Sunday, May 26, 2013

YARN AS A PRAYER PRACTICE



You may have started reading this article with the idea that I'm going to be talking about using prayer shawls or lap blankets, but I'm not.  Not that these things are not useful prayer aids, but today I want to talk more about the making of them, rather than the use of them, as a prayerful practice.

If you knit or crochet, you may very well already know what I'm talking about here. People who knit and/or crochet (and I'll throw in spinning and weaving too) consistently talk about the meditative experience they have while making various things out of yarn. The rhythmic, repetitive movement, the focused attention, the often altered state of consciousness that can be achieved, the camaraderie between craftswomen and men who share this interest all create a very spiritually based experience, whether the participant is alone or in a group.

Entire ministries are created around knitting prayer shawls to be given to those who are experiencing difficult times, or as a way of offering encouragement, or as a show of community support. Hats are made for cancer patients or the homeless, baby clothes made for orphans or babies being taken into foster care, or endless other possibilities for donating the fruits of one's labors to those in some need. 

Isn't that the coolest thing? 

I have to confess that my own knitting skills are meager, and I don't crochet at all. It takes a lot of "warm-up" time for me to be able to get into a prayerful state of mind while knitting. It often results in dropped stitches, pattern errors, or making other mistakes that challenge my patience and result in the use of language that I would not think of as being *ahem* prayerful. I do have to say though, those times that I have been able to get there, have been pretty darn remarkable.

So, how do you go about giving this  try? I recommend starting off with some small project that you would like to give to someone else as a token of support or comfort. A hat is a good place to start. Before you begin, pray about the purpose of the project and give yourself time in that prayer to settle your mind down. As you work your project, choose how you want to pray. Some people really do repeat a short prayer at each stitch- much like praying with a rosary. Others will say a prayer at the end of a row or round. Others still begin and end their activity time with prayer but do not say any prayers while they are actually working. Some choose to work in silence, focusing their attention less on praying per se, and set their minds to prayerful listening. Do what speaks to you at the time. 

If you want to learn to knit or crochet but don't know anyone who can teach you, there are a lot of good instructional videos on YouTube or on websites of yarn stores.


Knit Picks- an online store that sells absolutely delicious needles and yarns:

http://www.knitpicks.com/wptutorials/category/video-tutorials/


Go to YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/ and type in a search for "knitting" or "crochet" and you'll literally find hundreds of instructional videos for darn near anything you may need help with. 

There are also community groups where people get together to knit in coffee shops, yarn stores or other venues. These folks are very often willing and more than able to offer some basic instruction to get you started.

You can find very inexpensive, perfectly serviceable yarn at dollar stores, and thrift stores can be goldmines for needles and yarn. A few dollars can literally open this avenue for you developing a new prayer practice. Give it a try and let me know what you think!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Holy God, our hearts ache from the devastation in Oklahoma and we stand in awe of the utter power of creation. Bring comfort to those who grieve and rest to those who aid others. Help us find the lost and heal the wounded, and may you shelter all who have died gently in your loving arms.

Guide our nation to meet the challenges to come with generosity and deep compassion as we rebuild what has been destroyed. Let our prayers be made not only with our hearts, but with our hands and feet as we offer all we can to those who are in need.

Let us all remember that we do not face this desolation alone, but stand in the hope, peace, and renewal of your beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, amen.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

PRAYING WITH A ROMAN CATHOLIC ROSARY



Continuing with the use of prayer beads, today we'll look at praying with the more familiar  Roman Catholic rosary. The rosary we generally think of from the Roman tradition is a Dominican rosary, made up of five decades of ten beads each. There are a total of 59 beads on this type of rosary: 53 Ave ("Hail")  beads, and 6 Pater ("Father") beads, and specific prayers are said on each. 

The Ave and Pater beads are generally different from each other, often with the Pater beads being larger or different in color and/ or texture.

There are a LOT of internet sites that have instructions on how to pray this rosary and I cannot do full justice to this beautiful practice here.  Please look around for much more detailed information on praying the mysteries while you recite the prayers. Here are  a few links:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB): 

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/devotionals/rosaries/how-to-pray-the-rosary.cfm

Catholic City (this one offers a free CD of the rosary prayers):

http://www.catholicity.com/prayer/rosary.html

Our Lady of Guadalupe:

http://www.sancta.org/rosary/how.html

I'm taking the information I am presenting here from the Catholic City and the USCCB sites. Similarly to what was discussed in the Praying With an Anglican Rosary article, hold the rosary so that you can manipulate the beads with a thumb and finger. Sit comfortably, and if you know all of the prayers, close your eyes as you pray.  It can really be quite an experience to pray the rosary aloud with a group.

