving
7. Mysterious 40. Life Giver 73. Kind
8. Unseen 41. Death Giver 74. Peacful
9. Indescribable 42. Manifest 75. Tranquil
10. Incomparable 43. Hidden 76. Patient
11. One 44. First 77. Healer
12. Unique 45. Last 78. Nourisher
* * *
13. Eternal 46. Wise 79. Bountiful
14. Everlasting 47. Aware 80. Abundant
15. Undying 48. Awake 81. Enricher
16. Good 49. Seer 82. Bestower
17. Praiseworthy 50. Hearer 83. Gracious
18. Commendable 51. Knower 84. Protector
19. Pure 52. Answer 85. Guardian
20. Holy 53. Revealer 86. Subduer
21. Truth 54. Opener 87. Trustworthy
* * *
22. Compelling 55. Nigh 88. Dependable
23. Powerful 56. Reckoner 89. Haven
24. Exalted 57. Numberer 90. Harbor
25. Mighty 58. Judge 91. Refuge
26. Majestic 59. Just 92. Savior
27. Ruler 60. Equitable 93. Liberator
28. Maker 61. Witness 94. Counselor
29. Originator 62. Rememberer 95. Keeper
30. Author 63. Recorder 96. Foundation
31. Designer 64. Harvester 97. Hope
32. Weaver 65. Gatherer 98. Helper
33. Fulfiller 66. Unifier 99. Friend

You will notice that this arrangement moves from the grand and transcendent to the close and personal, from the external to the internal. When I do the entire list, I find it very moving, to think of God, the creator of the universe, dwelling within us with love.

Update

The Names can also be listed using the ten decades of the Catholic rosary, giving a total of 100 Names. It's not exactly the same list, because synonyms have been added here and subtracted there, but it's very similar.

  1. Transcendent, Mystical, Wonderful, Glorious, Shining, Splendid, Mysterious, Unseen, Invisible, Indescribable
  2. One, Unique, Incomparable, Eternal, Everlasting, Immortal, Undying, Good, Commendable, Praiseworthy
  3. Holy, Sacred, Pure, True, Compelling, Powerful, Mighty, Exalted, Majestic, Ruler
  4. Maker, Originator, Author, Designer, Weaver, Fulfiller, Subtle, Creator, Preserver, Destroyer
  5. Humbler, Exalter, Expeditor, Delayer, Life-giver, Death-giver, Manifest, Hidden, First, Last
  6. Wise, Aware, Awake, Seer, Hearer, Knower, Answerer, Revealer, Opener, Nigh
  7. Reckoner, Numberer, Judge, Just, Equitable, Witness, Rememberer, Recorder, Gatherer, Unifier
  8. Merciful, Clement, Temperate, Compassionate, Caring, Loving, Kind, Peaceful, Tranquil, Patient
  9. Healer, Nourisher, Bountiful, Enricher, Bestower, Gracious, Guardian, Protector, Trustworthy, Depandable
  10. Haven, Harbor, Refuge, Savior, Liberator, Counselor, Keeper, Foundation, Hope, Friend

When I first began putting this list together in about 1998, it was a slow, evolving process, and I made a couple of 'zipped' rosaries on the way. They were pretty complicated, and I doubt if they would be of interest to anyone but me, but I wanted to record them, mostly because I still have the necklace and the bracelet, and I wanted to remember how to use them. You can read about them here: Karen's Old Prayer Beads.


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Life of Christ

I should probably say at the outset that I don't consider myself a Christian anymore. One day when I was twenty or so, I looked at the story of Christ and asked myself honestly if I believed it all, and I had to admit, with much sorrow, that I didn't. Belief isn't something you can force; I think people who try to are deceiving themselves. But the story continued to be important and meaningful to me. Recently I've come to the realization that that is enough. I can love the story of Jesus without believing that it describes what happened historically. A myth can be powerfully true without being literally true. And so I put together this rosary.

I modeled this meditation on the Catholic rosary. I use either a set of Catholic beads, or my Universal Beads. When I first read the Catholic rosary, which is a meditation on the life of Christ, I was struck by how it jumps from his adventure at the Temple at the age of twelve to his agony in Gethsemani, skipping his entire ministry. I decided to make my meditation include his ministry and the Last Supper. [Note: In October 2002, Pope John Paul II instituted another set of five mysteries covering the adult life of Christ. The link above includes them.]

I say the Lord's Prayer on the Pater beads, but I don't say the Hail Mary prayer, because that's not part of my background. Instead I substitute a verse from Isaiah: "How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of one bringing tidings of salvation and peace." I say this verse in Hebrew, because I expect Jesus knew it in Hebrew, and because the verse is used for the song of a folk dance I've known for many years. I also chose it because it contains his name, "Yeshua".

Ma na'avu, al helarim, ragelei hamevaser.
Mash'mia, ha yeshua, mash'mia shalom.

The Catholic rosary is divided into fifteen [now twenty] "Mysteries" consisting of ten beads each, called a decade. Only five decades appear on most rosaries, so you may do only a part of the total at one time, or you may go around three times. On each decade, while you say the prayers, you are supposed to meditate on that part of Christ's life. I went further and divided the decades into ten events each, to help with the visualization. However, that strains the memory, so if I don't have a written copy with me, I use the fifteen decades as a guideline and let the pictures within the decade flow without trying to pin them down to specific events.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone with this rosary, and I'm hesitant to share it. But it's been important to me, and I decided I needed to include it here.

Karen's Rosary on the Life of Jesus

In place of the Apostles' Creed, which is usually recited on the cross, you may recite your own creed. As a Unitarian and a non-Christian, I can not use a trinitarian creed. I substitute the following.

I believe in one God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, manifest in the wonders of the heavens and the earth.
I believe in one God, the God of Love, manifest in the sacred stories and lives of prophets, saints and bodhisattvas.
I believe in one God, Holy Wisdom, manifest in the still small voice that whispers and sings in my own heart.
Sweet Jesu, be with me, help me find courage and wisdom, patience and love, as I recall your story.


