Prayer Beads

Anyone use prayer beads when they pray?

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.

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25 thoughts on “Prayer Beads”

  1. Richard, I have used a chokti or prayer rope for years now to pray the Jesus Prayer after reading and researching the Way of the Pilgrim. I always wear a small version around my left wrist and have a larger one (more similar to prayer beads). (I get them here: ). In addition to a counting tool, wearing them reminds one of the call to pray without ceasing. 

  2. I use Anglican prayer beads much like yourself.  It has been very helpful for me, especially as someone who has a hard time not letting my thinking take over and/or wander.  Glad to see others are utilizing this great gift.

  3. I've been using them for years. I started making them after a PTSD diagnosis. Initially I used them as a method of staying present, and later began teaching classes on making and using them. I find them soothing and comforting as well as focusing in times of struggle. I like to use Julian of Norwich "And all shall be well".

  4. Awesome. Thanks for this encouragement--there is so much right about it--simple prayers, repeated prayers, prayers while walking, use of traditional tangible reminders. I am helped by your example.

  5. Another customer of Eastern Christian Supply here.  Your orders come with a handwritten blessing.  I have a very simple black knotted prayer rope that I usually wear.  There are 33 knots, so three times around are 99+1 repetitions of the Jesus Prayer.  I've had trouble with Roman Catholic Marian devotion too.  I do find meaning in the Greek Orthodox concept of Mary as Theotokos, "God Bearer."

  6. So now I have to get a dog?!  Does it work with a cat?  I'm so glad to hear that even someone like you has to process how you've treated people through the day - really, it means a lot after a day like today.  Like you, I'm pretty dismal at anything approaching structured prayer - I'd never considered beads before, but I kind of like the idea - if only to annoy and confound all my Methodist friends!  Bless you in your nocturnal perambulations.

  7. I just began praying with Anglican prayer beads over the summer.  I bought mine from the Solitaries of DeKoven, an order of hermits within the Episcopal Church.  They make them as a means of supporting themselves.  For me, the wedding of the ethereal (prayer) with the tangible (beads) is a powerful reminder of the Incarnation itself.  I also am comforted in the knowledge that, given the source of my beads, the maker of the beads crafted them in prayer with intercessions for those who would someday use them.  What a beautiful ministry.  (And beautiful beads, too!  My three year old son likes to hold them during our times of family prayer in the evenings.)  

  8. I have a single-decade rosary that I bought from Alan Creech when he produced some as a tribute to Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, after Michael's death a couple of years back. But it's only been in the past few months that I've really made use of it.

    The rosary adds two dimensions that are missing from merely using beads to "count prayers". First, crucially: meditation on the mysteries. In the rosary, the repetitions are really only intended to still the mind to enable a deep reflection on the key facets of the gospel.

    Second: the rosary, like other forms of Marian devotion, is "mimetic", imitatory. Human beings are "mimetic" creatures, desiring according to the pattern set by another. The rosary sets up a triangle of (1) our prayer, (2) Mary's obedience and devotion (which we strive to imitate) and (3) God, to whom our prayer and Mary's are both directed. It thus becomes a means of establishing a pattern of devotion and obedience for us to follow: "behold the handmaid of the Lord". As such it speaks deeply to what we are as human beings.

  9.  I also use the beads when I'm riding my bike to work. And I'm sure it works with a cat. :-)

  10.  I'm not a very knowledgeable BCP user. I just got the one on sale at a local bookstore. It's the most recent edition, the 1979.

  11. I've found that I benefit a lot from prayer beads (I also grew up Anglican, so prayer beads and the BCP were incorporated into my worship and prayer at an early age). I also, when I don't feel like counting, but still need to materially connect my focus, use a clutch cross, or holding/clinging cross like this one.  ( The materiality of prayer is important to me as a sort of personal liturgy, and practically to keep me from getting quite as distracted.

  12. I love
    prayer beads. I have several sets of Anglican prayer beads that I’ve made* over
    the past few years, but I’ve only really started using them within the past few
    days (I’ve been away from the faith for awhile). I also have a Hindu mala that
    I got at a local temple; it’s seen some limited use. With that one I’d
    typically use the first few lines of one of St. Anselm’s prayers: “Let me seek
    you by desiring you. Let me desire you by seeking you” on one bead, “Let me know
    you by loving you. Let me love you by knowing you” on the next, then repeat.

    With the
    Anglican beads, I’ve been using them much the same way as you have (Lord’s Prayer
    on the big ones, Jesus Prayer on the little ones) except that I say a Glory Be
    at the cross and  Psalm 19:14 on the
    Invitatory bead.

    I’ve been
    thinking about incorporating some other prayers that I like into it by making
    several “trips” around, each trip representing a different kind of prayer
    (adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, etc.). That’s another great thing about
    prayer beads; you can make them as simple or complex as you need/want.


    interesting side note: several of the ones I’ve made use the exact cross shown
    in your picture. I think I got them at Hobby Lobby.

  13. I like the Anglican rosaries made from cord, they are light weight and the texture "works" for me.
    What I *really* want to know, Richard, is how you carry a glass of wine, a dog leash AND a rosary!

  14. Here's a prayer cycle that I sometimes use: And now Father grant to me to pray, think, speak, to be and do your word, as you stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your Holy Servant Jesus...Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon us sinners...Come Holy Spirit and breath into us the fire of your Love...And now Father...cycle through prayers above.
    I have used this to focus my mind before I am about to preach, surveying the congregation I am about to preach to, with my eyes...May this bless you if you use this cycle yourself.  Amen.

  15. Thanks for this post Dr. Beck! I've also greatly benefited from the use of prayer beads, and second that Alan Creech does great work. You might  be interested to know that Amber and I are now Anglicans.

  16. Hi Nathan,
    Thanks so much for the link as it was wonderful to catch up on your faith journey. Your reflections on "lex orandi, lex credenti" were powerful. Blessings!

  17. I love the Anglican rosary.  I use the Jesus prayer if I'm feeling penitent too, or the Julian prayer if I'm anxious (all will be well....)  

    When I was listening to long sermons as a kid in the (instrumental) C of C I would count the organ pipes and say a prayer for each one, so the counting and praying comes pretty naturally to me.  If you google "knotted chord rosary" you can find instructions that can be adapted to this format of rosary.  a LOT of rosaries can be made from a skein of nylon macrame cord that costs less than five dollars.  If you figure out how to walk the dog, hold the rosary and the glass of wine all at once, please let me know.  I'm kidding of course, sort of. I know lots of people who would like to know. 

  18. the 1979 is the latest official prayer book in the Episcopal church and it is public domain; it is online. 

    If you want to pray the daily office this is a very solid online resource that connects to the daily office lectionary (two year cycle of Bible readings).  It can also be adapted if you want a longer or shorter daily prayer: Finally, I'd hope that if you walk into in an Episcopal church and ask for one they may give you a copy.  If they don't I apologize in advance .

  19. The dog has to be small. In my right hand, my bottom three fingers hold the leash. The beads move through my thumb and index finger. My left hand is, thus, free to carry a drink.

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