Here are some examples of Roman Catholic rosaries I have made:



And here is a diagram you can use for reference while looking at the prayer method (taken from the USCCB site linked to above) :


While praying this rosary, meditate on the Holy Mysteries. One recommended approach is:

Monday - Joyful, Tuesday - Sorrowful, Wednesday - Glorious, Thursday - Luminous, Friday - Sorrowful, Saturday - Joyful, and Sunday - Glorious 

Beginning the Prayers: 

Make the sign if the cross. 

The Cross:  The Apostle's Creed: 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified; died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. 

The First Pater ("Father") Bead: The Lord's Prayer or Our Father: 

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. 

The Next Three Ave ("Hail") Beads: Hail Mary:  

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.



The Second Pater Bead: Glory Be: 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. 

Moving onto the main circle of the rosary beads, repeat the Hail Mary prayer on each of the Ave or smaller beads, and the Glory Be on each of the larger Pater beads. 

Concluding Prayer: Hail Holy Queen: 

When you work your way all the way around the loop, conclude the rosary conclude with: 

Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us; and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. 

Differences Between Anglican and the Dominican Rosary: 

The most obvious difference between these two rosaries is how they look. Dominican rosaries have almost twice as many beads as Anglican rosaries.

The groups of 10 beads on a Dominican rosary are called "decades" and the group of 7 beads on an Anglican rosary are called "weeks."

Generally speaking, Catholic rosaries are made using crucifixes and Anglican rosaries use plain crosses or crucifixes.

Dominican rosaries are prayed using the prayers listed here. Anglican rosaries do not have prescribed prayers.

Dominican rosaries are hundreds of years old, where Anglican rosaries are a modern adaptation.

Either may also include religious medals, small vials of holy water, pilgrim badges and other items that have meaning to the user.

Either may be strung to form a loop of beads and a "drop" of 2-5 beads with a crucifix or cross, or they may be strung as a straight strand of beads with a cross or crucifix at one end, and a religious medal or other token at the other end.

Both can lead to deep, highly meaningful prayer experiences. 

You don't have to be Catholic to pray the Dominican rosary, and you don't have to be Anglican to use an Anglican rosary. 

Have you been experimenting with counted prayers? What has it been like for you? Feel free to share your experiences, ask questions or make any comments you may have here. 

Next week, we'll move on to talk about using knitting and crochet as a prayer method.

-Rae








Sunday, May 12, 2013

PRAYING WITH AN ANGLICAN ROSARY

Now that you've had a chance to experiment with a simple counted prayer exercise, let's get down to business with Anglican rosaries.  Here are a few examples of rosaries I've made:

 

The Anglican rosary was developed in the 1980s as an aid to contemplative prayer. The design was a blend of the Roman Catholic Dominican rosary and Orthodox prayer ropes. Anglican rosaries have 33 beads, representing the number of years of Jesus' life. The rosary is divided into four "weeks" of seven beads each, that represent the seven seasons of the liturgical year, the seven days of creation, and the seven days of the week. 
Each week is separated by a cruciform bead. "Cruciform" means something that takes the shape of cross. When an Anglican rosary a laid out is a round shape, the four cruciform beads are located at the top, bottom and sides of the bars of a cross. 

Anglican rosaries are very frequently made with crosses rather than crucifixes, but that varies widely and there is no set tradition. 

The bead immediately above the cross that usually (but not always) looks like a cruciform bead, is called the invitatory bead. 

So, starting at the cross and going counter-clockwise, an Anglican rosary has the cross, the invitatory bead, the first cruciform bead, the first week of seven beads, the second cruciform bead, the second week of seven beads, the third cruciform bead, the third week of seven beads, the fourth cruciform bead, and the fourth week of seven beads, which will lead you back to the first cruciform bead.  Like this:



The above image is taken from The Anglican Rosary: rediscovering an ancient prayer tradition ( http://www.anglicanrosary.net/the-anglican-rosary/). Go check the site out!
 
There are no assigned prayers with an Anglican rosary. You may choose any prayers you wish. I recommend that you choose a prayer for the cross, one for the invitatory bead, one to be said at each of the four cruciform beads, and one to be said on each of the 28 week beads. Try to choose prayers that are short and easy to memorize so you may pray with your eyes closed. You may use parts of Psalms, prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, or make up your own. You may pray the rosary however you wish, from saying the same prayer on every bead to saying a different prayer for every bead. You may think the prayers, whisper, speak out loud, shout or sing them. 

