There is an image in my mind from over the summer. When Jana and I were at a Benedictine monastery this summer I remember passing a very old sister. She was holding a Rosary, praying to herself. There was something in her ancient appearance and in the way she was holding the Rosary that spoke of an entire life devoted to prayer and holiness. The spiritual poetry of the scene really struck me and, obviously, has stayed with me.
I'm not very good at praying. But I've gotten a lot of help from structured prayer, particularly the words of The Book of Common Prayer. But another way to structure prayer is the use of prayer beads.
Prayer beads help you count your prayers when you are using structured prayers. For example, if you want to pray a series of Pater Nosters--Our Fathers or The Lord's Prayer--you can easily lose track of how many you've said. Sometimes I like to pray while walking Bandit at night. I'll pour a glass of wine, get the dog and walk the neighborhood to pray. Given that I use structured prayer I often can't keep track of the prayers I'm saying. I'm usually alternating between Our Fathers and the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.").
Incidentally, I rely on the Jesus Prayer because at the end of the day I often feel like such an ass for the way I've treated people. By the end of the day I just want to pray, over and over, Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison. Kyrie, eleison. The Jesus Prayer helps me do this.
But again, you can lose track.
The most common prayer beads are Rosaries. Though Protestants can use these Rosaries are intended to be devotions to Mary, with the beads helping to keep track of Hail Marys and Our Fathers. That's the basic use, but there are other devotions that can be used with the Rosary.
But being Protestant I've not been able to get comfortable with the Rosary, even if I substitute different prayers for the Hail Marys. (Apologies to all Catholics and Orthodox, but I struggle with Marian devotion. Theologically I get it, but my imagination has been formed so differently.)
However, all is not lost. Protestants have come up with alternatives.
The most popular of these are Anglican prayer beads. The basic structure of Anglican prayer beads (image from King of Peace):
As you can see, the basic structure has seven small beads in between four larger beads.
There are no set prayers for this prayer bead. You can create your own. The main purpose of the beads is to help you count and structure your prayers.
Anyway, during my recent trip to Durham, NC my friend Mark and I waked around Duke Divinity School and visited the bookstore. There I found some nice Anglican prayer beads.
These beads suit my purposes well.
I enter the beads with the Gloria ("Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen."). I then say seven Jesus Prayers on the little beads and say an Our Father on the large beads.
And that's how I walk the neighborhood at night with my dog.