Jesus' Childbood

The Annunciation
1 Gabriel appears to Mary
2 He tells Mary that she will bear the Messiah
3 She asks how that can be
4 He tells her the Holy Spirit will overshadow her
S She tells Joseph, who doesn't believe her
6 She travels to Elizabeth's house 
7 Elizabeth greets her
8 Mary sings the Magnificat
9 John is born
10 Mary returns home

The Nativity
1 The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to marry Mary
2 Joseph and Mary are married
3 Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem
4 They seek shelter
5 They find the stable
6 Jesus is born and laid in the manger
7 Angels appear to the shepherds
8 The shepherds go to the stable
9 Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple
10 Simeon and Anna prophesy

Tbe Arrival of tbe Magi
1 They see the star
2 They travel across the desert
3 They visit Herod
4 They come to the stable and give their gifts
S The angel warns them not to return to Herod
6 Herod orders the massacre of the children
7 The angel warns Joseph to flee
8 The children are killed
9 Joseph, Mary and Jesus travel to Egypt
10 An angel tells Joseph that Herod has died

Tbe Boy Jesus in the Temple
1 They return to Nazareth
2 They take Jesus on the journey to Jerusalem
3 Jesus sees for the first time what goes on at the temple
4 Mary and Joseph start back toward home
5 They realize that Jesus isn't with the party
6 They hurry back to the temple
7 They search frantically
8 They find Jesus with the teachers
9 Mary scolds him for worrying them
10 He says "Didn't you know I'd be in my Father's house?"

The Hidden Years
1 Jesus learns to be a carpenter
2 Jesus learns to read in the synagogue
3 Jesus works in the family garden
4 Jesus cares for the family sheep
S Jesus becomes a master carpenter
6 Joseph dies
7 Jesus takes care of his mother and brothers and sisters
8 Jesus leaves home
9 Jesus studies with the desert hermits
10 Jesus learns that his cousin John is preaching

Jesus'Ministry

Jesus Begins His Ministry
1 Jesus listens to John preach
2 Jesus is baptized, and bears the voice of God
3 Jesus goes into the wilderness
4 Jesus is tempted by Satan
5 Jesus goes home to Nazareth and preaches in the synagogue
6 The people of Nazareth cast him out
7 Jesus recruits Peter, Andrew, James and John
8 Jesus recruits the other disciples
9 Jesus turns the water into wine at Cana
10 Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount

Tbe Parables
1 The good Samaritan
2 The prodigal son
3 The steward who buried the talents
4 The laborers in the vineyard
5 The shepherd with a hundred sheep
6 The grain of mustard seed
7 The lilies of the field
8 The camel and the needle's eye
9 The gnat and the camel
10 The mote and the beam

Miraculous Healing
1 Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law
2 Jesus heals the centurion's servant
3 Jesus heals the paralyzed man lowered
4 Jesus heals the ten lepers
S Jesus heals the blind man
6 Jesus heals the woman who is bleeding
7 Jesus heals the man with the withered hand
8 Jesus heals the madman
9 Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead
10 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead

Jesus Defends the Outcasts
1 Jesus takes a tax collector for a disciple
2 Jesus dines with Zaccheus
3 Jesus feeds the hungry with loaves and fishes
4 Jesus defends the woman taken in adultery
S Jesus defends Mary when Martha scolds her
6 Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman
7 Jesus comments on the widow's mite
8 Jesus tells the story of Dives and Lazarus
9 Jesus defends Mary when she anoints him
10 Jesus invites the children to come to him

Jesus Refuses a Crown
1 Jesus rebukes James and John for asking to sit at his
  right and left
2 Jesus slips out of the crowd that would crown him
3 Jesus hears of the death of John the Baptist
4 Jesus rides into Jerusalem
5 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem
6 Jesus cleanses the temple
7 Jesus calls the priests "whited sepulchers"
8 "Render unto Caesar..."
9 The priests conspire against Jesus
10 Judas talks with the high priest

Jesus' Passion

The Last Supper
1 Jesus washes the disciples' feet
2 Jesus says one of the disciples will betray him
3 Jesus hands the sop to Judas
4 Judas leaves
5 Jesus breaks the bread
6 Jesus pours the wine
7 Jesus commands his disciples to love one another
8 Jesus says be is going to prepare a place for them
9 Jesus promises to send a Comforter
10 Jesus predicts Peter's denial

Gethsemene
1 Jesus prays to be spared
2 Jesus finds the disciples sleeping
3 Jesus wakes them
4 Jesus prays again
S An angel comforts him
6 Soldiers approach
7 Judas kisses Jesus
B Peter draws his sword and fights
9 Jesus is bound
10 The disciples flee

The Trial
1 Jesus is questioned by Caiaphas
2 Jesus is brought to Pilate 
3 Pilate sends Jesus to Herod
4 Herod mocks Jesus and returns him to Pilate
5 Pilate asks "What is truth?"
6 Pilate has Jesus whipped
7 The soldiers crown Jesus with thorns
8 "Behold the Man"
9 Pilate washes his hands
10 Jesus is condemned to death

The Crucifixion
1 Jesus carries the cross
2 Jesus comforts the women who weep for him
3 Jesus falls, and Simon of Cyrene is recruited
4 Jesus is nailed to the cross
5 Jesus says, "Father forgive them for they know not what
  they do."
6 Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."
7 Jesus says, "Behold your son...Behold your mother."
8 Jesus says, "I thirst."
9 Jesus says, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"
10 Jesus says, "It is finished. Into thy hands I commend
   my spirit."

The Resurrection
1 The women come to dress the body, and worry about the stone.
2 They find the stone rolled away, and see an angel
3 They tell Peter
4 Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener until he speaks to her
5 Cleopas and his friend meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus
6 Jesus appears where the disciples are hiding.  He convinces
  Thomas that he is risen
7 Jesus calls to Peter from the shore
8 Jesus asks for three affirmations from Peter, to balance
  the three denials
9 Jesus is carried up into Heaven
10 The Holy Spirit comes to the disciples

I made a rosary with color-coded beads to help remember the mysteries. The first decade is rose-colored, the second green, the third blue, the fourth red, and the fifth gold. For each group of five, these colors seem to fit. For example, the rose color represents Mary in the first set, the wine at Cana in the second set, and the wine of the Last Supper in the third set. Green represents Christmas in the first set, the parables with their pastoral images in the second, and the garden of Gethsemene in the third. Blue represents the night visit of the kings, the teachings on justice, and trial. Red represents the blood of the temple, the healings, and the crucifixion. Gold represents the fields of grain in the hidden years, the crown that was refused, and the glory of the resurrection.