Before you actually start to pray, get a feel for holding the rosary. Slide the fingers of your non-dominant hand through the loop of the rosary and let it hang off your hand with the cross near your pinky finger. Take the cross between your thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand.  Using your thumb, scoot the cross down so the invitatory bead can be grasped between your thumb and finger. Keep scooting the beads along with your thumb until you get the hang of the motion. With a little practice, you can hold the beads and move them with the same hand. Do what is comfortable and feels secure so you don't drop them.  

Notice how the cruciform beads feel different than the weeks beads. They may be a different size, different texture, or set further apart than the week beads. This is so you can tell what bead you are holding without looking. 

Now that you have gotten the feel of handling your rosary, here is a sample set of prayers. Remember, you can use whatever prayers suit your needs. Start with the cross and move your fingers along the string of beads, one bead for each prayer.

Sit comfortably, kneel, or stand, however you are comfortable. Take a few moments to breathe deeply, focusing on what you are going to be praying about. When you are ready, begin with the cross. Close your eyes if you have your prayers memorized.

The Cross:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

The Invitatory Bead:

Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise

***
The Cruciform Bead:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen. 

The Seven Week Beads:

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon me (or "us" if you are praying in a group).

***
Repeat the cruciform and week bead prayers until you work your way back to the first cruciform bead. You can tell you're there when you feel the part of the rosary where the cross is When you finish the seventh week bead before the first cruciform bead, shift the rosary so you have the first cruciform bead in your fingers again.

Ending Prayer:

Thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Take a few deep breathes and slowly open your eyes.

 Get the idea?

Rosaries can be prayed for all sorts of reasons. Confession of sin, requesting something, interceding on someone else's behalf, giving thanks, praise, etc. Choose prayers that suit the reason you are praying. You may even want to make up your own little prayer book so you already have your prayers chosen for each type of prayer session.

Some people simply hold their beads in their hands as they pray without actually praying the rosary. Another way to use them is during centering prayer using them as a tool to refocus your attention when your mind wanders.

Keep in mind that a rosary is a tool, and tools should help, not hinder. Use a rosary however they assist your prayer life and don't get too bound up in "doing it right." 

Try getting together with a few friends and praying the rosary together out loud. It can be an amazing experience. Even young kids can really get into the rhythm of this prayer form. Incredible things can happen while praying with children. I highly recommend it.

Try singing or chanting your prayers. It brings an entirely different aspect of yourself to the experience.

Make your own rosary by stringing beads or buttons  onto some thread or twine, or tying knots in a length of cord. If you prefer to buy one, check out my shop by following the link on the right side of this page.

Let me know what your experience is like trying out counted prayers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

COUNTED PRAYERS: AN INTRODUCTION TO USING ROSARIES/PRAYER BEADS


Since I make rosaries as a hobby and fundraiser for school, I get a lot of questions from people about how to use them, and why anyone would want to. Pretty good questions, those, and today I want to talk a bit about rosaries in general. Over the next couple of days I'll move on to how to use them, but before we get to that, let's talk about WHY to use them.

Like any other prayer or meditation practice, some people take to using rosaries like fish to water, and others have some real aversion to the idea. And like any other prayer or meditation practice, that's ok. We'll talk about a lot of ways people pray here. Some of them will appeal to you and some will not, so don't go getting stressed out feeling like you "should" like something or use it, when it just isn't you.

There are lots of different kinds of rosaries, and some of them have specific uses. I'm going to talk today in general terms of counted prayers, or repeating the same prayer for a set number of times, and will get more specific later.

The point of repeating the same prayer is to help focus your mind. It is typical, but not necessarily always true, that we use rosaries to pray when we are repeating the same prayer over and over again. A prayer is said at each bead of the rosary, and you move your fingers from one bead to another as you pray.

There is a rhythm and flow to this method of praying that eases you into a deep state of focus, creating a space for spiritual connectedness. Ideally, when praying a rosary, it becomes less and less about the counted prayers and more about getting into that "sweet spot" that is a relaxed, contemplative, "I'm here," place. 

To get an idea about what it is like to pray this way, try this:

- Get a couple of small, shallow bowls and about 50-100 dried beans, small pebbles, or any other easily handled item (cereal, like Cheerios or Coco puffs work really well... not that I have ever used Coco Puffs as a prayer tool... *ahem*). The more you have, the longer your prayer session will be. 50 pieces will get you about 8-10 minutes, depending on how long the prayer you choose is.

- Choose a short phrase you can easily remember that also speaks to what you want to focus on. One of my favorites is called the Trisagion or "Thrice Holy" prayer: "Holy God, Holy and mighty, Holy immortal one, have mercy on us/me," or another good one for Christians is the Gloria: "Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, amen." Or something more along the lines of "Blessings and peace be with us." It doesn't matter what you choose, as long as it is meaningful to you.

