Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Bead Saga Continues

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on my experience of wearing some wrist beads as an aid to prayer during the day. Some really interesting stuff has happened since then (at least I find it interesting) so I thought I'd let it be known.

The practice continues to grow on me. The feeling of having the beads on my wrist is an almost constant reminder to prayer. One of the people who read the original post commented that the beads "compelled" you to pray. Yes! And as a result I've become aware of more and more little bits of time that I usually just lose: waiting for the water to boil for tea, little spaces of time that are too small for anything else (it's 1 1/2 minutes to my next appointment, for instance), and the many lines I stand in or doctors I wait for. As I get more used to having the beads on my wrist and using them when I have spaces of time here and there, I find more and more little cracks of time into which prayer beckons.

Even more interesting is that I have the same experience when I don't have them on. At the same time that I'm getting used to the feeling of having them on my wrist, I'm also noticing the feeling of not having them on my wrist, which serves exactly the same purpose, I find. I forget to put them on sometimes. Or when I've been using them I absent-mindedly put them in my pocket instead of back on my wrist (and then have to hunt for them). I didn't put them on when we went to New York for the ecumenical service last week, and all the way to New York City I could feel the absence of the beads. So I didn't have anything to put in my fingers, but I had the same reminder - what do you do on a long car drive when no one is talking? How about a little prayer? And of course the more I do this, the more little empty spaces my mind finds and sometimes it starts up the prayer all by itself, which, of course, is the whole point. This is a training device. A way to be trained to "pray at all times".

Then, there are times when the beads call me and I respond with something that my mind/soul/body doesn't want to do. For instance, the time is there, the pressure of the beads on my wrist is reminding me of the opportunity to pray, so I put the beads in my hand and start saying the Jesus Prayer and............ my heart says: "STOP!" It doesn't want to do that. It's the wrong thing.

When I look at this I find that it's usually the wrong thing because, however simple the Jesus Prayer is, there are times when it's too wordy. My heart is open and I feel something, usually at the pit of my stomach, and it feels like a combination of joy and longing. When I've sat with it enough I discover that it just wants to express itself, and it doesn't want words to do it. My heart just wants to long for God.

We'll, that's certainly a good old standard thing. How many times have I read in some classic about prayer that "to long for God is to find God". Prayer is basically longing for God, after all, and all the forms we have for praying just serve the purpose of setting our hearts free to do that longing. So I can hold that bead and feel my longing and let it be there and not try to fill that space with words. We are empty without God, after all, and sometimes we need to feel the emptiness and not try to fill it up with anything.

Then, at the other end of the scale, there are times when I feel that I want to fill the space where I am with more words. This has been quite a discovery for me. Through the years I've sometimes been at liturgies where the service was going on and people were fingering rosaries or beads of one kind and another, and I've usually thought: "Oh dear, don't they know that this is a communal event? There they are trying to make a private experience out of it." Now I find that there is more to be said for that than I knew. I have, after all, experienced the texts of the Eucharist, for instance, a couple of thousand times, at least. I don't need to know them any better. But I may need to pray them better. And when, in the midst of one service or another,my beads have called out, or pressed gently on my wrist, I've responded, and taken then in hand and discovered that there are two levels of things operating here - the words of the liturgy and the response of my heart, and that my blessed beads have helped me to be more attentive to communal worship rather than less. I'm not privatizing the liturgy at all, I'm communalizing it (if there should be such a word). What the beads do for me in this situation is to make me more attentive to all of the levels of myself that are praying, and that's something that I have often missed.

This turns out to be quite a journey. And who knows what comes next? There has certainly been a lot more to my wrist beads than I dreamed about when I went into the Tibet store in Woodstock and rummaged through the bins of beads, looking for ones that seemed just right. If anything more comes up I'll let you know in due time. In the meantime, good luck in searching for your own version of this path. There are lots of ways to get there. Your heart will likely tell you when you need to set out on such a journey.

And by the way, I've dealt with the absent-mindedness somewhat by draping my beads around my watch whenever I take it off - to sleep, to shower, etc. So when the watch goes on my left arm, the beads to on my right. I may be old, but I'm not too old to have ideas - yet!

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