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non-traditional prayer beads: click for larger photo


From left to right above: Karen's Universal Rosary, Eric Walker Wickstrom's
Unitarian Universalist prayer beads, Erynn Rowan Laurie's Circle of Stones,
Karen's Moon beads, Karen's Seasons of the year beads

Circle of Stones

This arrangement of beads comes from Erynn Rowan Laurie's book Circle of Stones, which I recommend highly. She devised a guided meditation that's like a journey through the Celtic Otherworlds of Land, Sky and Sea (the "sacred land", the "endless sky", and the "eternal sea", as she says). In the process of making the journey, you find the Four Treasures of Ancient Ireland. I adapted her arrangement for my own use, changing some of the words but keeping the basic structure. She very kindly gave me permission to reference her work here. You can see her website at http://www.seanet.com/~inisglas/

In Laurie's book, she recommends prayers that come from traditional Gaelic poetry. She also has meditations for each bead. I found that for me, trying to say prayers in Gaelic was too difficult. I also had no feeling for Celtic mythology or geography. So I adapted the arrangement by using direction imagery from the place where I live. I also replaced the four Treasures (a stone, spear, sword and cauldron) with the four suits of the Tarot cards, which are familiar to me from childhood. You can see the Circle of Stones beads in the photo above.

The journey begins at the Gate of Divine Mysteries. On this bead I say, "I stand at the gate of Divine Mysteries, and I invoke my own inner sacred space: a land fertile with creativity, a sea deep with wisdom, and a sky showery with many blessings." (This is a quote directly from Laurie.)

On the three Flame Beads I say, "May the watch fires guard me; may the signal fires guide me; may the divine spark kindle me."

On the Gate of Time I say, "I stand at the gate of the Ebb and Flow of Time. What the flood wave brings, the ebb wave carries away. This is the gate which brings all things to life." (This is also a quote from Laurie.)

This brings us to the circle itself. The first bead is a large bead representing the Goddess of Life. On this bead I say, "You are the Life Giver, sending us forth on our journey. You are the hidden source of all that is."

Now we come to the first of the Treasures, surrounded by four Wind Beads, two on each side. On the first two Wind Beads, I say, "Wind from the east, prairie dawn, blow on the Standing Stone. Wind from the south, desert noon, blow on the Standing Stone."

Then on the Treasure bead I say, "The first treasure is the Standing Stone, the stone on which the world turns. The Standing Stone is the treasure of Earth."

On the last two Wind Beads I say, "Wind from the west, mountain twilight, blow on the Standing Stone. Wind from the north, starry midnight, blow on the Standing Stone."

Next come nine brown or red beads representing the Land. On these beads I say, "I wander though the sacred land. The land and I are one."

Now we come to the next Wind Beads. I use the same words on these, except that the Standing Stone is replaced with the Flowering Staff. On the Treasure bead I say, "The second treasure is the Flowering Staff, from the Tree which shelters me. The Flowering Staff is the treasure of Air."

The nine blue beads following represent the Sky. On these beads I say, "I wander through the endless sky. I am made of starlight."

Again we come to Wind Beads, and I use the same invocations to the directions, replacing the Standing Stone with the Shining Sword. On the Treasure Bead I say, "The third treasure is the Shining Sword, the sword that parts the darkness. The Shining Sword is the treasure of Fire."

The nine green beads represent the Sea. On these beads I say, "I wander through the eternal sea, forever surging and flowing."

On the next Wind Beads, I again invoke the directions, replacing the Standing Stone with the Flowing Cup. On the Treasure bead I say, "The fourth treasure is the Flowing Cup, the cup that is never empty. The Flowing Cup is the treasure of Water."

Now we come to the last bead in the circle before the Gate. This bead represents the God of Death. (Since I'm a monotheist, I think of the God and Goddess as being symbols for the one God.) On this bead I say, "You are the Death Giver, welcoming us home. Your lighted windows greet us at our journey's end."

On the Gate I say, "I stand at the Gate of the Ebb and Flow of Time. This is the gate that brings all things past death."

On the three Flame beads I say, "The watch fires have guided me; the signal fires have guided me; the divine spark has kindled me."

I finish by saying, "The sacred space is within me: a land fertile with creativity, a sea deep with wisdom, and a sky showery with many blessings."


I do this meditation often when I'm hiking in the Colorado Rockies. I find that now, when I say it elsewhere, it transports me back to the mountains and makes a wonderful mini-vacation.

I've also thought of using the idea of a hike itself as a guided meditation. Sometimes I use a Catholic rosary, and think of the decades as parts of the hike. As I finger each bead, I say something like, "Now I'm walking through Goblin Forest." Then on the next decade I might say, "Now I'm above treeline, on Mills Moraine." During that decade I visualize that part of the hike. This idea could be used to recreate any favorite journey.


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Labyrinth Beads

For centuries people have walked labyrinths as a form of meditation. Labyrinths were cut into turf on village greens, and laid out in tiles on the floors of cathedrals. Recently there's been a resurgence of interest in labyrinth walking. A popular design is taken from the cathedral in Chartres, France. It is often printed on a very large canvas, which is then laid out in a church sanctuary for special occasions. Here is my drawing of the pattern:

Unfortunately, labyrinths can be difficult and expensive to lay out, and may be inaccessible to many people. A small labyrinth may be stamped out in snow or sand, or drawn in chalk on a driveway, but that is time-consuming. One solution many people use is tracing a pattern on paper or wood with their fingers. If you print up a labyrinth from the Internet and glue heavy string along the pathway, it makes a nice tactile finger labyrinth. (Also see my labyrinths page for many suggestions for making walkable labyrinths that fit into small spaces.)

I have discovered a way to actually walk the labyrinth that costs next to nothing, requires no layout and can be done anywhere, from a living room to a sanctuary to a lawn or a beach. I use prayer beads to duplicate the labyrinth. You could also use a notecard with notes on it, but non-verbal beads work better.

A labyrinth walk consists of walking around a circle to a compass point, and then turning either toward the outside of the circle or to the inside, and going back the other way, along a larger or smaller circle. If I keep track of at which compass point I should turn, and which direction (outside or inside), I can approximate the experience.

I use four colors of beads to stand for the four directions, and two sizes: a large bead means turn to the outside, and a small bead means turn to the inside. If a person gets muddled, there's no harm done. Just head for the next compass direction and take it from there.