- Sit comfortably at a table and place both bowls in front of you, side by side and a bit apart. Put all of the beans/pebbles/Coco Puffs in the bowl on the left.

- Close your eyes, breathe deeply a few times while you focus on what you are praying about. Take one of your beans (or whatever) in the fingers of your right hand, say the prayer you have chosen, and keeping your eyes closed, transfer the bean to the bowl on the right.

- Repeat until all of the beans have been transferred to the right bowl.

- Breathe deeply again a few times, and open your eyes.

What was that like? Did you feel tense or relaxed? Did your mind wander or did it stay focused? Did you lose track of what you were doing or did the use of the beans/pebbles/CocoPuffs help you stay on track? Did you notice any change in your state of mind? Try it a few times and see how it goes.

Next, we'll look at different rosaries and how they are used.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

LABYRINTHS


This was published earlier this week on Facebook and I want to include it here. Have you ever walked a labyrinth or used a finger labyrinth? Give this one a try and let us know what you thought of the experience.

-  -  -


I'm going to begin this week's series on using prayer/meditation tools with using a finger labyrinth.

Labyrinths have been used for meditation and prayer by many cultures and religions for more than 3,000 years. The labyrinth pictured here is the design of the famous labyrinth located at the Chartres Cathedral in France, built around 1201 A.D.


Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has a single path that leads to the center. There are no dead ends and you cannot lose your way.

Most “traditional” labyrinths are constructed with paths that lay in concentric circles. They usually have eleven or seven circuits, but some have as few as five. I like to use this design because its eleven circuits allows for a nice period of reflection, prayer or meditation. The journey through a labyrinth is a metaphor for life's journey. It offers lessons as we move along the path. It can offer a mirror to reflect where we are in our lives and assist us to gain insights, make decisions, and find peace and serenity.

Choose a quiet, calm place and take a few moments to settle your mind before you begin.

Choose a problem, something you are thankful for, an issue you want some guidance on or some other matter to focus on.

Begin tracing your finger along the path of the labyrinth. There is no set pace. Move along the path at whatever speed you wish. Focus on the matter you chose to reflect on, allowing your mind to be open and receptive to guidance. Pause along the path if you wish, then continue when you are ready. Don't rush, and don't be surprised if you experience some strong emotions as you trace the path.

When you reach the center, remain there as long as you wish. Reflect on any images or thoughts that came to mind during your journey to the center.

When you are ready, trace your finger back outside of the labyrinth. Leave worries, heaviness and anxieties behind and embrace renewal, consider those things that came to you during your journey to the center of the labyrinth and how you may want to respond. 

Consider journaling about your experience, discussing it with someone close to you, or post it here to share with others.

Copy the labyrinth image here and paste in a document to print on a piece of paper. If you would like a more durable alternative, click on my link to Telling of the Beads on the home page. Inexpensive canvas labyrinths are available in variety of colors.

And Off We Go!

It's kind of odd how this blog came about. I am in what we, in the Episcopal church, call the "discernment process," which is basically a thorough community examination of ones gifts, developing ministry and sense of call to Holy Orders. It is indeed a fascinating process, and I have been blessed to share quite an intimate journey with a wonderful group of people. 

Prayer has always been an key part of my spiritual life, but in addition to that, I am very simply fascinated with all of the ways humankind reaches out to touch what is sacred, what is holy. That interest appears to be developing into being part of my ministry. While I am a Christian, my interests are not bound by my own perspective. I am on one path in the realm of spiritual journeys, and that path is not the same as your path. Each journey is a treasure, and I want to share mine with you, and invite you to share yours with me. I believe that while we may define our specific faith communities as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, agnostic or any number of other groups, I don't believe our quests for connecting with are all that different. I certainly believe that God is large enough to meet each of us where we need to be met in the context of our lives and cultures.

One theme I hear from people is that they don't "know how" to pray. Some people feel like prayer has to be flowery, poetic language or it doesn't "count." Others think prayers from prayer books are empty and heartless while still others see those same prayers as links to  the ancient history if their faith. For me, I pray a lot and I pray a lot of different ways. Some are quite solemn, some more playful, some formal written prayers, some are more "conversations at the dinner table" or "bedtime stories." There are no limits on how we can connect to what we identify as holy, and I want this blog to be a place where we can share experiences, try a few things that are outside of our normal practices, and look at spirituality as who we are without fake limitations. 

Everyone is welcome here, regardless of what path you are on. As a friend suggested, "let's do epic shit."