Fr Ian reflects on the use of prayer beads in world faiths in the third of our reflections for October, the month of the rosary:
This morning I enjoyed joining with children at St Chrysostom’s for their morning assembly. The interim Head of School, Paul Edwards, led a fascinating assembly in which he spoke of his Buddhist faith and in particular on how Buddhism is practised. Children listened to Buddhist chant, heard about posture in prayer, and tried out calm breathing.
We also heard about prayer beads in Buddhism, and I was reminded of how prayer beads are used by people of various world faith traditions. In Islam the Misbaha, prayer beads, often numbering 99 (corresponding to the names of God in Islam), are used to help with counting prayer and as an aid to reflection. In a similar way Hindus and Sikhs used prayer beads as an aid to prayer. Indeed a statue a 3rd century BC statue of a Hindu holy man depicts him with prayer beads.
In the fourth century Christians were using ropes with knots as a help to pray. By the twelfth century the rhythmic reading of 50 or 150 Hail Marys was a common practice in the western church and beads were a help to maintain the rhythm, and to count. In the twelfth century St Dominic is said to have systematised the saying of the prayers into the form of the rosary in the form most commonly used today. Other forms such as the Fiat Rosary, Bridgettine Rosary and the Anglican Rosary are also used.
Of course the common factor in all this is the use of beads to help count, and more importantly to help touch be used as a focus for prayer, stillness and meditation. For millenia people have found prayer beads a useful aid to prayer. Here at St Chrysostom’s many members of our church find this.
Following this morning’s school assembly Paul and I reflected that talking about shared practice among different faiths not only helps understanding but it also enriches our own spiritualities. Talking about the rosary and prayer beads broadens our own horizons and encourages our practice of prayer and the prayer of others too.