The pattern for the Chartres labyrinth is as follows: Start at the East, go about halfway to the center, and turn toward the South. (The asterisks indicate places where you not only turn around but move toward the center five layers.) In the photo I used faceted beads for the "large" beads, and pony beads for the "small" beads.

					Suggested beads

Start at East                large green
1. South-inside              small red
2. East-inside*              small green
3. West-outside              large blue
4. East-outside              large green
5. South-outside             large red
6. East-outside              large green
7. West-inside               small blue
8. South-inside              small red
9. North-inside              small white
10. West-inside              small blue
11. East-outside             large green
12. North-outside            large white
13. East-outside             large green
14. West-outside             large blue
15. North-outside            large white
16. South-outside            large red
17. West-outside             large blue
18. East-outside             large green
19. South-outside            large red
20. East-outside             large green
21. West-inside              small blue
22. South-inside             small red
23. North-inside             small white
24. West-inside              small blue
25. East-outside             large green
26. North-outside            large white
27. East-outside             large green
28. West-outside             large blue
29. East-inside*             small green
30. North-inside             small white
31. East-inside*             attach the string to the original 
     to center                large green bead


Update: Here is another method for using beads to recreate the Chartres pattern. Instead of thinking of the Chartres pattern in terms of compass direction, you could think of it in terms of quarter-circle arcs and half-circle arcs. You can encode them with beads, using small beads for the quarter circles and large beads for the half circles. The pattern is:
oo00 oo0o0o0 oo0o0o0 oo0o0o0 oo00oo
This doesn't address the problem of whether to turn toward the outside or the inside of the circle at each turn. You could use two different colors or shapes of beads for that. If I let the 0s represent paths that are getting further from the center and Xs represent paths that are getting closer, then the pattern would be:
xxX0 oo0xXxX oo0o0o0 oo0xXxx oo00xx

Here is a photo of a string of beads in that pattern. I used light beads for paths that are getting closer to the center, and dark beads for paths that are getting further from the center:

My friend Sue came up with yet another way of using beads to replicate a labyrinth. She used small beads to represent steps, and large beads to represent a 90-degree right turn or left turn. Here are her beads:

See my "Labyrinths you can do anywhere" page for more details.

A blogger whose name I don't know has described these ideas more clearly than I did. You may enjoy his/her explanations on All Things Labyrinth.


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Motel Rosary

The other day we were driving up into the mountains near our home, and I saw a motel named "Fawn Hollow". The name struck me; it sounded so peaceful and nice. It occurred to me that motel names are often concocted to have a connotation of rest and relaxation. So I went to the yellow pages and looked up local motels and lodges. I picked sixteen that were evocative for me, and arranged them alphabetically to make them easier to memorize. I say them on the beads of an Anglican rosary, seven times for each name, and go four times around the rosary. It really helps me at night when I'm feeling anxious. Here's my list. Pretty full of cliches, but then maybe cliches are archetypes. Reciting these names is like going on a mountain retreat.

I also made up a rosary from motel names I found in a AAA book for California. We used to vacation on the California coast when I was a kid, and these names are evocative for me too.

  Colorado Motel Rosary

   Boulder Brook
   Brynwood
   Fawn Hollow
   Fireside
   Glen Echo
   Idlewilde
   Lamplighter
   Misty Mountain
   Peaceful Valley
   Riverwood
   Silver Moon
   Sunnyside Knoll
   Sylvan Dale
   Telemark
   Whispering Pines
   Wildwood


  California Motel Rosary

   Bayside
   Bridge Bay
   Candlelight
   Coachman
   Coral Reef
   Golden sails
   Half Moon
   Harbor Light
   Oasis
   Ocean Palms
   Salt Air
   Silver Sands
   Spyglass
   Stardust
   Surf and Sand
   Windjammer

Update: I recently made a set of prayer beads based on this idea, with one bead for each of the 32 names. I color-coded them to help me remember the names. For example, Fawn Hollow is a light brown, Fireside is a golden orange, Misty Mountain is gray, Oasis is deep green, Salt Air is white, Silver Sands is silver, and so on. It really helps with memory. I either say each name once, or repeat it three or four times.

This must be a natural thing to do, using colors as a mnemonic, because after I had made that string of beads, I ran across a similar idea for the 23rd Psalm, using colored beads to help remember the lines of the psalm. If you do a google search on "23rd psalm bracelet" you'll see several examples.


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Chakra beads: click for larger photo


Chakra beads

I know nothing about chakras, except the little I have read online. Here is a site that may be of interest. I have no beliefs about chakras as real objects. I only know that I've found that meditating on these images is helpful and relaxing. I used cheap plastic jewel beads for my chakra beads: the whole strand cost 50 cents to make. You may want to use nicer materials. If you have any skill at making your own beads, it might be nice to use the chakra symbols on the beads, or at least on the spacer beads. I used 16 beads for each section, for a total of 112 (not counting the large spacer beads). I wanted to use rainbow colors, but the beads I found didn't have separate indigo and violet colors, so I used purple and clear for the last two sections.

There are different color systems I've read about. I've chosen the rainbow color system because it's the easiest to remember, and also very appealing visually. I'll list another one as well in my chart below. I actually use the other one in my own meditation, because I learned it first and because the colors seem to match the meanings better. I used the alternative coloring system for the large beads.

When I meditate, I use mantras that sound like the traditional seed mantras, but are actually English words that remind me of the symbols. For example, the first chakra is the "root" chakra, and symbolizes the element earth. The tradtional mantra is "Lam". I use the English word "Loam", which reminds me of the earth. I breathe slowly and deeply, and recite the mantra on each breath, using the beads to count the breaths.

Chakra Symbol Color Meaning Mantra English word
Root Square Red (Gold) Earth/survival Lam Loam
Sacral Crescent Orange (Silver) Water/procreation Vam Womb
Navel (Solar plexus) Triangle Yellow (Red) Fire/anger Ram Room (I think of a fireplace)
Heart Hexagram Green (Blue) Air/love Yam You (I think of God)
Throat Oval Blue (Black) Sound/voice Hum Hum
Third eye Winged circle Indigo (White) Light/vision Om
Crown Lotus Violet Spirit Aum (or silence)

As I meditate on the chakra, I think of the location in the body and imagine the symbol there. I imagine the square sitting on the earth, maybe made of stone. I imagine the crescent filled with water, the triangle blazing with fire, the hexagram radiating love, the oval singing in my throat, the winged circle pulsing with light, the lotus spiraling upward into the world of spirit. This is all completely on an amateur level. If you are interested in pursuing this, you will probably want to do some more research. The book by John Mumford in my bibliography may be helpful.


