Prayer and Prayer Beads: Meditation Tool

Prayer is a universal occurrence. It is not exclusively Christian although in no other religion is prayer used to show God’s relationship with man. Prayer is found in all cultures but it is the Judeo-Christian tradition that God desires to have a personal relationship with humans. It is God’s concern and love that showed itself with the sending of Jesus Christ to atone for man’s sins.

Prayer is a communion with God; a fellowship with God. Prayer is a process by which man addresses a supernatural being-a higher power – for purposes of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and penance. Payer many be private or communal such as public worship services. Prayer may be said aloud in groups or by individuals or may be silent such as in meditation and contemplation.

Many formats exist for prayer. For example, Jesus taught his followers the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer may also be spontaneous reflecting the thoughts and desires of the one who is praying. Prayer is a communion with God and is central to a religion as it is a natural result of belief in God.

Most religions have neither set format for prayer nor any set manner for prayer. People may pray on their knees, prostrate, or sitting. Prayer may be made up by the individual or follow a specific format. Christian prayer may follow a pattern as expressed in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6;9-13; Luke 11:2-4): invocation, praise, thanksgiving, petition for oneself and others, confession, and appeal for forgiveness. Corporate worship based on Roman Catholic liturgy or the Anglican Book of Common Prayer constitutes formalized prayer of worship. Ceremonial dances by Native Americans and the Buddhist seeking perfection are also forms of prayer designed to bring man closer to God.

Theology, the study of God, is inseparable from prayer. It is through prayer that we make contact with God and He speaks with us. John Calvin referred to prayer as “the soul of faith” and without prayer there is no faith.

History of Prayer Beads

Aids to prayer have developed through the ages including: prayer beads which enable a person to count the prayers, the prayer wheel used primarily by Tibetan Buddhists which contains written prayers, and the prayer rug used by Muslims.

Beads derived from the Anglo Saxon “bede” which means “prayer,” have been around since man’s beginning. When our ancestors went hunting for food, they wore a talisman, a piece of an animal to give them good luck. These talismans worn also to ward off evil spirits and to protect the wearer form the enemy. Some were worn to protect again sickness. Beads evolved during various civilizations not only as talismans but also as ornamentation with clothing. Beads were functional to fasten clothing or bags. The Chinese developed the abacus with its use of beads for counting and math. Perhaps this is what led to using beads to count prayer. Most likely, it was a natural progression from using pebbles or fingers to keep track of the number of times devotion was said. Eventually, beads strung on cord were used.

The earliest use of beads for prayer begins with the Hindus in India. It was a means to keep tract of repeated prayer. Soon, not only Hindus, but Buddhists, Muslims, and Catholics found the bead functional for prayer. The significance of the bead is individual to each of the religions but all used these as a counter for devotions. As missionaries came into contact with tribes, bead use began as a merging of cultures.

The Hindu beads called Malas, are considered the oldest and consist of 108 beads plus one. The Buddhists Malas contain 108 beads with a tassel which corresponds to the number of earthly desires that need to be overcome.

Early Christians took pebbles from one bag and inserted them into another as a means of counting prayers. These were simple prayers. Later the Psalter used 150 psalms as devotion. Monks used the psalms for devotions and encourage others to do the same. Since this was difficult for the illiterate to learn 150 psalms, the Our Father and Hail Mary eventually became the standard prayers for the beads. Eventually, the Hail Mary was grouped in decades and one Our Father was assigned to lead the ten beads. Ten seemed like a good number as a person had ten fingers to count and there are Ten Commandments.

Pope Pius the V officially noted St. Dominic as the originator of the modern rosary. Dominicans today still make the Catholic rosary. The rosary consists of 150 beads for the Hail Mary with fifteen separator beads used for the Our Father and three or four beads for the “Glory be to the father.” The name rosary came from “Rosarium” in medieval times was a rose garden which was used for prayer. During the reformation, Protestants eliminated the rosary saying that prayer should not be memorized and repeated.

Modern Beads

Today, many faiths continue to use prayer beads. Christians, including Catholic and the Anglicans, are seeing a revival in the use of prayer beads. As a meditation tool, it helps to focus on the devotion. Many prayer beads are given as a remembrance of a special occasion such as a First Communion, wedding or even funeral beads.

Numerous materials are used to make prayer beads and rosaries. Although the first beads were made out of, seed, shells, pebbles, and wood. Modern beads are constructed of precious metals with gemstones and crystals in addition to carved wooden beads.

Not only do people hold the prayer beads and rosaries while mediating or praying, but it is also fashionable to wear beads as necklaces and bracelets. It is trendy to create an individualized prayer chain or rosary using craft shop materials such as beads, cord, crosses or other personal and meaningful items.

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