Protestant prayer beads  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,

Though I am a convinced Presbyterian, I have long had deep respect for the Anglican tradition. Two men who have had a profound role in shaping my deepest theological convictions are Anglican priests: John Stott and J. I. Packer. Stott’s The Cross of Christ and Packer’s Knowing God are brilliant, living explorations of historic Christian doctrine. Worshipping at St Helen’s Bishopsgate in London and Falls Church in Virginia were rich experiences of meaningful liturgy and careful biblical exposition. Two of our closest friends, Steven Garber and Bonnie Liefer, who serve so faithfully on Ransom’s Board of Directors, are Anglicans. I have often prayed that the American Episcopal Church would be called back to biblical fidelity by the majority of Anglicans who retain a vibrant commitment to Scripture in the rest of the world wide Communion.


Several years ago two dear friends who live in Albuquerque, Bryan and Linda Charleton, decided to join the Anglican Church. Today I drove to the Post Office to pick up ten days of accumulated mail, and in the pile was a package from Bryan. Inside, nestled in little velvet bags were two Anglican Prayer Beads, hand-crafted for us by him, one for Margie and the other for me. (The one in the picture is mine.)


Unlike the Catholic Rosary, which involves the repetition of a set series of prayers, the Anglican version is designed differently. Each bead needs to be assigned some meaning by me—some aspect of prayer I want to be sure to include (confession, thanksgiving, etc.), or some category of request or praise, or some topic on which to meditate, or a reminder to be silent for a while. The Beads thus are meant to help provide structure, order, and regularity in the spiritual discipline of personal prayer and reflection, not to restrict the prayers that I say.


I was not aware of this aspect of the Anglican tradition, and want to learn more. Like all aids to the spiritual life, I am sure this one can be misused. But if anyone could use some help in bringing structure, order, and regularity to his prayer life, it is I.


The craftsmanship is delicate and lovely. The thoughtfulness is a deep grace. And the gift you have sent me, Bryan, is a sweet reminder of the grace we have experienced together as friends over many years. Thank you, good friend.

Oh, and Bryan—I also love the box of Nihilist Chewing Gum (We don't believe in flavor) you included. Very nice touch.


This entry was posted at Tuesday, September 02, 2008 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I'm wondering which one is designated for "stress induced by my youngest daughter". No, I don't know if that is the idea around it, sure would like to learn more. Beautiful.

September 3, 2008 at 2:35 PM

No bead designated for that, though I have designated one for "beloved youngest covenant daughter."

September 10, 2008 at 3:20 PM

I went hunting for assistance with prayer. I find my mind so busy with "practical" things like website code, dishes, noise all around me, etc. that I find it difficult to concentrate. I used to maintain a prayer life that flowed freely. Now I maintain a level of fatigue and busyness that robs me of my ability to pray as I'd like. I came to your blog's archives, assuming that you had discussed a struggling prayer life at some point. You had... I hadn't thought of prayer beads; or any other object that might help me focus on the task at hand. I'm still afraid that I might not be able to put my thoughts together. I have thought of getting a prayer book to assist me. If you have a suggestion, I would be most grateful. Then again, maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree.

August 16, 2011 at 12:49 AM

24/7 Mom:

Sometimes events overtake us in ways that rob us of what used to be leisurely approaches to life, including aspects of our spiritual life. Margie and I have known that often over the years, and we've assumed that sometimes it can help to change the patterns we've been using because they just don't fit any longer.

We walked through (slogged through is more truthful) a long period of stress a few years back, where anxiety for people we love seemed overwhelming. So overwhelming that even mentioning the details seemed to paralyze prayer. So Margie used a little wooden jar she had found at a yard sale. It had a wee cover, and had been designed we think to carry a ring or two. On tiny pieces of paper she wrote out her concerns and dropped them into the jar. It stayed on her desk, and during the day she would simply, silently lift it up, cradle it in her hands, and know that God knew all about it.

During periods of spiritual dryness I have used prayer books because I have found that forming the words and thoughts seemed too much, too scattered, and too incomplete. I have used The Valley of Vision, the traditional Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and right now the three of us on staff with Ransom use Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals in our prayer times together.

Some people develop lists, but I use lists so much just to keep on top of things that I've found them unhelpful for prayer. The beads have been a nice alternative, each section assigned a part of my concern, the individual beads an aspect of that concern, with special beads a reminder to confess, give thanks, adore, etc.

Helps like these can all be used, because we are finite embodied creatures and our prayer life is not apart from that reality. Only when such helps become legalisms (I must do them to earn God's favor) are they to be shunned. If some or any are helpful to you, please use them.

If there is a way to take care of yourself to regain some restfulness and capture a bit of silence, please do so. And if the busyness and fatigue are for now unavoidable, realize that there is no single model for prayer that your Father expects of you. Perhaps, for a while your prayer life can echo Anne Lamont's, who says her prayers are of two types:
"Please, please, please, please."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you."

May you know today that you are known by God, and that this knowledge is sufficient.

August 16, 2011 at 9:17 AM

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