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non-traditional prayer beads: click for larger photo


From left to right above: Karen's Universal Rosary, Erik Walker Wikstrom's
Unitarian Universalist prayer beads, Erynn Rowan Laurie's Circle of Stones,
Karen's Moon beads, Karen's Seasons of the year beads

Unitarian Universalist Beads

These beads are based on a design by Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, described in the book Everyday Spiritual Practice. Update: Since I first put this page up, Rev. Wikstrom published an entire book about prayer, including an entire chapter on his prayer beads. It is called Simply Pray. I recommend it highly for anyone who would like to try a prayer practice but is uncomfortable with traditional religions.

Rev. Wikstrom is a Unitarian Universalist minister. In his original design, there is a large Centering bead, four Entering In beads, a large Naming bead, five small Breath Prayer beads, a large Knowing bead, five small Breath Prayer beads, a large Listening bead, five small Breath Prayer beads, a large Loving bead, and four Returning beads, which brings you back to the Centering bead.

NewYou can read Rev. Wikstrom's description of his prayer beads here

You can see an example in the photo above, except that I used seven Breath Prayer beads in each section instead of five. I did this for two reasons. One is that it brings the total number of beads to 33, (not counting the Centering bead) which means I can use it for the 99 Names of God. Also, the seven can be used to do some of the very nice Anglican rosaries. You could also use the seven beads to recite the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.

What makes Rev. Wikstrom's beads unique is that they include places where you stop and do spontaneous prayers in the Protestant tradition, as well as places for repetitive, preset prayers. On the Naming bead, you name the sacred, count your blessings, offer praise and thanksgiving. On the Knowing bead, you try to know yourself, confess your failings and resolve to do better next time. On the Listening bead, you sit silent and listen for the voice of God within. On the Loving bead, you ask for blessings on others and on yourself.

On the Entering In and Returning beads, you do something to open and close the meditation, like honor the four directions, recite a four-line hymn, or some other thing. On the Breath Prayer beads you recite a relaxing phrase or mantra. His examples have the following pattern: on the in breath, you name the holy. On the out breath, you name your deepest desire. An example I use is "Oh, Dear Lady, hold my hand." A famous one from the Christian tradition is "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner."

I did a lot of experimenting with this design. Besides using them as Rev. Wikstrom intended, I also tried some of the Anglican arrangements, and found that I liked them. So I decided to write some prayers to say on the Breath Prayer beads, which were related to the four large beads. Note that this is very different from Rev. Wikstrom's intention, which is that the breath prayers should be simple and repetitive. I also rearranged the large beads, so that Listening came last. Here is what I came up with.

On the Centering Bead I say some favorite prayer like the Lord's Prayer, or like my adaptation which I call the Lady's Prayer:

Dear Lady of the earth and stars,
Blessed be your name.
May justice come, and right be done
On earth as in our dreams.
Grant us the wisdom and courage we need
And forgive us when we fail
As we forgive those who fail us.
And help us hold back the darkness
In the world and in our own hearts.
So may it be.

On the Entering In beads I say,

I look to the East, and I see you in the early morning dawn. I feel you in the fragrant wind that sweeps across the prairie in the springtime of the year.

I look to the South and I see you in the high sun of noon. I feel you in the rippling heat that shimmers in the desert lands in the summer of the year.

I look to the West and I see you in the twilight of the evening. I feel you in the waterfalls that tumble down the mountainside in the autumn of the year.

I look to the North and I see you in the starry skies of night. I feel you in the standing stones left by glaciers long ago in the winter of the year.

After I pause on the Naming bead, I say the following on the next seven beads:

You made the light and the stars and the vastness of space.
You made the blue-green earth, with its mountains, forests, rivers and seas.
You made the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, the green things that grow,
	multiply, die, are buried, and grow again.
You made the new-born creatures that struggle from the womb to open wondering
	eyes on a new world.
You made the sweet rest of death, and sleep to teach us not to fear.
You made our human hearts filled with violence and love, and our human
	hands that can hurt or heal.
You made hope that lights candles and sings in the darkness until walls
	crumble away.

After I pause on the Knowing bead, I say the following on the next seven beads:

When I am selfish, help me to be generous.
When I am greedy, help me to be content.
When I am angry, help me to be patient.
When I am grouchy, help me to be kind.
When I am gossipy, help me to be silent.
When I am frightened, help me to be brave.
When I am anxious, help me to be wise.

The next section takes the longest, because as I pray for blessings on each group of people, I pause and imagine a beautiful golden light streaming down over each person in the group, filling them with peace and joy. After I pause on the Loving bead, I say the following on the next seven beads:

Please bless my family.
Please bless my friends.
Please bless my enemies.
Please bless our leaders and help them to be wise.
Please bless those in sickness, pain and poverty.
Please bless those in captivity and danger.
Please bless me.

Then I pause on the Listening Bead, talking silently to God and listening for the reply. Finally I do the Returning beads, saying:

I look to the East, and I thank you for the early morning dawn. I thank you for the fragrant wind that sweeps across the prairie in the springtime of the year.

I look to the South and I thank you for the high sun of noon. I thank you for the rippling heat that shimmers in the desert lands in the summer of the year.

I look to the West and I thank you for the twilight of the evening. I thank you for the waterfalls that tumble down the mountainside in the autumn of the year.

I look to the North and I thank you for the starry skies of night. I thank you for the standing stones left by glaciers long ago in the winter of the year.

Update: After reading Simply Pray, I re-thought my re-ordering of the large beads. Rev. Wikstrom puts the Loving bead after the Listening bead, and that had seemed odd to me. But he talks about coming down off the mountain and going out into the marketplace, a metaphor for leaving the quiet of solitary prayer and re-joining the community. I see now that the Loving bead is part of that process. Maybe after the deep meditation of Listening is the right time to return our focus outward with the Loving beads. He suggests that Listening might be a way to find out who we should be praying for.

I also thought about the mantra I've been using on the Breath Prayer beads. While I still like it, it's a lot to remember. Since I use the 99 Names a lot, and since they're divided into three main categories, I tried using a representative subset for the UU beads. The first third is about the transcendence of God, and matches the Naming bead. The second is about the all-knowing, aware God, and matches the Knowing bead. The third section is about the merciful, compassionate God, and matches the Loving bead. The only hard part is narrowing the list down from 99 to 21 representative Names. Here's a possiblity:

Transcendent Subtle Merciful
Glorious Manifest Compassionate
Incomparable Hidden Tranquil
Everlasting Wise Healer
Holy Nigh Bountiful
Compelling Numberer Harbor
Weaver Witness Hope

Or you could just use one Name for the first section and repeat it seven times, one for the second section, and one for the third. In any case, I use the same prayer I use with the 99 Names:

Oh dear Lady, beautiful and elusive, you whisper and sing in my heart. Veiled in rainbows and shimmering gold, trees and waterfalls, moonlight and stars, you are [insert the Name for the particular bead here.] Sweet Lady, face of God, be with me [or "with us" or "with [the name of someone I'm praying for]"] and hold my hand, now and forever. So may it be.

Years ago I had a link here to a sermon by Jim Casebolt, which is unfortunately no longer online. So I removed it, but I should probably describe the UU prayer beads he described in his sermon. Here's a link to my description.

New Here is another UU prayer bead idea I really like, by a blogger named Sharon Wylie. She suggests using the six Sources named by the Unitarian Universalist Association for the large beads. Between each of the large beads are seven small beads, on which would be repeated a chant from that source. She has examples of chants that could be used, taken from the UU hymnals. Sharon Wylie's UU beads.

I really like this idea, though I haven't made a set of beads in that pattern yet. It occurs to me that Erik Wikstrom's beads could be used for this, using the three main sections and repeating them. Here is the list of sources from the UUA:

  1. Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  2. Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  3. Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  4. Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  5. Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  6. Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

I did some looking in the two current UU hymnals, Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey for other songs or chants that could be used for each section. Some of the songs have a chorus that could be repeated on each bead, or are short and repetitive with only a word or two changing from verse to verse. The hymns numbered below 1000 are from "Singing the Living Tradition", and the ones numbered above 1000 are from "Singing the Journey". I'm not suggesting doing different songs within each section at one time, but just choosing songs from this list or finding others that would work as well. One song would be repeated seven times in each section (or fewer if seven seems like too many).

  1. Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
    • 30 Over my Head
    • 100 Peace Like a River
    • 396 I Know this Rose Will Open
    • 1003 Where Do We Come From?
    • 1009 Meditation on Breathing
    • 1011 Return Again
    • 1024 When the Spirit Says 'Do'
  2. Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
    • 95 There is More Love Somewhere
    • 123 Spirit of Life
    • 157 Step By Step the Longest March
    • 169 We Shall Overcome
    • 170 We Are a Gentle Angry People
    • 389 Gathered Here
    • 1030 Siyahamba
  3. Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
    • 180 Alhamdulillah
    • 184 Be Ye Lamps Unto Yourselves
    • 188 Come, Come, Whoever You Are
    • 1031 Filled With Loving Kindness
    • 1069 Ancient Mother
  4. Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
    • 214 Shabbat Shalom
    • 366 Heleluyan
    • 391 Voice Still and Small
    • 392 Hineh Ma Tov
    • 399 Vine and Fig Tree
    • 413 Go Now in Peace
    • 1048 Ubi Caritas
    • 1045 Balm in Gilead (chorus)
  5. Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
    • 315 This Old World (one verse repeated?)
    • 324 Where My Free Spirit Onward Leads (one verse repeated?)
    • 346 Come Sing a Song With Me
    • 402 From You I receive
  6. Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
    • 15 The Lone Wild Bird
    • 73 Chant for the Seasons (may be too long)
    • 387 The Earth, Water, Fire, Air
    • 397 Morning Has Come
    • 1073 The Earth is Our Mother

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Joys and Concerns Rosary

This isn't really new, it's an amalgam of several things: Erik Wikstrom's UU beads, the UU beads James Casebolt describes in his sermon [update: this sermon is unfortunately no longer online, but you can see a summary here],the Anglican Rosary, and the acronym ACTS, which stands for Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication, and which I have found described several places on the Internet. I designed this arrangement to be a bracelet. You can see a couple of examples in the photo below.

Many Unitarian Universalist churches practice a ceremony called "Joys and Concerns", in which members of the congregation name their joys and concerns and light a candle. The bracelet has four sections of seven beads each, separated by four larger beads (like the Anglican Rosary). The first section is green, the second is yellow, the third is blue, and the fourth is red. You could also use rainbow colors, as in Jim Casebolt's sermon. The four large beads can be black or white or gray or some other contrasting color. You can see an illustration in the photo below.

On the first large bead (before the green section) ask God to be with you on your journey, or enter a time of reflection in some other way.

On the seven green beads, enter the sacred space by naming seven things that seem holy or magical to you. These can be places or relationships or works of art or music or anything else that has a numinous feeling for you. When you reach the next large bead, sit in silence for a while and listen for the voice of God within you.

On the seven yellow beads, name your joys, count your blessings, offer up thanksgiving for the good things in your life. Think of seven things you are thankful for, or joyous about. Again pause and listen on the next large bead.

On the seven blue beads, name your concerns, think of seven things that you are worried or remorseful about, things that you want to do better in your life. Pause and listen on the next large bead.

On the seven red beads, share your love. Send your love and good wishes and prayers out to seven people or categories of people, ask for a blessing on them. Pause and listen on the large bead, and come out of the prayer time.

You will notice a similarity to my adaptation of Erik Wikstrom's UU beads described above. The only real difference, besides the colors, is that I've added a group of seven in place of the warm-up and cool-down beads. There is nothing magical about having seven beads in each section; you could easily have more or fewer. I chose seven so that this bracelet rosary could be used as an Anglican Rosary and, with some imagination, as the Universal Rosary that I describe below. Seven is also nice for UU beads because there are Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism., which could be used for the green section (naming the sacred).


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Universal Rosary: click for larger photo


Left and right above: Universal Rosary, Center: Joys and Concerns Rosary

Karen's Universal Rosary

The problem with having so many kinds of prayer bead arrangements is that I had to have quite a collection. That wasn't really a problem until it came to choosing which one to put in my pocket or purse when leaving home for the day. Then one day I realized that if I left out the Wind Beads on the Circle of Stones (just invoking the directions with the Treasure Beads), it had 33 beads. So did my Unitarian Universalist beads. So did my 99 Names beads. I could even do my Life of Christ meditation on 33 beads, thinking of it as three decades and three Pater beads. (The fifteen Mysteries I came up with divide as nicely into 5 groups of 3 as they do 3 groups of five.) And the Anglican beads have 32 beads, so by leaving out one of the 33, I could include the Anglican rosaries too.

For a while I used a strand of "worry beads" from Turkey, marking the divisions with little wire rings designed to be used in jewelry (they open and can slip onto the cord without unstringing the beads.) But at last I decided to make a Universal Rosary to be used with almost all my meditations.

I modeled it on the Circle of Stones without the Wind Beads, using the three colors for the Land, Sky and Sea. In the photo, the left-most strand is the one I keep on my keychain. The right-most strand is made of cheap plastic beads and beads that I got from old thrift-store necklaces. On that strand, the pearly beads represent the Treasures. Then I replaced some of the beads with special beads from other rosaries. In the right-most strand, the black oval beads are the Naming, Knowing, Listening and Loving beads from the Unitarian Universalist rosary. The amber-colored round beads are the Cruciform beads from the Anglican Prayer Beads. I count the two amber-colored beads at the bottom as a single bead when doing prayers in the Anglican pattern.

You can of course use other colors. In the left-most strand, you will see that the Treasure beads are yellow and the Cruciform beads are white. In the larger of the two bracelets in the center, I have used glass beads of a slightly different hue to represent the Treasure beads, enabling me, with some imagination, to use the Joys and Concerns beads as a Universal Rosary.

The second and third Treasure beads divide the strand up nicely into groups of 12, 9, and 12 beads, if you think of the beads between those two Treasure beads as the middle 9. This is useful for keeping track of where you are in the 99 Names.

I can even use the Universal Rosary for the Seasons of the Year. I use the Cruciform beads from the Anglican Rosary as the solstices and equinoxes, and the special beads from the Unitarian Universalist beads as the cross-quarter day beads. I repeat each of the other beads twice.

The only one that's really awkward on the Universal Rosary is the Life of Christ. The three Pater beads don't line up very well; one is a Cruciform bead, one is a Treasure bead, and one is a generic bead. My solution is to use the Treasure beads as the Pater beads, and also as the first bead of each decade.

I recently discovered that I can use the Universal Rosary as a way of keeping track as I walk the Chartres Labyrinth from memory, as described above. This may not appeal to anyone but me, but since I like to carry only one set of beads, I wrote it up for my own use. You can see it here if you're interested.

I fastened a Universal Rosary to my keychain, because here in America we're almost never without our keys. It looks just like decorative beads to the bystander, but it's nice to have it always with me. When I find myself standing in a long line, or sitting in an unproductive meeting, or waiting for a bus with nothing to read, I can spend a few moments in quiet contemplation.

universal rosary: click for larger photo universal rosary: click for larger photo


More universal rosaries

Here's a universal rosary made of seed beads: I wear it as a ring. 32 seed beads make for about a size 5 or 6 ring. The two silver "beads" on either side of the slightly larger clear bead are actually where I wrapped the jewelry wire around itself. I made a similar arrangement out of pony beads for a bracelet. I don't include the "tail" on either one.

And here's the ring with the bracelet for comparison:


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Using your Fingers as a Universal Rosary

Even though I'm almost never without my Universal Rosary, I still wanted a way to keep track of my prayers using nothing but my fingers. There are times when I don't have my beads with me. When I had an MRI, for example, I couldn't bring anything with me into the machine.

I read somewhere about Baha'is using their fingers to count prayers. The Baha'is are persecuted in some places, and it might be dangerous for them to be carrying identifying beads. The article said that if you count each fingertip on one hand, along with the creases in the fingers and thumb, you get a total of 19. (Baha'is use 95 beads, divided into 5 groups of 19.) I wondered if I could use this idea to count to 33. I had also read somewhere that some Muslims use their fingers to count the 99 Names of God, so it seemed there should be a way.

I begin counting on the tip of my little finger. I work my way down that finger for the first four beads. Then I move to the base of the ring finger, and move up that finger for the next four beads. From there I touch the tip of my middle finger and work my way down it, and finally up my index finger to the tip. That gives 16 beads. I touch the tip of my thumb for number 17. Then I go back to the tip of my index finger and retrace my way back to the tip of my little finger, for a total of 33. I often use the thumb of the same hand to do the counting. Since I can't touch the tip of the thumb with itself, I open my hand for number 17.

Before I begin, I make a mental note of where the dividing beads will be for the particular rosary I'm doing. For example, the Treasure beads come at the first crease on the little finger and the base of the middle finger. This process is subtle enough that I can do it in public without anyone having any idea what I'm doing. If they notice at all, they think I'm just figiting with my fingers. Here in America that serves merely to avoid feeling conspicuous. But in some countries it might be a matter of life and death.

A correspondent who asked to be anonymous gave me permission to put a quote from an e-mail here:

"Regarding the use of fingers as a substitute for prayer beads, I've discovered what is perhaps an easier way to count to 33 on them: on each finger, count the fingertip, the finger segments, and the creases. So it's just like the Baha'i way of counting but with the finger segments as well as the tips and creases.

"Adding it all up: On all fingers but the thumb, this gives you: 1 fingertip + 3 finger segments + 3 creases = 7. On the thumb, you have 1 fingertip + 2 finger segments + 2 creases = 5. Adding it all up, you get 7 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 5 = 33. :)"


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2010 update: A memorial rosary

After my mother died, we found a strand of beads she had asked me to make for her. They were in the pattern of Erik Wikstrom's UU beads. She carried them in her purse for years, though she never shared with me if she used them for prayer or meditation. I decided to write a memorial rosary for her, using some of her favorite quotes. This idea could be adapted to create a memorial for anyone. Here is the one I made for her:

Centering bead:
I speak these words in honor and memory of my mother. I ask you to be with me, Mom, in this time and place.

Entering beads:

  • I miss you, Mom, at church and other gatherings, where you introduced me to so many friends.
  • I miss you, Mom, at folk dancing, where we danced together hand in hand,
  • I miss you, Mom, in the mountains, in the flowering meadows and on the high peaks.
  • I miss you, Mom, on the beach, where waves roll in under a golden sun, under a silver moon and stars.

First large bead: I remember you, Mom, at church and other gatherings. [pause to remember times with friends]

Small beads: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye. [Antoine Saint-Exupery]

Second large bead: I remember you, Mom, at folk dancing. [pause to remember times spent dancing]

Small beads: When you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. [Khalil Gibran]

Third large bead: I remember you, Mom, in the mountains. [pause to remember times spent hiking]

Small beads: In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. [Antoine Saint-Exupery]

Fourth large bead: I remember you, Mom, at the beach. [pause to remember times at the beach]

Returning beads:

  • You are with me, Mom, at church and other gatherings, where you introduced me to so many friends.
  • You are with me, Mom, at folk dancing, where we danced together hand in hand,
  • You are with me, Mom, in the mountains, in the flowering meadows and on the high peaks.
  • You are with me, Mom, on the beach, where waves roll in under a golden sun, under a silver moon and stars.

Centering bead: Thank you, Mom, for all you have given me. You have always been there for me, and you are still with me. I love you.

[December 29, 2009]


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2010 update: A contribution from a reader

I recently received an e-mail from someone who had visited my site and was inspired to create a set of prayers to be done on a traditional Catholic rosary. She removed the medal and crucifix and replaced them with pieces of silver Celtic knotwork from an earring which had lost its mate. I was so taken with what she shared with me that I asked if I could include it on my website. She said yes, and asked to remain anonymous as a kindness to her conservative family, and I'm honoring her wish.

This correspondent describes herself as "a liberal Quaker with interests in a wide variety of religious and philosophical paths, and who was, at one point on the journey, a Catholic". She says "As I live too far from my local Quaker meeting, I don’t have the chance to participate in that gathered silence that truly settles the soul, and I needed another form of practice to help quiet my mind. Having learned the rosary during my time as a Catholic, I knew that the repetitive prayers were very good at settling my mind."

Opening bead (where the crucifix is on the rosary):

Open my eyes to see your Light

Open my ears to hear your voice

Open my hands to do your work

Open my heart to love.


Large bead: Blessed Lady, light in the darkness, take away our pain. Wrap your loving arms around us, guide us on the path.

Three small beads: Blessed Lord, grant us strength as the Lady our Mother grants us wisdom. Child of Light bring us hope in the darkness, open our hearts to love.

Large bead: Lord of the Harvest, Child of Light, give us the courage to do what must be done, and remind us that even in the darkness there is hope.

Now we begin the five decades. These are based on the five elements: I repeat the prayer for each element on each of the ten beads in that element’s decade.

Between the decades: Divine Light, Giver of All, help us to hold back the darkness, in the world and in our hearts.

Then, the prayer for each decade:

  • Lord of the earth, we thank you for the fields that sustain us. Grant us an abundant harvest.
  • Lady of the air, we thank you for the gift of freedom. Grant us peace.
  • Lord of the flame, we thank you for the gifts of passion and power. Grant us inner fire.
  • Lady of the water, we thank you for the gift of life. Grant us wisdom.
  • Lord of spirit, we thank you for the gift of love. Teach us to be kind.

Then, the opening prayers are said in reverse (Blessed Lady … then the small beads… then the Lord of the Harvest). The opening prayer (“open my eyes..”) could be used again, but I generally use the last part of your Lady’s Prayer, as it seems to belong there.


Note from Karen: If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy the website of another correspondent. I linked to this website from my main page, but this seems like a good place to repeat that link: Mousie's Prayer Beads.


Conclusion

This must be the most self-indulgent page of my website, and I don't know if anyone will read this far. I've taught some workshops in my church, and most people seem more interested in developing their own arrangements than delving into mine, which is certainly understandable. But if you're still with me, I hope that this page has given you some ideas you can use. I also hope very much that I haven't offended anyone from a faith that practices prayer beads as part of its tradition. The practice seems to be a basic human one, and those of us who weren't raised in a tradition that uses it sometimes have to develop our own.


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Bibliography

  • Alexander, Scott Everyday Spiritual Practice; Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life Skinner House Books, Boston MA, 1999
  • Bauman, Lynn The Anglican Rosary Praxis, Telephone, TX, 1998
  • Lovasik The Holy Rosary Catholic Book Publishing, NY 1980
  • Camille, Alice The Rosary; Mysteries of Joy, light, Sorrow and Glory ACTA Publications, Chicago, IL 2003
  • Elliott, Kristin and Seibt, Betty Holding your Prayers in Your Hands; Praying the Anglican Rosary Open Hands, Denton TX, 1999
  • Elliott, Kristin and Seibt, Betty Praying the Way of the Cross with the Anglican Rosary Open Hands, Denton TX, 1999
  • Evangelinos, Aris The Komboloi and its History Komboloi Museum Publications, Greece
  • Gribble, Richard The History and Devotion of the Rosary Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Huntington, Indiana, 1992
  • Groeschel, Benedict The Rosary, Chain of Hope Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2003
  • Henry, Gray and Marriott, Susannah Beads of Faith Carroll and Brown Publishers, London, UK 2002
  • Hopcke, Robert Living the Mysteries; The Spiritual Power of the Rosary in the Lives of Contemporary People The Crossroad Publishing Company, NY 2003
  • John Paul II Apostolic Letter On the Most Holy Rosary
  • Laurie, Erynn A Circle of Stones; Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts Eschaton Productions, Inc., Chicago, IL, 1995
  • Lovasik The Holy Rosary Catholic Book Publishing, NY 1980
  • Montfort, St. Louis The Secret of the Rosary Montfort Publications, Bay Shore, NY 1999
  • Mumford, John A Chakra & Kundalini Workbook Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN 2003
  • Pennington, Basil Praying by Hand; Rediscovering the Rosary as a Way of Prayer Harper, San Francisco, 1995
  • Peyton, Patrick Father Peyton's Rosary Prayer Book The Family Rosary Inc. Albany, NY 1996
  • Thornton, Francis This is the Rosary Hawthorn Books, Inc. NY, 1961
  • Vail, Anne and Houselander, Caryll Joy of the Rosary, A Way into Meditative Prayer Liguori Publications, Missouri
  • Weber, Christin Circle of Mysteries; The Women's Rosary Book Yes International Publishers, Saint Paul, MN, 1997
  • Wiley, Eleanor and Shannon, Maggie A String and a Prayer; How to Make and Use Prayer Beads Red Wheel, Boston, 2002
  • Wikstrom, Erik Walker Simply Pray: A modern Spiritual Practice to Deepen your Life Skinner House Books, Boston, 2005


copyright 2002 by Karen Deal Robinson

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